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Dealing with high performing employees who lack social skills

High performing employees are often an easy hiring decision, and Ivy league hires seem like a no-brainer, but their competitive nature can rub other employees the wrong way.

high performing employees

high performing employees

Making difficult managerial decisions about high performing employees

As a manager, I’m often brought face to face with making the hard choices: implement a reduction in forces or reduce everyone’s working hours, hire that Ivy league MBA or the local candidate with connections, set up a permanent office overseas or outsource to a local consultant in said country, go green in the office or cut costs on waste disposal (ok, so not all calls are tough to make). Many managerial choices I make are cut and dry; it’s fairly evident which way I should cast my vote. But what do you do when you have a truly difficult choice to make regarding a handful of high performing employees?

A client of mine has recently undergone a huge change in their workforce. With the latest reorganization, they were able to snag some high quality talent within their targeted salary budget. It’s only been a few months, but already three of their “good finds” are giving them grief, and not as you’d suspect.

A number of complaints have been lodged against these high performing employees by colleague and supervisor alike. What’s more, other supervisors outside of these high performers’ functional group are feeling the ill-effects of working in close proximity of them. What’s the problem, you ask? A lack of interpersonal skills is what’s causing all of the commotion. I identified four key areas of expression: rudeness, condescension, sarcasm, and perfectionism.

Addressing the high performing employees directly

When I had the chance to speak with each of them individually, a common theme played out. First, their lack of interpersonal skills displayed as rudeness was unintentional. They had no idea their colleagues and manager felt that way. Nor did they realize how they were being perceived.

Second, there was a communication problem. Clear and precise roles and responsibilities were never developed and disseminated. So the toes stepped on was due to a result of a lack of structure.

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Lastly, these high performing employees exist because of their ability to reach goals and exceed expectations, however, most of them are inflexible and rigidly hold to ideas or methods that don’t suit the workplace culture. As such, they stick out like uncooperative oddballs. Once we had a framework around where the problem areas were, we were able to move ahead in a mutually beneficial way.

It’s not enough just to be a rockstar when it comes to operational measures. What counts in today’s people-to-people business is to temper rigid metrics with soft skills. Hands down, if given a choice, I firmly believe a manager will choose the easy-to-get-along-with mid performer over the anti-social high performer who pushes people (and clients) away.

The takeaway:

As you think about which soft skills you want your employees to have, start with this list (in no particular order). Which skills do you value? Which do you possess? Which skills would benefit your work environment?

  • leadership
  • development and management of internal relationships
  • accomplishment of team and individual goals
  • effective collaboration
  • ability to jointly solve problems
  • clear communication
  • ability to make mutually beneficial decisions
  • effective delegation of responsibility
  • attention to customer service
  • ability to build and maintain effective business relationships
  • ethics and integrity
  • flexibility
  • responsiveness

Next week, I will dive deeper into how the problems were addressed to bridge the gap between employees to improve the workforce.

Written By

Monica Moffitt, founder and Principal Cultural Consultant at Tianfen Consulting, Inc., has traveled the world and enjoys linguistics and all things culture. Having split her career between project management and business analytics, Monica merges logic, fluency in Chinese and creativity in her new role as cultural consultant. She received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies/Chinese from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Business Administration (International Management and Marketing) from University of Texas at Dallas.

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