Peter Cullen is currently the author of the Career Doctor articles appearing in the Institute of Managers and Leaders publication named Leadership Matters. The columns on this page have appeared in Leadership Matters. Peter also wrote a weekly column on Workplace Behaviour for the Courier Mail in Queensland. The ebook containing the Courier Mail articles is a free download.

An Aim Specialist Takes A Problem To Task

How to deal with a high performing staff member who also breaks the rules

Your high performer, let’s call her Cheryl, is exceptional. I imagine she has a terrific manner with customers, great relationship skills, exceeds targets and has the highest billing. But she doesn’t see the point in record keeping as it slows her down. Your conversations on the importance of record keeping fall on deaf ears. This means you must waste your precious time double checking and fixing everything.

While this story is fictitious, there are similar situations occurring in many workplaces all the time.

There are many very real reasons why managers don’t have difficult conversations. Some of these are they simply do not know how to, a lack of courage or confidence, might upset the person or hurt their feelings, it could escalate into greater conflict, potential repercussions, ongoing disruption, fear of change, and concern about what colleagues or senior management would think of them.

A great place to start before you have the necessary conversation with Cheryl is to speak with your manager and HR. They may be able relate a personal experience, offer sound advice, support you when and where needed and discuss a formal framework to work through. For example, a supportive and developmental conversation could look like this:

“Cheryl, I appreciate and respect the high volume of revenue you bring to this company, which is consistently the highest in the team. As you know, we have previously discussed the low standard of record keeping on several occasions. This means I’m continually checking and completing this work for you which consumes a lot of my time. It’s also affecting the morale and performance within the team as everyone else completes their work as required. Cheryl, this is a company requirement and is part of your responsibility in your role. What do you believe you can do to ensure the records are kept current?” (Cheryl would need to produce a solution that is mutually agreeable then discuss how it would be implemented and confirm times for monitoring discussions and appraising outcomes. Your next steps will depend on the outcomes).

It’s essential notes are taken of all discussions and agreements, and liaison is maintained with your manager and HR throughout in case the situation continues and needs to be escalated into a performance improvement plan.

Having these difficult conversations does take courage. Making sure the conversations are about the work, the company and are not personal makes a big difference.

Peter Cullen is an AIM facilitator who teaches AIM’s “Manage People, Performance and Business Effectively” courses. Each three-day program engages participants in developing and implementing their capabilities as managers and leaders.