Managing a “thoroughbred employee”

Most bosses have experienced managing one – a high performing, eager, results-oriented employee who can run circles around other staff. Usually it is a blessing, but sometimes it is also a curse, as these individuals accomplish much but can be very challenging to manage.

Studies show that the behavior of high performing horses can be affected by the environment in their stable, number of other horses, and other factors. Similarly, high performing individuals are affected by workplace factors.

So how do you manage and coach a high performer (HP) who is creating problems? Experience has shown me that the main factor in keeping them at a high performance level while minimizing issues is simply constructive communications. Oftentimes, high performers are so focused on results that they are not aware of the collateral damage they may be causing. And their bosses are reluctant to mention it lest they demotivate their “star” or be the cause of a resignation. (In most organizations senior management know who these HPs are.)

Most HPs are very interested in getting feedback so they can be even more effective. So the best way to manage them is to inform them of how they are impacting the company, stressing the positive contributions first followed by the challenges you, as the boss, are seeing. Here’s where the company’s core values and culture come in. These comprise the workplace parameters that high performers must operate in, and if you think about it, are really not negotiable. How an employee operates within these parameters is an equally important performance dimension than the output.

Think back when you started working at a new company or even a new department. Didn’t you want someone to tell you how you were being perceived and if you were “fitting-in”?

Don’t be afraid to offer high performers constructive feedback and criticism. It’s your responsibility as the boss. And don’t be afraid to make the tough decision that it might just be a bad fit and the work output is just not worth the high maintenance.

Further reading:

  1. 10 Tips to Help Manage High Performers with Difficult Personalities (Profiles International)
  2. Managing the “Toxic High Performer” (Blog by Dan McCarthy)
  3. Performance reviews in a nutshell (Bossdepot blog)
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