May 022013
Clock- Top performer doesn't play by the rules - and co-workers are grumbling

The Scenario

“Being a manager would be a lot easier without employees,” sighed supervisor Ford Swick, dropping into that chair across from HR director Stu Capper’s desk.

“True, but the pay probably wouldn’t be as good.” said Stu. “Something you want to talk about?”

“It’s Mike Sands,” said Ford. “My most productive employee – and the guy who doesn’t think the rules apply to him.”

Why should top performer be penalized?

“What’s going on?” asked Stu.

“Well, he often comes in late,” said Ford. “And then, he often leaves early. But his work’s always done – and done well. He’s my best performer – hands down. And the other people in the department know it. They’ve always been a little jealous of Mike’s schedule, but now that we’re all carrying a heavier load, I’m beginning to hear some complaints.”

“OK, the obvious question: Have you talked to Mike?” asked Stu.

“Naturally,” said Ford, frowning. “His answer is that his work is always done. Nobody ever has to cover for him. And why should he be penalized because the rest of the department can’t work as efficiently as he does?”

“He has a point – sort of,” Stu admitted. “But the rules apply to everybody.”

“I know. I know,” said Ford. “I’ll tell you what, though – we can’t afford to lose this top performer. If I put my foot down, the company could lose a very productive individual.”

If you were Stu, what would you do next?

Reader Response

Elissa Douglas, HR Director, Independent Living Services, Conway, AR

What Elissa would do: I’d meet with Mike and ask him if he has any special needs that require flexible scheduling. Since he’s a highly valued employee, we can probably give him a flexible schedule to suit his situation.

Reason: Mike may have some needs that we weren’t aware of, in which case we can try to accommodate him. If other employees have a problem, they’ll need to understand that the flexible schedule is a reward for his great performance.


Darla Kofanda, HR Generalist, 1st United Bank, Faribault, MN

What Darla would do: I’d start putting Mike through a progressive discipline procedure, starting with a written warning. If Ford objects, I’d explain that Mike’s behavior is causing morale issues that are hurting his whole department.

Reason: Ford needs to see the whole picture. Letting Mike break the rules will upset other employees. Then their performance might suffer – and they may even leave the company. The health of the whole department is worth the risk of losing one person, no matter how great his performance.


Greg Bowes, Operations Manager, Viking Plastics, Inc., Corry, PA

What Greg would do: Mike needs to understand that it isn’t just his own performance that’s at stake. His co-workers rely on him to come in on time and work the full day. I’d sit down with him to explain that, and then work with him to set a goal for improving his attendance. If he doesn’t reach the goal in a set amount of time, maybe he’s working for the wrong company.

Reason: Mike may individually be a top performer, but he isn’t a great value to the company if he won’t work as a teammate with everyone else.

  14 Responses to “Top performer doesn’t play by the rules – and co-workers are grumbling”

  1. Greg’s advice resonates most with me. It’s more than just getting your work done that makes the team a success. Mike may not be aware of the impact that he’s having on team morale. I’d want him to know how valued he is and that he’s a top producer, I believe he will have a fantastic career, and I want to help him to get to the next level. Part of that is realizing that he’s not just an individual contributor but a part of a team. If he really only wants to focus on his $$ and his personal production, we’d need to really talk about if another organization could be a beter fit long term.

    LOVE your thought provoking and insightful posts!

    • Good stuff, Alli… It is a tough issue, when you have a strong performer – who is breaking the rules… As leaders, we are responsible for the performance of the whole team – and if one person is crushing the morale and productivity – then we need to take action… When we get into situations like this – we need to reflect on how it happened… Mike did not get this way overnight… This is a situation, where actions could have been taken along the way – to avoid the situation Ford is in…

  2. While I like the first answer the best out of the three given, I’d first like to know why coming in at a specified time is part of the rules? Is he missing important information from others in order to do his job? It seems to me that given the scenario, he isn’t.

    I’d be careful about setting the precedent that being in your chair at your desk is an indication that you are being productive.

  3. Interesting scenario. Really depends on how you manage and your co culture. If you create a management supported culture of performance based metrics versus rules driven metrics that may not equate to top performance there would be no concern raised by the rest of the team…..

  4. If his goals relate to getting his work done, then his hours are less important. I would use Mike as an example to others of what happens when you are more efficient. Mike also sounds like a guy you can lean on a bit more, so give him a little bit more work and see how everyone responds.

  5. Why in the world would you change anything a top performer does, because the sheeple don’t like it? Clock watchers are seldom ever your top producers and more often they are your water cooler lawyers.

  6. Its an amazing article invoking a important aspect “Performers breaking the rules”. Firstly, there are two sides of the coin. One being that the management is paying the cost of providing him a flexible schedule for his top performance. Second, this partial gratitude is affecting the performance of the entire department.
    Thus, in my opinion the top performer should be included in a Development plan where he shares some of his ways of performance or so as to say initiate talks that would inspire the co workers to work in tune with the outstanding performer. In return the performer should also help them in delivering the right efforts. However, at this juncture the top performer’s personal goals & self interest pops up as questions on morality ground are raised by him. Again, it is the management that needs to strike the balance through talks with both the parties.

    • Yes – it is a tricky situation… The top performer “should” share their best practices so that others get the benefit of their success… BUT, management has allowed the behavior to exist up to this point and it may be tough to get the top performer to be more than an individual performer… What we allow – we condone… Thanks for adding to the conversation…

  7. Yes. Lets punish Mike! Lets make sure his ass is in that chair at the same time every morning. Lets crush is motivation, his creativity, and his productivity. Lets grind him down. That no good top performer thinks he’s better than the rest of us. Lets put him in his place. Who cares if he’s productive, as long as we’ve got another ass in a chair.

  8. I’m with Scott, Butch and John on this. The issue for me is the work culture that ‘measures’ performance or productivity by the number of hours people work. It sounds to me like Mike gets his work done and then focusses on the more important things in life.

    In my current organisation we don’t have time sheets, we don’t clock in or out, and we measure performance by outcomes. We have flexible work arrangements where people often work from home, we have job sharing, we have part-time arrangements for parents with kids under school age.

    Performance is about whether or not the job gets done, not about how long you spend in the office or where you get the work done from.

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