When Self-perception Is Greater Than Performance
There’s no limit to people’s impression of themselves. Only quick, targeted actions can set things right.
Belief in one’s superiority is something parents tend to indoctrinate in their children. The cynosure of all attention, infallible, the classic optical apple! Luckily, these apples roll off their pedestals as they grow older. They see that the planet is full of other, more talented, people. For the majority, it’s a smooth realization, for others a shock. Finally, there are those who continue to sit on their high horses, defying the gravity of life that begs them to come down to earth. They exist in the workplace too. Individuals who believe that they were born for bigger things – yep, seriously! Everything is below their dignity: work, teammates, environment, learning, compensation… Wait! There’s nothing intrinsically iniquitous about people thinking highly of themselves – as long as their performance matches this lofty self-perception.
Initially everyone tolerates them because of the sheer aura they radiate. But it soon becomes apparent that they are no better/worse than anyone else. And that their hoity-toity behaviour isn’t backed by performance of similar magnitude. Empty vessels…!
For people leaders, like any other people challenge, it is important to tackle this syndrome early. It’s best for the individual, the team and the numbers!
Recognizing the signs
· Body language: Look out for the sneer, the head that shakes with disbelief – as if to say: this is so basic!
· Bossing peers around: Without actually doing anything. Taking a leadership position is a good thing – provided it is over and above the individual’s core role. Who needs two team leaders anyway!
· Loose comments – dropped, coincidentally, within earshot of senior management:
· ‘I do so much for the organization but…’
· My role doesn’t talk to my abilities
Simply writing off such individuals would be unfair. So it’s necessary to objectively assess the situation: Is this individual just hot air or really good. Not acting on the latter would almost certainly lead to high-performer regression. Then again, if the individual were indeed a champion, everyone would know about it anyway. Great performers tend to stand out – as do losers, for the opposite reasons!
Either way, it is always important to start with the hard facts:
· Actual numeric Performance: A direct indicator. Do the numbers match the talk?
· Previous years’ ratings/appraisal: A good barometer. Have the person’s achievements been recognized by the organization’s appraisal process?
· Development plan insights: Does the development plan suggest that the individual needs bigger challenges to stay engaged?
· Contributions above and beyond the role: Special projects; successful crisis resolution…
· Other ‘social’ work: Helping/training colleagues, leading the company’s co-curricular activities, CSR…
The jigsaw would now look like a picture!
Bridging the gap (aka busting the myth)
It’ll be a difficult conversation. Straight talking usually is. Armed with the facts, it’s time to bust the myth:
· Keep the conversation focused on performance versus goals: If it’s not in the goal sheet, it is social work. Social work is considered only after goals have been met, not in lieu of goals not being met.
· Putting the facts on the table: This is your role, these were your deliverables, this is what you have delivered. If you are as great as you say, you should be ahead of your peers – but you’re not…
· Resetting expectations: This is an opportunity to turn the person’s performance around. Positioned as a possibility that expectations were not clearly understood, this is the time to ensure clarity. Adding that since the individual is so good, there’s no doubt that they’ll prove it! Now that everyone’s on the same page.
· No change in attitude or performance even after counseling
· Arrogant resistance to the counseling
· Denying the facts on the table
· Continuing the aversion to the role, the organization and the culture
· Sometimes individuals will agree with everything, but indicate that it is not they who have to change, but the organization needs and overhaul!
But this is the easy stuff! Sometimes it gets more complex: In line with a high self-designated coolness quotient, such individuals often give convincing performances right in the presence of senior management (similar to an elevator pitch). Immediate supervisors may receive ‘suggestions’ from a senior leader who got taken in. It’s usually difficult to contradict such suggestions – despite an opposite opinion basis documented facts. Oops! Ugly and sticky!
Leaders should ensure such enlightened beings have short tenures – voluntarily, or involuntarily. It’s okay! They’ll soon find some other ‘corporate sucker’ who’ll get taken in by the ‘attitude’, ahead of the track record.
When people's opinion of themselves is greater than their contribution, it's okay to see them off – and continue to be friends…