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When To Fire A Star Product Manager

Cindy Alvarez recently posted 8 job interview questions product managers should be able to answer. I have some ideas about those–but, first, let’s take a trip on the dark side.

Say this prospect aces the interview, you hire them, and they do terrific work–they’re a star performer. But it turns out, they’re more arrogant than you thought, disruptive. What do you do?

Idle gauntlets are the devil’s playground.

The Knowledge@Wharton article ‘One for All’ or ‘One for One’? The Trade-off between Talent and Disruptive Behavior studies this idea in the generic sense, using sports teams as a metaphor for business teams: “Is it better to have an individual player who’s a superstar […] or is it better to have somebody who is giving up opportunities themselves in order to pursue team harmony and team success?”

I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to fire a star performer before–and, full disclosure, I am not in this situation today, so everyone that works for me can stand down–but it’s an interesting problem to ponder.

What could be causing the disruptive behavior?

If the PM is bored and feeling under appreciated, maybe you can give them new purpose. Ask them to start a campaign of win/loss analysis calls. Or write an e-book to promote the product or service. Or swap products with someone else to keep things fresh.

If the PM is basically a jackass it’s probably time to ask the hard question: Are they really worth it?

If someone’s behavior is not acceptable, and you allow it, what does that say about you and your organization? And what affect does that behavior have on the team, the corporate culture? There’s more at stake than just managing the product. There’s morale, teamwork, and standards to consider.

What impact will the star’s behavior have on the junior members of the team who don’t have the star’s skills–but can easily replicate the star’s bad behavior?

I don’t know if there’s a One-Size-Fits-All solution… but if the answer to the question, “Are they really worth it?” is “No,” then it’s time to work with HR to correct the behavior.

And if that doesn’t work, then it’s time for that star to go before they supernova–and take you with them.

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