Leadership Lessons: Why Getting Rid of Toxic High Performers is Necessary for a Positive Workplace Culture
As leaders, one of our most important responsibilities is cultivating a healthy and positive workplace culture. But what happens when a high-performing employee exhibits toxic behavior that undermines that culture? It can be a difficult decision, but we must be willing to take action, even if that means letting go of a high-performing toxic employee.
The consequences of failing to address toxic behavior in the workplace can be severe. A prime example is Uber, where former engineer Susan Fowler’s 2017 blog post about the company’s toxic culture sparked an internal investigation that uncovered numerous allegations of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. The investigation resulted in the termination of over 20 employees, including some of Uber’s top executives. Among those terminated was Uber’s founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick, who had ignored previous complaints about the toxic culture and even intervened to keep a high-performing executive accused of sexual harassment.
Kalanick’s decision to keep a toxic employee had severe consequences for Uber. The company’s reputation suffered, and it faced multiple lawsuits and investigations. Uber’s valuation decreased by over $20 billion, losing significant market share to competitors like Lyft.
The lesson here is clear: as leaders, we must prioritize the well-being of our team members and company culture over the short-term benefits of keeping a toxic performer. It can be challenging to let go of a high-performing employee, but in the long run, it’s the right decision for everyone involved.
So, how can leaders effectively address toxic behavior in the workplace? Here are some practical steps to consider:
Set Clear Expectations
From the moment a new employee joins your team, it’s essential to set clear expectations about workplace behavior. Be explicit about what is and isn’t acceptable, and reinforce those expectations regularly. This clarity helps prevent misunderstandings and gives employees a clear framework for their behavior.
Provide Coaching and Feedback
Toxic behavior isn’t always intentional. Sometimes, employees may not realize the impact of their actions on their colleagues or the workplace as a whole. Regular coaching and feedback can help employees understand how their behavior affects others and allow them to make changes.
Reassignment allows employees to start fresh and demonstrate their commitment to positive workplace behavior. In some cases, it may be possible to address toxic behavior by reassigning the employee to a different team or role. This approach can be particularly effective if the employee’s skills and experience are valuable to the organization but their behavior is problematic.
Don’t Hesitate to Terminate
If all other options have been exhausted, it may be time to terminate the employee’s employment. While this can be difficult, it’s crucial to remember that toxic behavior can have long-lasting negative consequences for the workplace. As leaders, we are responsible for protecting our team members’ well-being and maintaining a positive workplace culture.
It’s worth noting that the decision to terminate an employee should never be made lightly. In addition to considering the potential impact on the workplace, it’s important to follow proper HR procedures and seek legal advice if necessary.
In conclusion, toxic behavior in the workplace is a serious issue that leaders must address promptly and decisively. Even high-performing employees can exhibit toxic behavior, and failing to take action can have severe consequences for the workplace culture and the organization as a whole. By setting clear expectations, providing coaching and feedback, considering reassignment, and, if necessary, terminating employment, leaders can protect their team members and create a healthy and positive workplace culture.
Howard M. Shore is an accomplished author and highly successful serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of creating over $1 billion in value throughout his career. As the CEO of Activate Group Inc., Howard specializes in helping CEOs who are serious about scaling their businesses and want to ensure they get it right the first time. With his wealth of experience and expertise, he is uniquely qualified to guide CEOs through the complex scaling process, from crafting a growth strategy to optimizing their operations and building high-performing teams. Whether you’re a startup founder or a seasoned executive, Howard can provide the guidance and support you need to take your business to the next level.