Nothing hurts a company more than when the bosses ignore, indulge, or otherwise tolerate a jerk—or two or three—in the house. Such latitude undermines organizational trust and morale, and without those, the competitive linchpins of collaboration and speed are just plain harder. Not to mention the fact that jerks take the fun out of work.
But before we talk about how to get rid of jerks, let’s be clear about who these people are. In business you can divide employees into four categories by looking at them along two dimensions: how well they perform—that is, how often they make the numbers—and how well they demonstrate company values.
Now, “values” is a lofty and somewhat vague word, but all it really means is “behaviors.” Values are how companies want their employees to act, which is why most lists include virtues like integrity and fairness. Those are necessary, but any list of values can, and should, also be linked to strategic goals. A company could, for instance, add values that say: We think and act globally, celebrate teamwork, show a strong bias for speed, or approach problems with urgency.
Back to the four types of employees. The first are people with good performance and good behaviors. With these winners, management’s job is easy—nurture, reward, and push onward and upward. The second are employees who have neither good results nor good behaviors. Again, the job is easy: Show them the door. A third kind of employee may deliver weak results for a year but still exhibit all the behaviors you want, so managers should give these well-intentioned people a second or third chance. Type 3 employees may have a particular performance issue, but they’re not jerks.
Then there’s a fourth kind of employee, the dangerous one. The one who delivers the numbers but doesn’t live the behaviors. You know the type—who doesn’t? They exist at every level in almost every organization. These high performers can be mean, secretive, or arrogant. Very often they kiss up and kick down. Some are stone-cold loners, while others are moody, keeping those around them in a kind of terrorized thrall.
And yet, too often Type 4s remain unscathed. Bosses at every level too often sell out and go for the short term results over the behaviors. Indeed, most of us have probably been guilty somewhere along the way of letting the burning desire for good results cover up the sins of an employee’s poisonous behavior. We’ve squirmed and looked away.
You just can’t do that!
Jack is Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute. Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute transforms the lives of its students by providing them with the tools to become better leaders, build great teams, and help their organizations win. He is co-author, with Suzy Welch, of the new book, The Real-Life MBA — Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which debuted as a #1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller.