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.

High Performers Create Conflict

Your highest performer Cheryl, is exceptional in everything she does. A terrific manner with customers, great relationship skills, exceeds targets and has the highest billing. Cheryl really enjoys taking the customer on a journey and keeping them. She does not 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. Ouch!

Conflict in this situation will normally arise from several areas. The first is between you and the high performer regarding incomplete work and them not actively improving her record keeping. The second will be amongst the team as they perceive another team member is consistently getting away with incomplete work. The third is likely to be the team will be against you because of perceived favouritism and an inability to manage properly.

We now have lower morale and performance in general in the team because of your inability to properly manage this situation.

Whilst this story is fictitious, there are similar situations occurring in many work places all the time. 

There are many very real reasons why managers do not 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, what would their staff peers or senior management think about me and I am sure you can think of a few more.

A great place to start before you have the necessary conversation with Cheryl is to speak with your manager and HR. Explain the situation in a clear and unbiased manner and ask them for their advice. 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. An objective understanding of your concern will also reveal your contribution to the current situation.

As an 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 am continually checking and completing this work for you which consumes a lot of my time. It is also effecting 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 to come with a solution that is mutually agreeable then discuss how it will be implemented and confirm times for monitoring discussions and appraising outcomes. Your next steps will depend on the outcomes. 

As an example an assertive conversation could look like this:

Cheryl, I have discussed your record keeping with you on (dates) and explained the reasons why it is so important to the company and the effect the additional workload has on me. As you know, the company requires all records be fully and accurately maintained on a daily basis. This being a requirement of your role, I expect this to commence from tomorrow morning. I will follow this up with you on Friday at 3pm to discuss the progress. Should there be little improvement then we will discuss next steps which, if necessary, will include a discussion on performance management. I request your commitment to this action.

It is 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 and the company and are not personal makes a big difference.