Strategies: When Stellar Performance Masks Compromise

During a seminar on staff retention, the discussion focused on how to address performance and/or behavior issues with top employees. I could quickly see everyone’s discomfort meter red lining because all leaders have a tendency to take the easier compromise route than seek no-compromise solutions. The reason for the discomfort meter red lining is the fear that a top employee will may quit if pushed to follow the same rules and standards other employees must adhere to. It’s even more difficult when personal relationships come into play.

The challenge is simple; a “top employee” means that he or she truly excels in his or her areas of responsibility and contribution to the company. But what happens if some seemingly minor performance or behavior issues surface and tend to linger? During the discussion, one leader said, “I have an employee who is simply stellar - but is habitually late for work.” In this case, the top performer was a major revenue producer. After discussing the “stellar” employee’s lateness and why it needs to be addressed, the leader reluctantly added, “This stellar employee is our general manager - and she’s taking care of our dog while we’re gone.” So, we have a “stellar” employee who is a top producer, general manager and has become a personal friend. These facts certainly grease the skids for compromise.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to address double-standard behaviors with top employees:


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  • Own your role in allow “entitlement” behavior: Yes, there was a point when the issues in question could have been addressed - but weren’t. You allowed it continue and now you’re the only one that can fix it. This is not all your “stellar” employee’s fault. This instantly removes the “blame game” from the conversation.
  • Level the playing field: Your “stellar” employee fully realizes that he or she has been practicing entitlement behavior. Since top employees are typically mentors or role models for others, they also fully realize they have been enjoying a double standard at the expense of their fellow teammates. As leader, you must engage their support to level the playing field. Loyal employees, most likely with some coaching, will support you. If not, do they really belong on your team? Have they ever belonged on your team?
  • Accountability and clarifying expectations: When leveling the playing field, you must clarify in detail your expectations. Your top employees must understand what they change, what they must do, how you will support them - and how you will hold them accountable. Most of all, they must understand the consequences for not rising to the challenge. Yes, something as elementary as a leader afflicted with chronic lateness should know that continuing to be late could result in a demotion. Continued behavior issues could also be grounds for termination. Heck, if a “stellar” employee in a leadership is willing to lose her job because she cannot get to work on time, grant her wish.

Pass this blog post on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.

Neil Ducoff,

Founder & CEO 

About: Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies. Since 1993, Strategies has been transforming salon and spa businesses into dynamic, profitable, and sustainable team-based cultures. Neil is a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker and award-winning author. For more information on Neil and Strategies, go to You can email Neil at [email protected].