Can the Brilliant Jerk Be Managed Effectively?
By James Haskett
James Heskett is a Baker Foundation Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School.
The annoying employee who makes his numbers while alienating those around him will gain needed attention in the coming months with at least one book about to be published on the subject. This is an age-old problem that most managers handle badly.
You know the story by now. It concerns high-performing employees, known by some as "stars" and by others as "destructive heroes" or "brilliant jerks," those who generate a great deal of business while creating problems for colleagues. They are demanding to the ...view middle of the document...
My conclusions in the past have reflected those of leaders whom I respect. They include listening closely to what is going on; beginning an intervention with the offender early on; providing an opportunity for attitude improvement, possibly with the engagement of a counselor or coach; and then terminating in a timely fashion the employee who is unable to change.
Of course, the best course of action may be not to hire this type of person in the first place. As Richard Fairbanks, CEO of Capital One, is fond of saying, "At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes." However, it's hard to avoid the occasional hiring mishap.
In revisiting this topic, I'm beginning to wonder if there are ways of salvaging brilliant jerks and preserving the energy, ideas, and performance they can bring to an organization. For example, in larger organizations is reassignment a solution? Will a job with fewer interactions with others help? Can a different boss make a difference?
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have written about "how to manage around a weakness" not by changing people but by balancing "the strengths and weaknesses of each individual." What have been your experiences? How can organizations best handle the "brilliant jerk"? What do you think?
It concern high-performing employees, known by some as “stars” and by others as “destructive heroes” or “brilliant jerks”, those who generate a great deal of business while creating problems for colleagues. They make promises to clients that their colleagues cannot meet, they take too many credits for success, and they generally are...