Do You Have A “Brilliant Jerk” On Your Team?

By November 5, 2015General News

Several years ago, I was asked by an Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, “What do you see as the biggest hurdle to business growth?”  My response was, “Companies hang-on to the wrong people too long.” 

Okay, I can’t take credit for this great insight.  Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great over 12 years ago, and then reaffirmed a couple of years ago in an interview, “People are still the most important and first decision area to get right in your business.”  The now famous Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Culture Presentation (viewed over 3 million times on Slideshare) addresses one of the key people types often tolerated, the “brilliant jerk.”

Who is the “brilliant jerk”?  This is a high-performing, valuable member of your team, but someone who is toxic to the other team members. You’ve seen this kind of person: aggressive, stubborn, unapproachable, passive aggressive, disrespectful and argumentative. They know it all!

“But, but”, you say, “they make me money!”  Hastings says that some companies tolerate the “brilliant jerk,” but that Netflix considers their cost to teamwork as too high. They get a generous severance package!

So how do you identify the “brilliant jerk”?  Maybe a better question is, how do you know that you have what Collins referred to as “the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”?

I have discovered it is not all that hard.  Gino Wickman, the author of the book Traction® and founder of theEntrepreneurial Operating System ®(EOS)®, developed a rather simple tool for leadership teams to use.  It is called, “The People Analyzer.”  This tool helps answer the two critical questions of “right people” and “right seats.”

Right People: These are people who fit your core values.  To determine who they are, you must first have relevant core values.   Do your stated core values really reflect your actual culture — are they your “shared values”?  Or, are they a bunch of nice sounding platitudes that hang on a wall, but aren’t really lived?  (You are probably familiar with Enron’s core value of “integrity” – however, greed and deception was the prevailing culture.)

Get your core values right, and then use them to measure each person using “The People Analyzer” to determine if you have the “right people.

Right Seat:  Once you have the “right people,” it is imperative that you get them into the “right seats.”  The “People Analyzer” has three criteria for determining if an individual is in the appropriate position  – we call it, GWC!   Do they Get it? Do they Want it?  And do they have the Capacity to do it? (To download the GWC Tool, click here.) A person in the “right seat” will GWC for each of their 3 to 5 key responsibilities. If they don’t, it could be that they are in the “wrong seat” or have some wrong responsibilities.

Wrong Person: What do you do with the “wrong person” – regardless of whether they are in the “right seat” (“the brilliant jerk”) or the “wrong seat”? Perhaps a 30-60 day period of coaching will work to correct behavior (not often).  In the end, “wrong people” usually must go. I have never witnessed regret in removing a “brilliant jerk” – quite the opposite. The only regret most leadership teams have is that they wish they had done it sooner.

Right Person – Wrong Seat: If a person reflects your core values, but does not meet “The People Analyzer” GWC criteria, find their “right seat” or move the responsibilities they don’t GWC (Get Want or have the Capacity to do) to someone else.  Unfortunately, if there is not a “right seat,” and profit is your motive, you should let them go.

If you would like additional information on how to use “The People Analyzer” or a free business Organization Check-up, click here.