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Top Dogs

Updated: May 28, 2022

Top dogs. Cash cows. Highly compensated. Outstanding salespersons. No matter the name, they are prized across all industries. Yet, what do leaders do when these top performers behave poorly? These team members get results and sometimes behave badly in the process. Turning a blind eye to poor behavior from anyone on the team is never the best choice, even for the top performers. What we permit, we promote.

In today’s challenging labor market, where organizational leaders are strapped with finding help and navigating tough operational challenges, this age-old problem of poorly behaving top performers is once again top of mind.

Leaders might fear pushing top performers too hard by holding them accountable to appropriate behaviors and even basic expectations of their jobs. The result might lead top performers to involuntarily or voluntarily leave the organization and quite possibly go to the competitor.

Performance cannot be judged by results alone. Holding all team members accountable to positive behaviors, core values, and job expectations is non-negotiable. Just because someone brings in top dollars or lands top accounts does not exempt them from upholding the standards of teamwork and respect.

It is not a matter of OR. When managing poor behaviors from top performers, leaders should think of AND, as top performers should be expected to drive results AND behave respectfully. It is not one or the other; it is both. Leaders addressing behaviors should be clear on the expectations and not accept excuses. Often, high performers imagine a shield of protection from behavioral and performance expectations. After all, they are delivering on the results and likely at higher rates than others.

Act early and swiftly. Behaviors that are not addressed in a timely manner will continue and the longer a leader waits to address challenging or disrespectful behaviors the harder it will be to bring the bad actor back in line. Think of how quickly a rotten apple takes over the whole bushel. Poor behaviors left unaddressed will impact the entire team and the effects are hard to restore.

Find out why. Often, leaders spend time with challenging employees or low performers, instead of paying attention to high performers, even the bad actors. Completely ignoring a high performer, even those without behavioral issues, is not wise. Leaders should find out the source of the disrespect or offense. It might be because the bad actor is not engaged in their work or does not feel appreciated, so try to find out why the high performer is acting badly.

A behavior is a behavior, and an expectation is an expectation.

Leaders should keep these simple suggestions in mind when deciding whether to address the poor behaviors of all performers, including the highest performing ones.

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