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How to manage your company’s dysfunctional star

Every firm has one. You know, the person whose potential/rain making skills/client relationship management is such that they are talked about in reverent hushed tones. But they’re a b*gger to work with, and you have to manage them.

Yep, you’ve got the job of ironing out the rather large kinks in their personality whilst making sure that you don’t annoy them too much – “as they are very valuable to the success of this firm”.

The problem is that their strengths – such as their large and profitable client portfolio – is masking some rather nasty behavioural problems.

I’ve seen this quite a few times with some absolutely brilliant partners who are just about managing to avoid being taken to an employment tribunal for discrimination of some kind. Or it’s the long timer in the firm who has so much firm-wide knowledge that “the firm would fall apart without them”, but isn’t doing the job you now need them to do.

I remember when I used to work with a financial services company: if a fee earner was bringing in fees over three times their salary, it didn’t matter how they behaved to others. They became “off-limits”.

The danger is that if you ignore the problem, it won’t just go away.

In fact, it often gets worse and their behaviour gets accepted as the norm – and the more junior members of staff believe that the firm is okay with poor behaviour or attitudes. You know, “as long as you are bringing in the work, it doesn’t matter how you behave”. This makes it increasingly difficult for managers in the firm to reinforce the importance of living within the firm values.

So what’s the solution?

You have to manage the whole person, warts and all. Almost definitely, the star’s behavioural issues have been ignored, because they are “so good” in other areas.

This means that they often don’t realise their impact on others, or the extent of the problem. And the longer you let the problem fester, the worse it will become. Before you start managing this person, all of your senior management team needs to agree to the consequences of the person not making the change.

The first step to managing the person is to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses – and particularly how this impacts on others – and how it would benefit them personally if they changed their behaviour.

Step two is to coach the star to find the personal motivation to make the change.

Step three is to spend time with the star to help them make the change.

But ultimately, if the star isn’t changing, then you have to enact the consequences of not changing. Sometimes, this may mean getting rid of them. What are your thoughts on managing dysfunctional stars” Do you try to get them to change, or do you just ignore the problem?

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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