Beware of Your Super Performers

Estimated reading time: 5 mins

If you have the habit of reading business magazines, management books or articles you will definitely encounter countless references about various super performers (or hyper efficient employees) that exist in various organizations, departments, teams, etc. Of course, the definition of a super performer is a subjective term that can vary from manager to manager or from company to company, and can be quite varied based on their personal experiences.

And that picture can range from someone who is super fast at everything, a noisy person, a flamboyant person, a someone who has all the answers, a management’s blue eyed boy, a jargon emitting person, a go-to person, or even someone who always comes to office very early and leaves very late, and so on. Or going by the job advertisements of organizations today, a super performer is someone who meets (or claims to meet) the fancy criteria like below (based on real sentences picked from some newspaper advertisements).

  • We are looking for high value employees dedicated to delivering innovation to assist our clients in high performance delivery. The employee must be a class of his own and raise his or her sights above the horizon. We are looking for super efficient leaders who have the challenge to outdo themselves, and be a winner all the way.

  • We are looking for a person to lead, motivate and create a high performance team capable of continuous innovation and excellence in working for a global leader.

  • We are looking for candidates who are bubbling, energetic and invigorating to join a sales team of a global winner who can swim in an ocean of opportunities.

Every manager will unquestionably agree that having a gang of such super performers in their teams would be a great thing. However while having some performers may seem great, you may be surprised to know that they can gradually become your worst nightmare. Over time, and often unknown to you, they can do more harm than good and can slowly curdle or ruin an entire team consisting of normal to good performers. What I am saying may sound ridiculous or stupid, but wait till you hear me out. Some of the top hidden reasons why a super performer can turn a team into a snake pit rather than work as a collaborating team are as below.

  1. While being super efficient is not a crime, a hyper performer can often make other team members (who work quietly without fanfare) look bad and inefficient, either intentionally or unintentionally. To understand this, just go back to your school and college days. Remember in school where a couple of smart kids would quickly shout answers before the other kids could even understand the teacher’s question. They were the class "Know it alls." And slowly those speed kids would become the teacher’s pets, and the rest of the students would constantly be compared with them leading to an icy jealousy. Similarly a super performer in a team can corrode the manager’s opinion of others as they will invariably be compared against the team’s hero. But people hate being compared with others as it will make them look inferior and dull. This in turn kills teamwork, collaboration and can lead to various internal politics.
  2. Many may argue that having a super performer in a team can be great source of inspiration for other team members. But the reality is far from this assumption. Just like the omnipresent sibling rivalry among kids, a super performer in a team of co-workers will soon be viewed as someone who is hogging all the limelight and the manager’s attention or affection, while they are automatically viewed as morons being unable to do work as efficiently as the super performer. Constant success is a guaranteed way to gain unpopularity. Apart from the usual feelings of envy it can also lead to fear among coworkers. So team members will start viewing the super performer as a danger to their survival rather than an inspirational soul.
  3. Managers will intentionally (or unintentionally) start diverting all the juicy jobs to the super performers and the routine/mundane work to others thereby depriving them to get ahead or get involved. Team members will start feeling they are getting unequal amounts of a manager’s attention and responses.
  4. Appreciation can be intoxicating and addictive. Once a peak performer gets continuous attention and appreciation the natural tendency is to seek activities and tasks that can earn them more and more limelight or rewards. So they will start invading into other team member’s territories like finding fault in the way others work, or showing off how they could handle the same job better, start giving smarter suggestions, etc., thereby making the other person(s) look stupid. And in many cases, super performers in their desire to remain at the top will start grabbing ideas and pieces (or even entire) of work from others thereby depriving others of their rightful share of the workload, or maybe even make them lose their job.
  5. Like a child that gets bored of every toy within hours or days and expects its parents to buy a new toy, super performers by nature are restless individuals constantly seeking new activities that will excite them. But a manager or an organization cannot find or invent exciting work perpetually to keep their super performers happy. And because of the halo surrounding them and the holy throne they sit, they will be unwilling to do ordinary, mundane and routine work that is essential in any department. Hence super performers will refuse, avoid or quietly offload such activities to their coworkers as they start believing those menial activities to be done only by the lesser mortals of their team. This can lead to various workload conflicts.

As you can see from the above, you have as much to fear about super performers as you have to fear about inefficient and troublesome workers. And such things could be happening right under your nose just waiting to explode at the most inconvenient time. However if you can recognize the smoke signals early to apply the necessary brakes periodically then you can ensure that everyone in the team can contribute to their strengths and weaknesses without stepping on each other’s toes. Finally at the end of the day one should understand that super performers can shine and bloom only because bad, normal and good performers exist around them. And we can conclude this article with a quote that says, "Either super competence or super incompetence may be offensive to an establishment."

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7 thoughts on “Beware of Your Super Performers”

  1. Another potential liability with having super performers is that/if when they “walk” then a lot of knowledge often goes with them… despite whatever procedures the IT dept may have for knowledge transfer and documentation beforehand.

  2. @Mark.

    I agree with you there. The KT procedures are a joke. The only effective KT I know of is one-on-one interview between equally smart people, with a white board, a digital camera, and a high-quality digital recorder.

    As far as documentation: a lot of what’s done is “how” to do something. There’s very little in the way of “why” or even “what led to this design approach”. In the case of super-performers, it’s very rare that such an individual could write such a document in a manner that can be appreciated and rewarded by his management. Usually, management will see this effort as “less important” than actual coding, so will not allocate proper time, and will not allocate proper financial resources.

    Then when the super-performer walk, the rest of the people have at best a superficial understanding of the system. Remember that a system is a whole of parts. If part of the system is opaque; if the whole system is not fully understood, then you have a problem.

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