Managing “Hard to Manage” High Performers

by | Tech Employment

On November 20, 2019, ProFocus hosted our latest Leaders Lunch with Portland-based Software development leaders. 

John Boone, the President of ProFocus Technology, moderated the roundtable discussion on the topic of Managing “Hard to Manage” High Performers.

Below, we’ve rounded up the best practices and lessons learned from the one hour discussion, as well as a few resources attendees recommended. 

Signs You Have a Problem 

Hard to manage high performers may seem to be productive, but in hindsight you often realize they were probably a net negative. After all, if these employees reduce everyone else’s productivity, can you really call them high performers? Here are some signs that you might have a problem:

  • Low turnover can be a sign of keeping the wrong people.
  • “Jerk geniuses” make other engineers feel stupid which is terrible for team success.
  • You know you have a problem when these employees keep coming up in one-on-ones with other employees. It can be a roller coaster – It will cycle between being better and then it will rise up as a problem again and again.

Effects on Your Agile Culture

Ignoring the issue can have serious impacts on the entire team. As Google researchers have found, the emotional safety of the team is very important. These employees often threaten that emotional safety.

There was a lot of discussion about attempts to isolate the high performer on tasks they can work on on their own. The problem is, what makes Agile work is how people work together. Agile also rewards different set of skills than the solo high performer.

While you might be tempted to have these employees work on their own on all the hard work, it can be dangerous to rely on your high performers to work entirely independently If they leave the company, you will be left high and dry. You should always ensure there is no single point of failure if one person leaves.

Addressing High Performer Problems 

  • Don’t put it off. Managers should eliminate toxicity as quickly as possible. When managers take action on the problem, other employees see that “management is not afraid to stick up for me.”
  • Focus on recruiting the right people in the first place (ProFocus can help.) When hiring, always consider “is this someone we want to work with? As one attendee shared, “If you get the people right, the tech is easy.”
  • One manager had the company’s two superstars take vacations at the same time. This made everyone else step up and fill the gap.
  • Another attendee pairs up two employees (not paired programming) and sets up a mentorship relationship. They scope out a mentor program for the quarter and the two employees figure out a model that works. Both engineers have a list of goals to accomplish. This helps build the team.

Recommended Resources

Book – Leading the Unleadable
Book – Radical Candor

If you are a Software Development leader and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to [email protected] with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches.

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ProFocus is an IT staffing and consulting company. We strive to connect a select few of the right technology professionals to the right jobs.

We get to know our clients and candidates in detail and only carefully introduce a small number of candidates that fit the role well.