Dealing with the Competent Jerk

We see it over and over again- the “competent” performer that leaves a wake of dead in his path. Or the manager that gets results, but burns bridges wherever she goes. While everyone in the organization knows the damage these employees cause, the organization puts up with their behavior because they feel they get results. But are the results really the results you want?
Who is a Competent Jerk?
We often see employees hold organizations hostage. This type of manager gets operational results. Yet, in getting results, he or she may be taking down the organization in the process. These managers are cancerous. They visibly gain ground, while simultaneously generating a path of destruction. They destroy morale, derail the efforts of others, and may ultimately destroy an organization. We call these employees “competent jerks.” Unfortunately, this type of behavior rarely remains contained- it spreads throughout the organization.
“We’re getting results, so what’s the problem? I know people can’t stand him, but he delivers!” So, what IS the problem? For starters, these individuals often maximize their own results at the expense of others. This manager is focused on operational metrics, but forgets that results cannot always be immediately quantified in terms of sales dollars, defective parts per million, or customer satisfaction scores. Are operational measures important? Absolutely! Are they complete? No way!
Competent jerks meet two qualifiers: 1) They hit or exceed their numbers; but 2) they are hard to work with. Many competent jerks know they are jerks, but feel it is the only way to achieve success. It is hard to argue with the excellent results that they achieve.
The long-term impact of this employee can be devastating to an organization. Unfortunately, many have risen through the ranks because of their ability to hit the numbers; their behavior is reinforced with each promotion or additional assignment. We see this regularly in using 360-degree feedback assessments, as well as through our talent assessment processes. While this employee’s performance evaluation shows stellar results, the behaviors displayed in order to get there are clearly identified by others as inappropriate. Although his or her immediate results are maximized, they are achieved at the expense of such factors as lowered morale and team engagement, high turnover, and overall drop in long-term effectiveness (yes… even operational effectiveness).
What to do about it

  1. The organization must understand that performance is more than immediate operational results, and hold their employees accountable for how an employee gets results. How a manager goes about achieving results is as important as what results are achieved. Achieving short-term results is a must. However, those that achieve short-term results at the long-term expense of the organization can be devastating.
  2. Competent jerks must be made aware of the effect of their behavior on others. A thorough assessment of the manager’s behavioral performance using an instrument such as a 360-degree feedback survey provides the wake-up call needed to promote change. Evaluation of overall performance should include a behavioral component, in addition to the operational metrics piece. The manager should also clearly understand the level of employee engagement on his or her team. Coaching provided by this person’s manager or an outside coach is used to develop an action plan and provide follow-up support and accountability during the process.

We have found that these types of managers can and do change with the proper support. However, the manager must want to change, understand exactly what needs to change, develop an action plan to make it happen, and receive on-going support and follow-through.
Related Webinar: Dealing with the Office Jerk
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Related Webinar: Leadership Derailers: When Leaders Get Off Track
Related Post: What is a Leadership Derailer?
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