Here is the scenario. He’s the star producer in your most profitable division. Business is tough and, as CEO, you are under enormous pressure to produce, and this guy is one of your top rainmakers. His behavior has always been erratic, but until recently you’ve ignored it and it hasn’t had an impact on sales or his on the job performance. However, recently his behavioral issues have become publically known, and he has openly criticized management. He also is demanding a sizeable pay increase. What do you do? Do you fire the rainmaker?
The person I am talking about is Charlie Sheen, who unfortunately has received much more press and publicity that he deserves. I have never watched the TV program that he stars in, so am in no position to evaluate either the quality of the program or Sheen’s acting talents. His program is the number one rated show on television and generates about $160 million per year in revenue for CBS. Well, CBS finally decided to fire Charlie Sheen. They fired the rainmaker.
While not so dramatic or bizarre, I would suggest that corporate executives face “fire the rainmaker” decisions all the time. Any time there is a decision that forces an executive to decide between impacting the bottom line, and ignoring unacceptable behavior, it is a fire the rainmaker decision. A fact of life is that there are going to be people who contribute significantly to the success of the organization, yet don’t fit the “corporate mold”.
The first step in dealing with the issue of disruptive rainmaker behavior is to determine what constitutes unacceptable behavior. There is a natural human tendency to test limits and boundaries. This isn’t necessarily all bad. This tendency challenges the status quo, enables creativity, and allows for growth and new perspectives. So expecting everyone to be act, think, and look the same way is not the answer to dealing with disruptive behavior.
I’ll suggest a few areas where even rainmakers should not be the given the leeway or latitude. The first, is illegal or unethical behavior. An organization sets itself up for serious problems if it allows anyone to violate laws or engage in unethical behavior in order to improve the bottom line. It is easier to determine illegal than unethical. For example, one of the areas I was responsible for was shipping. I was asked by a salesman to generate an invoice for a shipment on December 31, and then issue a credit on January 1 with no intention of ever shipping the product. This was clearly an attempt to manipulate the year end financials for the customer and avoid taxes. I refused to participate and was supported by my management and legal counsel. The salesman involved was never disciplined and the reason that was given was that he was just doing what the customer asked.
Secondly, abuse of one person by another should not be tolerated. Not only it is just not right, it can ultimately come back to harm the company in terms of bad publicity and legal actions. I’ve seen situations where obviously abusive managers are ignored because they are perceived as achieving great results. There is a difference between being tough and demanding and being abusive. The legal definition of abuse is any physical or mental mistreatment that causes mental, emotional, or physical injury. Mistreatment can take the formal of bullying, verbal harassment, or public embarrassment. It is the responsibility of senior management to protect its employees from abuse.
A third area of unacceptable behavior is cheating and dishonesty. by definition are driven to succeed and sometimes will do what ever it takes to get the result. They may misrepresent company capabilities in order to make the sale. They may manipulate performance numbers to look better. They may make false statements about a competitor or co worker.
Finally, publically sharing information about the company that is intended to be private and confidential should be unacceptable. Obviously this does not mean things that the company is doing that are illegal that would be termed whistle blowing. Rather it means company secrets and other information intended for internal use only. Many insider trading cases have resulted from employees sharing information with a friend, financial advisor, or anyone who might use the information to make an investment decisions.
I am not a psychologist, so I tend to keep the principles of human behavior very simple. One of the principles I teach participants in my leadership development programs is:
Ignoring or rewarding negative behavior increases the amount of the negative behavior.
Note that the result is the same whether the behavior is positively reinforced or rewarded, or whether it is ignored. I worked in chemical plants most of my pre consulting career, and we always operated by one principle—a leak never fixed itself and usually gets bigger if ignored. The same is true of unacceptable behavior. It won’t fix itself and ignoring it will make it get worse.
One of the best ways to avoid having to make a fire the rainmaker decision, is to keep the disruptive behavior from reaching that point. Whatever your organization s list of unacceptable behavior is, it should be communicated to everyone. Some situations may require immediate termination, while others may be dealt with through a progressive corrective action system. The key is not the ignore, regardless of the performance or contribution of the person involved.
Ultimately the behavior that is accepted of rainmakers becomes the organizational norm. No matter the contribution of a rainmaker, they can never be permitted to become bigger or better than the organization. Without exception the ultimate outcome is the demise of the individual and irreparable damage to the organization. Just check the news.
Ryan Scholz works with leaders whose success is dependent on getting commitment and high performance from others. He is author of Turning Potential into Action: Eight Principles for Creating a Highly Engaged Work Place. For more information, visit his web site at http://www.lead-strat-assoc.com.