Your top performer works circles around everyone else; his ability to crush any quota is impressive. That's fantastic if that person isn't a toxic element. However, there are times when you've likely had to decide whether to fire your top performer or let him continue to erode the organization from within. A toxic employee -- no matter how good he is at his job -- hurts company culture.
Your culture is a delicate part of your company. Even the strongest of cultures can be undone in a few seconds and take years to rebuild. Just look at what Google faced recently with a leader who sexually harassed an employee in 2013. Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android, was awarded a $90 million exit package for his conduct. Now, Google's getting massive pushback from within the company and in the media.
Even one toxic employee can derail the progress a company has made to work as a team. It all comes back to trust and safety. If you tolerate a bad employee, others will become disillusioned by their experience at work.
The Sales Leadership Dilemma
I work with many sales teams as a coach and leadership speaker. I see leaders struggle when deciding whether to let go of a high performer because they count on that person's production. I've even heard leaders say they'll have to hire two or three people to make up for that person's lost revenue -- the collateral damage of firing a top performer.
Have you ever faced a similar dilemma to keep a toxic individual because of his ability to generate growth for the company?
I was giving a speech to an intimate group of enterprise and mid-market sales leaders about culture. At the event, I talked to Bob Perkins, founder and Chairman of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP), about culture. Perkins shared with me some stories from the front lines of sales leadership that got me thinking about toxic employees. For more than two decades, Perkins worked in sales and now continues that work through AA-ISP to help sales leaders evolve in the constantly changing space of inside sales.
Perkins faced this exact situation years ago. He had an amazingly talented rep who could sell anything. However, the person's respect for others -- or lack of it -- was toxic to the organization. The salesperson added stress and frustration at every turn. Perkins said, "Letting that person go was hard. They were a top producer. At the end of the day, it was the right decision. Also, it felt good."
It takes courage to cut away from someone who adds so much revenue to the business. However, leadership is about focusing on the greater good of the company. Perkins' view on sales leadership now? "The single most important thing a leader can do is to guard and protect the positive attitude of the team."
Sales is often about healthy competition. The daily, weekly and quarterly pushes to close new accounts is part of the journey. However, if one person is unethical and disrespectful in the process, others will disengage and refuse to try similar strategies -- or worse, they may emulate their behaviors on a quest for success. The worst thing that can happen is for others to start being toxic just to compete.
Don't forget that sales teams that operate together will go further than a single talented performer. You want to encourage collaboration among everyone with new strategies that are shared to make everyone better. "Sales teams do not operate on an island. They are on a team," said Perkins.
The real killer to a company is voluntary turnover. When an employee leaves, it's a massive hit to the company, which invested in finding that person. This may be hard money in terms of recruiting or simply an investment of time to find a new team member. That tally also includes onboarding these new hires to the business and the cost of developing them into high performers. And that's not to mention the extra costs incurred if your toxic employee caused several people to flee.
Leaders must have the courage to see beyond the numbers and make a decision or the good of the entire team. Even your No. 1 employee is expendable if he or she is toxic to the overall culture.