When Top Performers Hurt Your Company Culture

Written by Vicki Lauter on . Posted in Developing Employees, Retaining Employees

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Ask any company that’s hiring today and they will tell you that they want to recruit and hire top talent.  When a company is in growth mode and they are hiring fast and furious, it can take some time to uncover why a talented person turns out to be the performer that is sabotaging your company culture.

In his book “Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work”, Eric Sinoway discusses how he and his mentor, Harvard Business School Professor,  Howard Stevenson created a classification system to identify employees that help an organizations culture and those that hurt it.

  • Stars are the employees we all love – the ones who “do the right thing” (they perform well) the right way (in a manner that supports and builds desired organizational culture)
  • High potentials are those whose behavior we value – who do things the right way but whose skills need further development/maturation/enhancement. With training, time and support, these people are your future stars.
  • Zombies fail on both counts. Their behavior doesn’t align with the cultural aspirations of the organization and their performance is mediocre at best. They are the dead wood of your company. Their ability to inflict harm is mitigated by their lack of credibility. They don’t add much, but the cultural damage they do is limited. (These are the people most of us try to flush out of our organizations).
  • Vampires are the real threat. These employees perform well but in a manner that is at cross-purposes with desired organizational culture. Because their functional performance is strong, they acquire power and influence. Over time, they also acquire followers: the zombies who are who share their different set of values and aspire to better performance. Soon, there is a small army of zombies attacking the stars, high potentials and leaders who are doing the right thing.

Do you have any vampires in your office, sucking the life out of your company culture? You know the ones. They get their work done but hold “secret meetings” at lunch or the water cooler. If your organization’s leaders  haven’t taken the time to solidify the culture they want for the organization, it can be sabotaged by the vampires and over night your culture will change and you won’t even know what hit you.

The best way to stop cultural vampireism  is to terminate these people regardless of their functional performance. It may have taken you years to build your organization, the last thing you need is for the vampires and zombies to take over.

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