Why your rock stars are killing your business

Sick of the rock star drama?

Everyone loves a rock star.

They attract a crowd. They create buzz and can electrify a place. The experience is memorable and you just want more of their music, shirts, whatever once you’ve been to a concert.

Now pause a minute.

Think about the people in your organisation who smash their revenue/sales goals. They seem to walk on water and customers absolutely love them. You put them in a room and they close a deal. If you are a SaaS company, they are the person you always put on the webinars because people are hypnotised by them. Great, right?

Well. Not so fast.

The problems with rock stars often go unseen by the customer but are lived by anyone around them for more than a few hours. They can be finicky, demanding, unreasonable bullies and at a certain point just not worth the return on investment.

Top earners in organisations like to think of themselves as rock stars (often self-proclaimed). People can be inconsequential and their show is all that matters. The sale is all that exists and everyone else is fodder. They leave a trail of bodies behind them and have little regard for this tiny little thing called ‘culture’. The show is about them and it’s the greatest show, regardless of the costs to the ‘stage crew’.

This can kill your organisation.

Good talent leaves when they grow weary of the rock stars. The culture of poor behaviours becomes pervasive and indoctrinated into how people get results. Backstabbing to the top trumps teamwork. Customers once sold on the dream, now experience the dysfunction that follows in the service delivery when sales are more highly valued than culture and service. Because sales dominate, the product takes a back seat and marketing is forced to spin things in a way that best suits the sales agenda.

It sounds extreme, but I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count for you the number of organisations I’ve consulted to where I have seen this exact situation.

Of course, not every top earner is like this. Many are amazing people that genuinely just love the work they do. But what do you do if these thieves of joy exist in your organisation?

  1. Quantify the net benefit. Net benefit as in what’s the attrition, sick leave and other forms of employee impacts been to the team they operate in. Are we closing sales, only to lose our customer (churn rate) a few months later when the product fails to meet what was ‘sold’. Do certain teams impacted by the rock stars have much higher attrition rates and is it attributable to individuals or is it systemic?
  2. Dig into the espoused vs enacted values. Espoused values are the things you see on the posters in the work areas (we’ve all seen those) that tell us what the values are e.g. honesty, integrity, blah blah. The same cut and paste values that could be at a software company or a funeral parlour. Enacted values represent ‘the way we do things around here’, regardless of what the posters tell us. How do your rock stars influence the way we do things around here? Will they lie to get a sale? Will they step on their peer to get a bonus?
  3. Ask yourself what matters most? If revenue trumps everything else and you don’t think the leaders will go for performance managing the rock star, then the culture will continue to be what it is today. If however, the leaders believe that culture focus will net results, then you can work with the team to ensure these behaviours are managed out.
  4. Help rock stars reform. History is littered with people who were notorious ‘bad guys’ only to turn a corner and reform once shown a better way. The same could apply for your top earners. If leaders exert pressure and the organisation no longer rewards poor behaviour, rock stars will choose to reform or will find another band to play in. When navigating this situation, coaching is the first port of call, performance management is the second. Neither of these should be dragged out and need to happen swiftly. This will minimise on-going impacts.

When leaders like you step into the breach and work with HR to help coach rock stars (performance manage where needed), the whole organisation experiences a paradigm shift and the whole group can start making music as an ensemble.

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