Mama Said Knock You Out: When Top Performers Get Beat Down

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Last round, I shared the Tale of Kitty Clark.  Click over to the original post if you didn’t catch it.

Kitty was a scrappy, feared, grungy, tough-gal that ran the halls of the 1973 middle school she attended with my mother in upstate New York. My theory is the extreme cold climate made it way to her insides where it eventually blackened her heart. I imagine a less-strung-out Courtney Love type, but much meaner.

Sure, Kitty’s story is nunya business, but I shared it with you because I really like you kids. And to reel you in and then drop some hard and fast numbers that I knew would shock you—$3 billion to $35.4 billion is the estimated annual cost associated with victimization that occurs in the workplace. And top performers (AKA, your stars) are at particularly high risk of becoming those victims—at least that’s what some top researchers published in a top I/O Psych journal. BOOM.

Kris F. Dunn dropped a great comment:

KD commentSame research that found that top performers are more apt to be victimized at work also found that this was more likely to happen when there was lots of social comparison. Which is where things get a little tricky:

Some people and industries get the best results when there is high degrees of social comparison—like posted score boards. Think sales and recruiting—anything with commission included in the comp structure.  Orgs with a high opportunity for social comparison are likely to see bullying of high performers.

You’d need another ingredient for the high social comparison to create a potential problem related to the cohesion of the work group. If your people feel like they are a part of the team, and that team has its own identity, quirks, and characteristics… you’ve got a team with high group identification. But when you have a work group where people don’t feel united, they’re just independent worker bees that happen to do their work in the same physical location and their compensation is coming out of the same pot… then you’ve got low group identification.

Lots of Social Comparison + Low Work Group Identification = High Risk That Top Performers Becomes Targets of Bullying

TIME TO GO ROGUE: I personally think there are factors of top performers that make him or her more likely to get bullied into submission and lower performance/exit. Here’s my list:

  1. Highly Agreeables — when you’re really highly agreeable, it matters to you that people like you.  Which means you’ll be really bothered when others express that they don’t like you. The more abrasive, the more likely they’ll cave. Bullying these guys would probably lower their performance because they’d want to be liked.
  2. Rookies — Employees who are really green learn what is acceptable at work from the people they work with. If they work with people that let them know that exceeding a certain level of performance results in bullying, they’ll stop exceeding.
  3. Stars With A Boss They Don’t Trust/Like — they want to succeed. But they don’t necessarily trust the boss to let him/her know that they’re being targeted by the tough kids.  They’ll underperform and jump ship ASAP.

That’s my two (three) cents.

FOT Background Check

Chelsea Rowe
Chelsea Rowe is the Leadership Development Specialist at Kinetix, where she is charged with creating a disruptive leadership development program that turns heads. She combines the science with practical hard-knocks lessons to turn managers from cat herders to kick-ass people leaders. Connect with her on LinkedIn to start a conversation or check out her blog at www.chelsea-rowe.com.

3 Comments

  1. Great article – I particularly liked the analysis of when social comparison causes issues (potential for bullying).

    Would be great to hear your thoughts on pros/cons and ways organisations can ensure people play nicely!

    Reply
    • Chelsea says:

      Thanks, Alexis! You’re too kind :)

      My view is that if there’s a team member (even a high performer) that’s acting out or generally being as a$$, the manager should pursue formal action if informal coaching doesn’t nip it in the bud. One bad apple can really spoil the bunch and create significant engagement problems. Not addressing it swiftly can communicate to team members and morale don’t matter as long as the bully is hitting/smashing their numbers.

      Team building activities can be a good move to address cohesion issues but only when done well. I did a post over on my blog about that which you can find here: http://chelsea-rowe.com/team-building-exercise-that-dont-suck/

      Reply

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