How to Deal with “Superstar” Talent from an HR Vantage Point

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managing troublesome talent

Editor’s note: This blog post was written as a collaboration between Katy Smigowski and Sudip Verma.

How do you deal with a Manny Ramirez-type superstar? It was a task that drove the Boston Red Sox nuts. Initially, the Red Sox ownership and front office jokingly brushed aside his antics as “Manny being Manny” and did their best to tolerate them. But things only escalated, and the Red Sox were forced to finally trade him.

Have you ever worked with someone who seemingly gets away with “Manny being Manny” behavior?

Meanwhile, this week the New York Yankees found themselves in the uncomfortable position of welcoming back arguably the most hated player in baseball — Alex Rodriguez, who is playing while appealing a 211-game suspension for allegedly using performance enhancing drugs. The Yankees are desperate for any help on their offense, but at what cost in terms of distraction in the clubhouse, not to mention damage to the Yankees brand?

At what point do an employee’s skills get outweighed by the chance of having to deal with consequences for being a disruptive member of an organization?

Examples of Problematic Business Superstars

In the B2B space this can be especially relevant when it comes to hiring for a sales role. Superstar sales reps are the bread and butter to  any business, and are central to the bottom line. We all want performance, but what do you do if this sales superstar has an attitude that is disruptive or even offensive to other employees? How exactly should you deal with this situation? You don’t want to lose the person since they bring in a lot of revenue, but you also want to foster a desirable company culture and not play “favorites” with employees.

Michael Ovitz

This is a debate that can also come into play when hiring at the leadership level. We all want superstars, but you need to ensure they fit the culture of the company. A good example of this is Michael Ovitz’s ill-fated tenure as President of Disney. From day one he clashed with CEO Michael Eisner and other executives. He lasted 14 months and Disney found itself paying a whopping $140 million as severance. It was a hefty price to pay for a poor fit.

If you are in a situation where a skilled but troublesome employee is breaking the rules and you let it slide you might find that the rest of your employees will become hostile, and the overall atmosphere can become very negative. By enabling this behavior, you also risk inspiring other employees to act out, believing they will not be reprimanded.

So what can you do?

3 Ways to Deal with Problematic Superstar Talent

1) Nip Trouble in the Bud

It’s possible you may be able to coach a problematic employee to improve his or her attitude and adopt more appropriate and acceptable behavior. One way to address this issue is to catch difficult behavior early on and warn the employee. Make sure it does not become a pattern of disruption, and address any isolated incidents promptly and directly.

2) Find a Better Fit

If disruptive behavior cannot be straightened out, you may have to come to terms with the fact the individual simply is not a good fit at your company. While he or she may be productive now you run the risk of corroding your corporate culture and paying a much heavier cost in the long run.

3) Take a Hard Look at Your Organizational Structure

Think about how you structure your teams. Are you depending on one person to be central to obtaining success within your company? If so, it’s possible that could be a fundamental flaw.

Bottom Line: Think of the Needs of the Many (Not the Needs of the Manny)

Think of your company as a whole. Each and every employee should hold equal responsibility (and opportunity) for making your company successful.

While there will be individuals who stand out from the rest, all of your employees should be ambitious, driven, and given the chance to shine, as well. Otherwise, you might want to reconsider your hiring process.

Sudip Verma Sudip Verma works with portfolio companies to provide insights on the markets they operate in, their customers, and to drive development of their business strategies. Connect with him on Twitter @sverma611.