Question of the Month: What should a manager do if the members of his/her team who produce the best results act like a law unto themselves?
Answer: I had a case where a sales manager was having some difficulty with two people in his sales team. These two sales people were the top performers, consistently out-selling the other members and consistently being above their monthly targets. But they did not work well with other sales people, blamed others when their sales efforts failed, often came to work late or left early, and often did not keep their admin up to date.
The sales manager had held numerous conversations with the two in which they had committed to changing their behaviour, but nothing actually changed.
Managers find themselves in this situation because they are making the results all-important. For the sales manager, disciplining or firing the culprits would result in the risk of a dip in his results. So the manager felt caught between a rock and hard place.
To compound the problem, the rest of the sales team were demotivated and therefore unwilling to go the extra mile because of what they called the “preferential treatment” of the top performers. The rest of his team were performing poorly largely because of the way the top sales people were behaving.
Finally, the sales manager had been committing the “soft mistake” – not holding people accountable for their actions when in fact it was appropriate to do so. The message sent to the rest of the team by this action was: how you behave is irrelevant as long as you produce the goods.
The only way out is to make the results less important – and the people in his team more important. This is consistent with shifting his attention from what he is getting from his team to what he is giving them.
The appropriate corrective action is to discipline the errant individuals for deliberate malevolence in their work behaviour. But to do that would mean to shift attention from results to the person – in this case the wellbeing of the whole team.
It is easy to discipline someone for misconduct when his/her work performance is poor. But the real test of intent occurs when the leader is required to discipline someone for misconduct when the results he/she produces are good. Leaders who are able to pass this test will bring out the best in their people.