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Fixing a fallen superstar

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Q: “One of my star employees has developed a very negative attitude. During the past three years, I have assigned ‘Kevin’ to desirable projects, given him special bonuses and made him a team leader. However, in the past few months, he has become increasingly arrogant and uncooperative.

“Kevin does not reply to my emails and withholds important information. He often comes late to meetings and sometimes skips them altogether. Yesterday, he said that he does not respect my leadership style. I replied that whether he likes my style or not, I'm still his manager.

“If I officially reprimand Kevin, I'm afraid he might leave. I would hate to lose him because he has so much potential. How should I handle this situation?”

A: Your star performer would appear to be angry about something that happened a few months back. Because he's uncomfortable discussing the real issue, Kevin is using passive-aggressive behavior to send you a message.

Try to recall the approximate date when Kevin's attitude seemed to shift, then search your memory for any event which might have made him feel slighted or insulted. But if nothing comes to mind, you will simply have to ask.

For example: "Kevin, I've realized that our relationship started getting worse around mid-October. I've tried to figure out what went wrong, but I honestly have no idea. We worked well together for a long time, so I would really like to know what happened. Have I done something to anger or disappoint you?" 

Once you identify the root cause of Kevin's unhappiness, a productive discussion may follow. But if he refuses to talk, you have no choice but to deal with this as a performance issue. Kevin needs to understand that, regardless of how he feels, maintaining a cooperative relationship with one's boss is a basic job expectation.

Sometimes managers are puzzled by employee performance issues. Here are some clues to consider: What Causes Performance Problems?

© Marie G. McIntyre, All rights reserved.

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