Which Personality is Worse for Company Culture – The “Talented Jerk” or The “Charming Under-Performer”?

February 22, 2018

Most seasoned managers have managed a wide variety of personalities, from the “talented jerk” to the “charming under-performer” and everywhere in between. Who comes to mind for you when you hear these employee personality descriptions?

The personas

You might already have some people in mind when you think of someone who’s a “talented jerk”, someone who does great work but has negative personality traits, or a “charming under-performer”, someone who struggles with work-related performance but has a great personality. Here’s some more background on these polar opposite personas in the workplace:

Let’s say it’s John, the talented jerk – he’s made his way through the ranks by outperforming his peers and walking all over them on the way to the top. He might talk more about himself than anyone else and has self-proclaimed his lack of concern for others, for feelings, and for what people think about him. His results are spectacular – and in some cases that’s all the senior leadership team needs to justify one promotion after another for John. His colleagues blow the whistle all the time but the company either can’t afford to lose the talent.

And then there’s Eric, the charming under-performer, who is quite the opposite; he spends the majority of his time asking Susan in Accounts Receivable about her cat’s separation anxiety and Gerard in Sales about the mole on his knee. He connects with everybody and has an authentic ability to make his colleagues feel important and appreciated. Although colleagues get annoyed with his lack of productivity, few get truly angry because he’s just so nice.

The impact

So which person – John or Eric – has a bigger impact on your company culture? Let’s consider a few important pieces of a great company culture and how each of these personalities might impact them:

  • Core values. The organization’s ability to ensure core values reflects in every level in the organization drives company culture. In this case, the employee with the greater impact on work productivity of the two (John, the talented jerk) is the one most misaligned with your core values. However, if your core values happen to be drive, innovation, and assertiveness and don’t include anything about interpersonal relations and integrity, Eric the under-performer might be more misaligned.
  • Caring. Companies who demonstrate that they care for their employees and are committed to building a caring culture often achieve great results, because this type of culture helps individual employees band together in a positive way personally and professionally. When it comes to this component of company culture, John, the talented jerk, puts the most strain on teams because even though his work helps the company, his lack of caring likely pushes people away on a personal level.
  • Camaraderie. In a positive company culture, employees feel like they’re in it together. Like their coworkers will gladly step up when they fall behind and they’ll give up glory before they’ll take it all to themselves. Again, John, the talented jerk, poses the greatest risk to a positive company culture when it comes to camaraderie because there’s no teamwork in his mode of operation.
  • Communication. Clear, transparent communication is critical in every organization, but it’s also important that communication is respectful. When we discuss this component of culture, John wins at communicating clearly but may be damaging communication as a whole if others are unwilling to approach him.

The verdict

John, the talented jerk, has the greatest negative impact on company culture. But the most important lesson? A great leader doesn’t allow anybody to remain the talented jerk or the charming under-performer; both have the power and ability to improve with the right commitment and coaching from a leader who is invested in the success of their team members. By providing honest feedback in real time, you can ensure every employee either contributes to a positive culture or gets off the bus before they do irreparable damage.



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Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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