Jeremy Clarkson

This week, the BBC took a call to not renew the contract of their star-presenter: Jeremy Clarkson. Opinion is widely divided on this decision. In any other field or any other profession, this would not even be up for debate. If you assault a co-worker – you will be immediately fired (and face a potential criminal charge).

‘But Clarkson has been the heart and soul of Top Gear.’

‘He has made millions for the BBC.’

I’d like to draw a parallel here with the start-up world. Let’s forget extreme behaviour like physical assault. Imagine a star employee (writes great code/ capable of phenomenal design/ sales master/ money maker) who exhibits major diva attitude:

  • The rules don’t apply to me
  • I am entitled to be obnoxious
  • I am like this only – deal with it
  • I am superior to all of you and my opinion matters more

What would you do if you were managing such a star employee? This chap is capable of great work. His contribution is invaluable. But his presence in your team is toxic.

To be clear, I am not talking about a standard, run-of-the-mill problem employee here. A problem employee is someone who is a phenomenal contributor, but his work suffers due to bad habits (tardiness, lack of work-life balance, drinking, etc) or actual problems (social, emotional, mental, financial, etc). This is the kind of employee that can be redeemed with constant mentoring and professional counselling. And as a manager it is your responsibility to help rehabilitate such an employee.

What I am talking about here is a very specific kind of problem employee – the star employee with diva attitude. I have observed managers bend over backwards while handling such an employee. A lot of leeway is extended to this employee which causes permanent rifts within the organization.

‘Would a coach bench his star player just because he was the greatest douche on earth and irked every member of the team?’

Yes. As simple as that. Organizations are like teams. They are made up of individuals who have their own quirks. Some contribute more than others. Some have stellar personalities and others are insufferable. But the whole needs to be greater than the sum of parts. When one single employee (whose individual contribution might be phenomenal) brings down an entire team, it is time to get rid of him. Of course, every employee deserves a second chance. Some, might even deserve a third. But be aware of the single biggest effect the delay in handling this situation is having on your team:

‘If rules are not the same for everyone in a team, people lose motivation and start resenting the management/ organization.’

The Jeremy Clarkson Problem for Startups
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