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Workplace Culture

“Brilliant jerks” may deliver the goods, but can create a toxic work environment

Candace Manriquez Wrenn and David Brancaccio Aug 7, 2019
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NBC Universal/Screenshot via Netflix

We’ve all worked with this person, right? The one who crushes sales goals or can engineer their way out of anything. They’re a phenom in their field … but they’re a real jerk. A brilliant jerk, but a jerk nonetheless.

Many companies have recently come to the realization that brilliant jerks aren’t worth the trouble, negatively affecting work environments and eventually hurting the bottom line.

Bek Chee, head of talent at the software developer Atlassian, recently spoke with Marketplace about how her company put the “jerk factor” into its formal performance review.

Chee says Atlassian’s performance review metrics not only measure performance and output, but also how employees conduct themselves at work.

“What we were trying to do was make sure that what you do and what you deliver is as valued as how you do it,” Chee says.

Bek Chee, head of talent at Atlassian

Chee says accounting for so-called “soft skills” like teamwork, collaboration and conflict resolution, allows managers to see beyond blind spots when dealing with high achievers.

“The performance process, in general, is very susceptible to all types of unconscious bias. You’ve worked with some for a while and you know what they’re able to deliver,” she said. “And so there’s a halo effect that can happen — where you see someone’s exceptional performance and you gloss over other aspects.”

Chee says that while a brilliant jerk can be a real detriment to a team, there is a way forward for those jerks who are open to reform.

“We really embrace the concept of radical candor and open work. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell someone: ‘That didn’t land well with me,’” she says.

Atlassian also has a formal feedback system in place so that employees can seek information from their peers on all facets of their work.

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