What to do with high-performing bullies

by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham, Xtraordinary Outcomes

Are you putting your company in Jeopardy?

A: The critically high performing bully
Q: What do you do with someone who gets great results that your company needs but is putting your company at risk?

Read our lips: “Forget the carrot, go directly to the stick.”

A critically high performing bully has you and your company over a barrel because:

  1. You know you need them.
  2. They know you need them
  3. They know that you know you need them

If they are more driven by personal ego and personal ambition than principle and your company’s mission, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you will need to intervene with them.  And that usually happens when either your HR head or employment lawyer tells you they are putting your company at risk.

Don’t expect such people to listen to reason which is often where your emotionally mature HR head or employment lawyer or you come from.  What they may listen to is something that plays to their ambition and/or greed and fear.

Ambition and/or greed:

1. When they lose a big customer or client.
2. When they are passed over for a promotion or pay raise (although they usually get those raises because they are based on results more than personality).
3. When a compelling and convincing argument is made to them of how they are leaving even much better results on the table by their bullying behavior.

Fear:

4. When the harassment or hostile workforce law suit your HR head and employment lawyer have been warning you about begins to look like it might happen and that suit will be much more damaging and costly to the company than the results the bully gets.
5. When because of that law suit or some other action that causes a principled CEO or Board of Directors to say, “Enough already” and it is not a bluff and the bully’s remaining at the company is dependent on their changing.

How to make it work and stick

There needs to be a 360 with stakeholders:

  1. Who positively influence others in the company.
  2. Who are more committed to the success of the bully than punishing them.
  3. Who will be candid and specific about observable behavior changes that the bully needs to make.
  4. Who will let go the past and give the bully a new chance if they change.
  5. Who will be committed to giving specific input and feedback to the bully as they move forward.
  6. Who will be committed to giving feedback on progress to a coach (see below) half way and at the end of a coaching engagement.
  7. Who will be willing to spread the positive word on the bully that they have actually changed.

There usually, but not always, needs to be an external coach:

  1. Who will manage the coaching assignment and elicit the candid 360 input from the stakeholoders.
  2. Who will distill from that input the target positive (start one) and negative (stop one) behaviors the bully commits to changing.
  3. Who with the bully will communicate to the stakeholders what the bully has committed to change doing after they have internalized the new behavior (so it is not just a superficial change to get people off their back).
  4. Who will gain commitment from the stakeholders to reassess and give specific input to the coach midway through the coaching assignment (either at 3 months for a 6 month assignment or at 6 months for a 12 month assignment for a critically important and highly egregiously acting employee) regarding progress and recommendations for further improvement.
  5. Who will prescriptively provide tactics for the bully to continue get high results without resorting to their bullying behavior.

More often than not CEO’s are conflict avoidant because their role is to define vision and strategy than it is to get into confrontations with negative and toxic people which they can't stand.  CEO’s therefore often assign these tasks to HR or COO’s.  Over time many CEO’s realize that being able to quickly and effectively confront conflict in their company is a leadership opportunity, because people’s respect often rises and falls on whether their leader deals with conflict head on or avoids dealing with it.  At that time many CEO’s will elect to have coaching themselves on how to deal more effectively with conflict.

BTW at our company Xtraordinary Outcomes even though executive clients are often referred to us for remedial reasons after a first meeting, we make it clear to them and the company that we won't work with anyone unless they see this as an opportunity to become better and even more high performing than they have ever been by becoming inspiring rather than intimidating to everyone they interact with.

To receive Mark's "Failure to Communicate" PDF from his Tribune syndicated career advice column that is excerpted from Marshall Goldsmith's #1 WSJ mega best seller, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, email Mark at: mark@xtraordinaryoutcomes.com.

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