Hiring and retaining good employees continues to be a more expensive proposition every day for businesses big and small. You can’t properly scale your company without capable people to assume higher levels of responsibility. You also can’t sit back when one of these key people decides to go rogue.
Every year, I encounter a hand full of coaching clients with senior employees that for no clear reason have decided to do things their own way. It’s called ‘going rogue’ and it can have crippling effects throughout the organization especially when the employee in question is a VP, Director, GM or senior level client facing team member.
There’s a fine line between allowing your team to operate autonomously or independently and having a culture where no one is accountable for their decisions, actions and behavior. It can happen with almost any level and function in a company. Here are a few examples I’ve recently encountered:
In each of these cases (and many more) the person who is ultimately responsible for the company’s performance is left trying to figure out how to anticipate and cover the disastrous effects of the rogue employee. Often, no direct action is taken because the owner thinks the issue can be minimized and potential conflicts, or the spread of more bad behavior can be avoided. It’s the appearance of no consequences that emboldens rogue employees to go off course in the first place.
So, why do key employees go rogue in the first place?
Why would people who play an important role in your company’s results and presumably are being compensated on those results, decide they no longer want to operate within your guidelines? From my 13 years as an executive coach and 30 years of key roles in corporate America, I can boil it down to two words, ‘No Accountability’!
Highly talented or ambitious employees who are not held accountable for actions and behaviors that support and reflect professionally on the company, will eventually lose respect for the boss choosing instead to undermine the direction, call their own shots, and manipulate others to follow their lead. Not all highly valued employees are susceptible to this phenomenon. It’s usually the one’s with self-serving intentions about who’s really running the company.
How does rogue behavior start?
Rogue behavior can start from a fundamental disagreement over how the business is being run or a feeling on the part of the employee that they are not receiving the reward they feel entitled to for the efforts they produce. Rogue behavior can also sprout from someone who was passed over or is continually over ruled on big decisions. Whatever the reason, this individual has chosen not to resolve the issue professionally. They have, however, chosen to feed their emotions about whose most valuable and at some point, take matters into their own hands and start calling their own shots.
As the person in charge, you can ill afford to allow this behavior to continue. The ramifications of turning a blind eye to rogue behavior can create a hostile work environment and the loss of good employees who are tired of the games being played.
Before you make any knee-jerk decisions that could create additional morale problems or lawsuits, walk through the following steps to insure your actions are above reproach.
1. Assess your own management style
Most likely, your employee has gone rogue in response to something you do. Being able to see this ‘blind spot’ is the most difficult part of the process so get some help from a professional 3rd party if you need to. Look for instances of inconsistency in your direction. Think about areas you don’t follow up on. Ask yourself why you don’t hold this individual and others accountable for their actions. Whatever you come up with, you must resolve before you can successfully turn your employee’s mindset from rogue to loyal.
2. Evaluate the organization you oversee
Rogue employees can have a detrimental effect on your staff. Take some time to observe changes in their mood. Observe other instances of ‘out-of-character’ behavior. In companies with in-house HR departments, it’s a good idea to find out if complaints have increased. How much of your company’s culture may have contributed to your senior person going rogue? Most importantly, how long have they been acting this way?
3. Make a commitment to change
Once you’ve had a chance to thoroughly and candidly determine the effects of your own actions and the environment in your workplace, decide what needs to change. Whatever you decide, be prepared to go the distance as rogue employees are good at sensing disingenuous commitments. A good place to start is by creating a new set of core values and workplace standards. Be sure to elicit the input of other valued employees whose loyalty can be a sign of credibility once the final draft is introduced to the rest of the company.
4. Set standards you are willing to enforce
After deciding on new performance standards, take this opportunity to meet with each of your senior people, including the rogue one, to discuss how best to disseminate your values throughout the company. You’ll know you are touching a nerve with your rogue agent if they start pushing back on the entire initiative or give reasons why they should be exempt from the process. Do not stand down! This is your best opportunity to re-direct the conversation by letting your rogue employee know what you have observed or been told by others. This is also the time to ask why this behavior is happening!
5. Gain commitment before moving forward
Your meeting with the employee in question should conclude with them re-dedicating themselves to supporting the company’s direction. To get this commitment you may have to make some commitments of your own. If this employee hears you taking responsibility for actions that lead to the rogue behavior, they are more likely to acquiesce. Let them know that accountability will be the new norm and have them tell you how they will demonstrate better behavior while holding their people accountable.
6. After you have delivered your message
The proof is in the puddle, to borrow an old phrase. From here on out, you will have to maintain a more consistent and involved profile. Everything you establish must be monitored for compliance. This includes follow up, accountability for results and feedback about performance. The only way to turn a rogue employee back into a loyal one is to demonstrate that the environment has, in fact, changed.
7. What to do if behavior does not improve
Despite your best efforts, some key employees may be too comfortable doing their own thing. In cases like this, you will see small compliances efforts but a general lack of true accountability for performing to your standards. In this case, the following moves may be necessary to protect the company:
Letting key employees go rogue is something that takes time to cultivate. There’s usually plenty of signals along the way that behavior is going in an unhealthy direction. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss or avoid it. It will not resolve itself!
Steve Smith runs a business and executive coaching company in Orange County, CA. He offers a free consult to business professionals to help them understand their options to address the problems they are trying to resolve.
About the Author
Steve Smith is President and Founder of GrowthSource Coaching headquartered in Lake Forest, CA. He is an accomplished leadership, management and organizational enhancement coach who brings over 40 years of business building experience to every client relationship.