One of the patterns I often see are highly talented employees who plunge from being the likely successor to the CEO, the company’s best salesperson or the best hire ever made (aka: the hero) to being questioned whether they have what it takes to remain in the company (aka: the dog).
How does this happen? How can employees who earn such superlatives bottom-out? Can they really be so great and then become so terrible? Were their initial contributions and potential misread or overstated? How can someone plummet from “Second Coming” to “How do we move him or her out?” And why does this happen so often?
When I see this hero-to-dog pattern, I attribute it to three not-so-obvious factors.
Losing your perspective
When a person is selected for a new job, we often see very high levels of performance and potential. We see them doing things we’ve long wanted, at a level we only dreamed about. We attribute all kinds of greatness and possibility to the individual.
However, this may actually be more illustrative of the low baseline they started with. If we become accustomed to an underperforming incumbent, the new hire seems super human by comparison.
You have to set clear criteria for what you expect a fully performing person in the role to look like. Measure the person in the new role against these criteria, not against the predecessor.
You may find you finally have a strongly performing person in the role, doing a great job. That’s what you hired for. By all means, recognize and reward their impressive performance, but don’t exaggerate their incredibleness until you are sure they are truly exceeding expectations.
As executives, our business success depends on the performance of our leaders and key performers. We can’t win with mediocre performers, and we can’t succeed unless our key performers do.
Therefore, although we hate to admit it, we would gladly welcome a person to come along and save the day. Consequently, we often overstate and overinflate greatness from a high performer. We are so hopeful that we start believing that one person can actually save the day.
Don’t burden a high performer with your desire for someone to save the day. Praise and reward the person’s great performance, but don’t allow yourself to believe you are seeing anything other than high achievement by a hardworking person with high standards of excellence.
Reading too much into the start, not the finish
Running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace will burn out the runner before the finish line. A new person may overachieve early, looking like the greatest hero to walk the earth. However, the pace may not be sustainable and holding the person up as an example of best ever only makes the fall harder.
Starting great is extremely important, but finishing greater is what really matters. You want to help sprinters run their best times but at a pace they can sustain to the finish line. Don’t decide the really strong athlete is Olympic material until they win a few races. Better they are noticed for how they finished, in addition to how they left the gate.
Your credibility with the board and the organization can be harmed significantly when a hero-dog situation occurs or, worse, becomes a pattern. Your judgment of people will be questioned and trust will be weakened.
Remember: Keep perspective and skip the superlatives. Success comes from hardworking people, engaging in the right behaviors, sustained over long periods of time. Don’t be lured into believing otherwise. ?
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.