What do you do with toxic top performers?

That buzz we hear? Ethics wires going crazy. 

Mr. O'Reilly received a $25 million parting gift from Fox along with a wheelbarrow full of allegations of misconduct. He says, "Not true." While I'm tempted to ask, "What say you," it's really too early - we have no facts. 

If the allegations prove false, O'Reilly is the victim of the worst kind of slander. He may well be the star of his own next book Killing O'Reilly. On the other hand, if his accusers are truthful, he's guilty of the worst kind of predatory hypocrisy. Let's hope the truth comes out; it usually does. 

On the same front page, we see big-time CEO Klaus Kleinfeld pink-slipped by Arconic (used to be Alcoa, yes?). He sent a nasty note chastising another CEO for (allegedly) standing drunk in a fountain singing Singin' in the Rain, which seems perfectly normal for a fellow whose team just won the big game--was he wearing pants? Anyway, I had to read the story twice, thinking it would win a Darwin award for each of the participants (the singin' exec denies Mr. Judge-of-all-Things's accusations). Klaus's punishment reminds us that even the smartest and most capable people are capable of one too many harsh emails. Using bad behavior to chastise someone else's (allegedly) bad behavior often backfires. Let's hope his parting gift is a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Bad behavior backfires.

How organizations deal with talented people who become liabilities offers an important ethical consideration for us. Unethical organizations coddle top talent, ignore behaviors that break core values, and in doing so downgrade the culture. More ethical organizations see that firing top talent to preserve healthy culture is both expensive and the right thing to do. Fox and Arconic will pay the unfortunately heavy toll of turning over high performers. 

Questions for The Ethics Award

  1. What is your process keep high performers within the boundaries of your core values?
  2. What's your whistle-blower policy look like?
  3. What happened the last time a top performer was accused of an ethical breech? 
  4. Is anyone on your team misbehaving in regard to your stated values?