High performer or culture destroyer?

Making the tough calls – when a high performer is detrimental to your culture.

All too often I’ve worked with business owners or CEOs who are faced with (what feels like) a seriously tough decision. A high performer, or shall we say, a high biller, in their company is causing havoc in their culture.

For a while this behaviour is brushed aside as the person is contributing significantly to the bottom line. They may also be a truly likeable person. However, over time ripples start to become more obvious.  Perhaps they aren’t able to keep a team under them – but it’s not clear why. Perhaps they are always behind on their numbers and at the last minute seem to pull through. Perhaps they are falling out with a few people on the outskirts of the team. Whatever it is, they are quietly unsettling and disrupting the underlying stability of the team and its culture.

Unfortunately, it often takes way too long to pick up on these ripple effects and the business takes on water, like a boat with a tiny hole that goes unnoticed until it’s already half sunk.

The greatest challenge for the owner, leader, or manager here is that this person is keeping themselves fairly under the radar and beautifully covering everything with the excuse that they bring in great money.

The greatest shift I’ve seen in this space is when leaders finally re-evaluate what “high performing” really means in their business. This doesn’t just hinge on financial metrics but also on how well an individual upholds and contributes to the team, the organisational culture and the ability to connect with their peers. Here’s how we’ve helped leaders tackle this complex issue:

1. Define What “High Performance” Really Means

It’s essential for leaders to broaden the definition of performance to include behaviours that foster teamwork, innovation, and alignment with company values. Performance metrics should reflect not only individual achievement but also contribution to team success and overall business health. This broader perspective is crucial for sustainable growth and a harmonious work environment.

2. Cultivate a Culture of Feedback and Transparency

Creating an environment where feedback is valued and transparent can help identify issues before they escalate. Encourage open discussions about performance and behaviour, not just in terms of what goes right but also what might be going wrong. This approach can prevent high performers from becoming untouchable based solely on their revenue contributions. When this is not a high priority in a business, the person in question easily avoids being called out by the wider team, even if the leader is having some conversations with them initially.

3. Invest in Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Training

Investing in training that enhances emotional intelligence, communication skills, and leadership is highly beneficial. Programs that focus on these areas help high performers understand the impact of their behaviour on others and develop the skills needed to collaborate and lead effectively within the team context. They also may help this particularly “high performer” to see their own blind spots – if you’re lucky.

4. Implement Regular Check-Ins and Recovery Protocols

Regular check-ins not just about business performance but also about personal well-being can help maintain a healthy balance – an important element when difficult (or honesty) conversations are required. If people are feeling burnt out or exhausted, they are far less likely tackle issues such as these head-on. Just as athletes need physical and cognitive recovery, as discussed in our Real Recovery blog, business professionals also need to recharge mentally and emotionally.

5. Encourage a Mindset of Continuous Improvement

Promote a culture where continuous improvement is the norm, which includes personal and professional development. This can be part of a broader strategy to encourage everyone, not just the apparent high performers, to strive for excellence in all aspects of their roles. This mindset also provides a platform for calling out behaviour that is not changing.

6. Utilise Constructive Consequences

When necessary, it’s crucial to implement consequences for behaviours that negatively impact the team or company culture. This might include reassignment, changes in role to better align with an individual’s skills and temperament, or even parting ways if necessary, to preserve team cohesion and culture.

7. Foster a Holistic View of Success

Leaders should model and promote a holistic view of success that values well-being and ethical behaviour as much as financial results. This includes recognising and rewarding contributions to team morale and company culture as part of performance reviews.

Redefining high performance to encompass both contributions to business outcomes and the maintenance of a healthy, productive company culture is vital. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our high performers are not only achieving targets but also enhancing the work environment.

By fostering a culture that values comprehensive performance metrics, we can create an environment where all employees thrive and contribute to sustained business success.

Remember, a truly high-performing team is one where every member plays a part in maintaining a dynamic, supportive, and innovative culture – not just one where everyone bills well!

In every case I’ve seen of this behaviour, once the perceived “high performer” has left the business, there are many positive results.

  1. The space opens for others to thrive
  2. The cultural messages are ones that align to require a well-rounded view of performance and the overall business becomes a more positive place to work.

Ready to dive deeper?

Let’s connect and explore how you can harness psychological insights to transform your leadership approach from effective to extraordinary. Join one of our webinar sessions each month – sign up through linked in or here www.nextevolutionperformance.com/events