Every organization has to rely on its talent to succeed. But sometimes you have to deal with someone who has taken on the persona of a “prima donna” and thus may be difficult to deal with. Guest blogger Dave Clemens provides us with some advice of dealing with these employees.
Every organization has its superstars. They’re the most valuable members of your team – and they know it. You love the results they deliver but their “prima donna” attitude can be a serious disruption to everyone around them.
So what should you do with troublesome top performers who believe they’re above the rules? How do you reign in the behaviors that hurt morale – and that undermine your credibility as a leader?
Too often managers ignore the problem. They’re afraid to take any measures that might offend the superstars and make them leave the company. After all, your best people are the ones who will have the easiest time find another job elsewhere.
It’s tempting to just get out of their way and let everybody else figure out how to deal them. But most of us know that this is a recipe for disaster. Practicing avoidance allows problems to fester and eventually poison the work environment.
That brings us to the million dollar question: How do you control “prima donna” behavior without chasing away top talent? Here’s one approach.
Schedule a meeting with your high-performing problem child and try the S.T.O.P. model. Here’s how it works.
Stroke their ego.
Start the meeting by offering positive feedback about their bottom line performance. Your intention is not to manipulate by giving empty praise. You have a purposeful goal – to show that you understand why they’re so good, which is THE most important quality top performers demand in a boss.
There’s little doubt your superstar will find this praise suspicious, but that’s okay. The first step in this model is to send the message that, “I’m your boss, the custodian of your career, and I can point to the specific things you do that make you so effective. I ‘get’ you.”
Emphasize your bond of Trust
Say something like, “I trust you – I wouldn’t have you on my team if I didn’t. And I don’t think you’d be here if you didn’t trust me. I’m going to raise an issue that’s going to make us both uncomfortable, and I need you to trust that I’m raising it because it’s REALLY important.”
Expect some push back here but proceed with confidence. You’ve just delivered a tough message from a position of strength. That strength is anchored in the fact that you both have an interest in making things work.
Outline the costs associated with the bad behavior.
Use facts to show the impact of their unacceptable behavior: “Another member of the Admin team threatened to quit today. He’s been an outstanding member of our accounting team for five years. If he quits, it’s going to cost over $100,000 to replace him. In the past month I’ve easily spent eight hours cleaning up messes after you verbally abused accounting, customer service and sales support staff. This behavior has to stop.”
If your facts are indisputable, you’ll like get a cursory response like, “All right. I’ll try to be nicer.”
Pin down commitment to change.
Accept their offer to improve but insist on explicit agreement to an action plan.
Say, “That’s not good enough for me. If you don’t stop verbally abusing people it could hurt our relationship. Tell me specifically what you’re going to do differently. Help me solve this problem.”
Exchange ideas until you come up with a plan that works for both sides. It won’t always be easy but time spent now may save you a lot more time later if you allow problem behavior to continue.
Next, draft a memo laying out the plan. Include specific language that addresses the problem behaviors and consequences for not correcting them. Have them sign it and ask that they honor their commitment to improvement.
No prima donna is thrilled by this sort of conversation, and they may hate the idea of signing silly documents. But ultimately, if they trust you and don’t want to leave the company, they’ll comply because what you’re asking is fair.
Dave Clemens has served as deputy financial editor of the International Herald Tribune, editor and bureau chief for Bloomberg News, and deputy bureau chief for the French News Agency. Currently, Dave is the Editor at Rapid Learning Institute and writer of The HR Café, an informative, entertaining, AllTop-featured blog for Human Resources Leaders. Connect with Dave via Twitter @TheHRCafe
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