[Danger: football analogies used with abandon in this post.]
As the 2009 NFL season opened, Michael Vick, ex-Atlanta Falcons star quarterback and infamous dog torturer/killer, was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles after spending a short time (too short) in prison. In my opinion, this situation is proof, once again, that truth is far stranger than fiction. That the NFL would allow this guy to play again is one thing. That any team would pick him up is another, incredibly absurd, one. Of course, NFL teams conveniently ignore wife beating, late-night stabbings in bars and the carrying of unlicensed weapons so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Alas, this is all fodder for a post on another subject. For now, I want to discuss the related challenges of the hiring and management of top-notch employees who often know they’re the best, make it perfectly clear to everyone else that they are the best and expect to be subject to a different set of rules just because they’re the best.
Once in a while, you run across people who are not only among the smartest, most capable, and hardest working people you’ve ever met, but they’re also quiet, humble, selfless and unpretentious. Totally phenomenal. Think Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots or Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts. In a business context, you hire those people in a minute – whether or not you can afford them. They add incredible value not only through the specific work they do, but through their actions, reactions, leadership and participation as well. They have a positive impact on the performance of everyone around them.
Sometimes, though, when you find a person with such talents, they can be arrogant, egotistical and, let’s face it, an asshole. Do you hire those people as quickly? Do you sacrifice what your gut is screaming at you to get that level of ability and talent into your company? My short answer is no, it’s just not worth it (see my previous post, When To Get Rid Of The “Best” People Who Work For You).
But what if you’re in dire straights. You absolutely, positively need some serious ammunition in the fight against failure. Do you hire a famous bad boy like Terrell Owens (T.O.) or Randy Moss? Do you convince yourself that you’re the best manager around and you can handle the wildcat or maybe even tame them? Can you do what others have not? Survey says . . . probably not, try to find someone else.
If, however, you are a strong leader and manager and you understand the positives and negatives of what strong individuals can bring to a team, you may have a shot. Further, if you’ve already built a team that follows your lead and sticks together under the culture you’ve built, it may even be a slam-dunk.
Let’s take a look at the aforementioned cases of Terrell Owens, previously an out of control trouble-maker with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers and Randy Moss, now with the New England Patriots, but previously a problem child with the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings. Both T.O. and Moss are among the best receivers in the NFL. They both know it and believe they deserve recognition for it. They both have a history of playing for themselves before playing for their team and being trouble-makers on and off the field.
T.O. was treated like the team savior at both S.F. and Philadelphia. He was kowtowed to, given visibility and his demands were met. Moss had similar experiences at Minnesota and Oakland. Big babies who were given a free run because of their incredible talent. What happened next is enlightening. T.O. went on to play with the Dallas Cowboys where the owner continued the tradition of putting T.O. on a public pedestal and giving the crying baby what he wanted and Moss went to New England, where the owner and coach told him that he was just another cog in the wheel and treated him like everyone else.
Further, and maybe even more importantly, the Cowboys as a team accepted T.O.’s antics where the Patriots, as a team, wouldn’t put up with Moss’s bullshit. The result is that Moss became a part of the Patriot team and organization, winning a Super Bowl and breaking the NFL receptions record. T.O., well, T.O. remained T.O. and was unconditionally released (that means kicked out), once again, and was picked up by another NFL team – the Buffalo Bills. We’ll see how that goes.
The leaders of the Patriots recognized the cost of bringing an egotistical, loudmouth, crybaby onto the team and made it clear to him through words and actions that it wouldn’t be tolerated. You step out of line and you will be docked pay and put on the bench. The team comes before you . . . always. But the Patriots had an even stronger tool, the team itself. Apparently, the already tight and focused team wouldn’t put up with any crap. When there is no support for bad behavior and no ears to listen to out of line complaints or demands, even prima donnas get lonely pretty fast. The team’s leaders (primarily head coach Bill Belichick) had instilled a culture in the team that was a strong bonding element. Outsiders have to adopt the culture or the team, itself, will force them out.
So, the questions you need to ask yourself before hiring a notorious super-contributor/bad-boy(girl) are whether you’re a strong enough leader and have you built a strong enough (culturally aligned) team. If you are and you have, you can probably bring anyone you choose in as a contributor. If you aren’t (yet) or you haven’t, bringing such a person in will lead to big problems. If you decide to anyway, you may want to line up that trade ahead of time.