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How do you deal with a star performer that is a loose cannon?

Posted by Ravi Banda on August 28, 2010

We all would have worked with or come across people in our organizations that are star performers – and these folks can be in a variety of roles, all contributing tremendously towards the achievement of critical organizational goals.

We all appreciate their contributions and most of these star performers are great team players but in this post I want to talk about the star performers who leave a trail of damage behind them, usually this will be in the form of hurt feelings and humiliation in their fellow team members. In the extreme case, these “stars” can cause their teammates  to move to different teams or even leave the company.

Even in an organization that puts strong focus on mutual respect and sharing between its workforce the situation can result in

–          The star performer’s liability/damage being disregarded by the management as they don’t want to upset the star performer and this worsens the situation (or)

–          Coaching is provided for the star performer to help them work better in a team environment

What if the coaching doesn’t work and the star performer doesn’t change his ways?

The star performer should be let go.  Simple – an organization’s values cannot be compromised for the sake of an individual how much ever good the person is.

It will be good to hear your experiences on dealing with star performers that are not team players and if / how anything made them change their behavior?

3 Responses to “How do you deal with a star performer that is a loose cannon?”

  1. Hi Ravi, thanks for the link.

    In my experience, these people don’t change. It is up to you as the manager do decide if the value they create is worth the collateral damage to the rest of the team, and the value they destroy.

    As a leader, when I am faced with this situation, I ask the peers what their opinion is. If they see more value than pain, I do my best to contain the damage and keep the person. If they all feel like the team would be better off without the person, I build a plan (with them) to live without the person.

    Then I put behavior objectives in the person’s performance objectives, and have the frank conversation. Once they know their behaviors are being measured, they don’t like this of course and either get offended and go away, or they give you all the data you need to fire them.

    If they are truly vital to the organization, and you need to keep them, I have found that you need to actually feed their ego and keep them pumped up, (as distasteful as this can be), and then they actually treat people better and do less damage. Most of them behave badly and treat people badly because they have a need to feel superior. If you satisfy that need, they are less toxic. Even though this goes against fair principles, if you are very dependent on that person, this works.


    • Ravi Banda said

      Thank you for the comments Patty.

      The idea for this post came from a case study we did on a “star performer” in a financial firm. It so happened that the “manager” of the unruly star performer didn’t step in when things were going out of control as he didn’t want to upset the star performer. During the annual promotion review process, the manager couldn’t justify a promotion for the star performer and things just went out of control from there. The case study also highlights the “timing” of a feedback and that’s for another post 🙂

  2. Amy Wilson said

    Nice post Ravi! And, Patty thanks for sharing this insight – these are great tips!

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