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How To Handle Toxic Rock Star Employees – 3 Takeaways Ep.76

This episode of 3 Takeaways is about handling toxic rockstar employees at your agency: what that looks like (especially when they’re a rockstar), and how to handle it post-pandemic.

Hey, welcome to “3 Takeaways”, your agency new business video series where we focus on one new business category and give you three takeaways to help improve your new business program.

Today’s episode is sponsored by the legendary indie record label IRS records, original home to REM and The Go-Gos, to name a few. (OK, not really a sponsor).

So we’re talking about toxic employees at your agency, and what that looks like post-pandemic.

From talking with all kinds of agencies, the pandemic, for a lot of firms, put those employees on the back burner.  

These problems didn’t go away, there was still Zoom and those employees were still there, but there were bigger, and other very real problems.

But here we are, mostly post-pandemic, and agencies are adopting all kinds of models: stay-at-home, in the office, hybrids, and have put a fair amount of planning in place.

And those toxic employees may have gotten a pass over the last year plus, especially if they did well, if they were rock stars. 

If they’re producing, sometimes you overlook a certain level of toxicity, especially if that employee knows how to walk right up to that line, but never quite cross it.

I had an agency describe this very situation recently, involving the employee who drove new business.

And with employees coming back, or staying home, whatever your model, you need to deal with that toxic employee now.  

Especially in this job market-you can’t afford to have one employee drive other good employees out, rock star or not.

So how to deal with that employee now, in your post-pandemic agency world?

Here’s your first takeaway:

Create or update your standards of behavior. 

It’s surprising how many agencies don’t have these in place, or maybe you haven’t updated the existing standards to reflect your agency post-pandemic.

Now is the time to do that, so an employee, and specifically that toxic employee, can never say he or she didn’t have clear guidelines.

Here’s your second takeaway:

Be specific and clear when it comes to performance. 

This goes beyond behavior, and towards expectations for each department, or individual.

What they’re doing well, and what needs to be improved. 

You have to avoid mixed signals, and document all of it.

And that way, all employees are clear on what to expect, and they see leadership making that clear.

And so with that toxic rockstar, it’s made clear to them, and possibly that will help their behavior, or help agency leadership document instances where the behavior continues.

And your third takeaway:

Make sure there is an outlet for employee feedback, and encourage employees to use it.

If that employee is truly toxic, you, as an agency principal, need to know and should want to know. 

And look, sometimes certain employees just don’t get along, that doesn’t mean one of them is toxic, but when it’s clear, you’re better off addressing it sooner than later.

And you can do all the cost/benefit you want when that toxic employee is a rock star, and it may be hard to replace them, but ultimately, is that the kind of culture you want existing at your agency?