The Cost of Toxic High Performers
To the tune of almost $50 billion per year in the U.S. according to recent SHRM research, toxic high performers are costly. Although there may seem to be a payoff in the short term with your high performer winning big deals or delivering key project results, the long term impact of the poison they inject into your company culture is too high a price to pay.
Toxic behavior can infect others and, in doing so, affect your bottom line through higher attrition, lower employee engagement, reduced productivity, and loss of employer brand reputation.
Leaders who want to maintain a healthy corporate culture and a high performing corporate culture need to take immediate remedial action when they encounter a high-performing (or any other) toxic employee in the workplace.
What Leaders Can Do
While the competition for talent is fierce, and it can feel impossible to replace the critical skills, institutional knowledge, and deep experience of a top performer, most leaders are pleasantly surprised from the resulting “breath of fresh air” and their team’s ability to step up and fill gaps once toxic high performers are let go.
Here are five steps you can take to deal with your toxic rock star and others who behave badly:
- Provide High Support and High Accountability
When bad behavior arises, employees are looking to their leaders to create psychological team safety and uphold the cultural norms. If you do not, your team’s confidence and trust in your abilities will erode. Regardless of their performance results, use your current performance improvement plan process to put the employee on notice, highlight team norms, and provide the coaching support required for them to meet behavioral expectations.
Expect measurable behavior change in 90-days. Otherwise from a cultural perspective, you would be better off modifying behavioral expectations to better match the true company culture versus the aspired company culture.
- Assess Your Current Culture
A toxic high performer is often a warning sign of more systemic issues. Do you only have one toxic employee or is the problem more widespread? Before you can take meaningful action, you need to know if the behavior is localized or pervasive.
Conduct a workplace culture assessment to measure your level of organizational health, performance, and alignment to see where you stand. It is worth the effort.
Our organizational alignment research found that culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, leadership effectiveness, and employee engagement.
- Establish a No-Tolerance Policy for Bad Behavior
Set up a system for reporting toxic behavior whether through HR or immediate superiors and then make sure that reports are immediately investigated. There should be a clear “ladder” of consequences that are appropriate to the offense.
Sometimes, 1×1 sensitivity training is sufficient for the bad actor to understand how their behavior affects others and to make the necessary changes.
Just make sure there are proportionate consequences for those who stray from your corporate values and cultural norms regardless of their performance results.
- Provide Anonymous Reporting Opportunities
Make sure that how you gather feedback is trusted; in other words, ensure employees are confident they can speak up without reprisals. Often this requires courage on the part of the complainant. 360 feedback for leaders can be an invaluable tool to kickstart meaningful change.
Put meaningful safeguards in place to protect them and provide ongoing emotional support. People must believe that bad behavior will not be ignored or tolerated.
- Provide Post Crisis Support
Toxic employees, especially leaders, often leave a big wake of damaged relationships and dysfunction that should not be underestimated. Ensure that you provide post crisis support and team development for teams and individuals impacted by the toxic behaviors.
- Inject Power Into Your Corporate Values
Do you have inclusion, respect for differences, and safety as part of your stated values? Most companies have versions of these values, but the test is whether they are followed.
Ensure that your core corporate values are integrated into every aspect of your business and into the employee lifecycle from recruitment, to onboarding, to performance management, to rewards and recognition, to exit interviews. Then measure how well and how often employees and leaders are walking the talk.
The Bottom Line
Leaders must set the example of good behavior and apply consequences for poor behavior. Do you conduct a periodic review of your employee experience, policies, and report follow-through?
To learn if you have a bigger problem than just one toxic employee, download The Top 5 High Performance Culture Warning Signs