The hugely popular TV show Big Bang Theory’s answer to the question above is “$1 million per episode plus tie ins”. This is reportedly the deal that three of the main actors have agreed following negotiations which delayed the start of filming for the new series by two months. Hopefully most employers do not have to pay quite this much for star talent and are not held to ransom by their senior execs, but clearly there are occasions when key staff are offered a better deal elsewhere and ask for the deal to be matched - with the threat that they will leave if it isn’t.
Money is not the only issue when considering how much leeway some employees are given. We all know the classic scenarios; the star “rainmaker” who happens to have a vicious temper; the genius who has zero client relationship skills; the brilliant academic who is consistently late for work; or the person who everyone likes to have around but just isn’t very good at their job. How far do you go in weighing up one against the other and what is the impact on the business and on other employees?
Much depends on the culture of the organisation. Some may be prepared to pay what it takes to keep a valued employee (taking care not to fall foul of equal pay rules when doing so) while others may not like the attitude of someone who strong-arms them into salary increases. One company’s bully is another’s decisive decision maker. All of this is fine – so long as all employees are happy with the culture in place. That rainmaker who tends to shout might be acceptable until her entire team raises grievances, resigns or brings a Tribunal claim. The brilliant academic can be late so long as everyone else doesn’t complain she is getting preferential treatment. The pleasant but ineffectual colleague is ok until he makes a serious mistake which impacts the business.
There are formal steps or informal workarounds that can be put in place to recognise each person’s capabilities and character; don’t give the shouter direct reports (or at the very least, keep an eye on direct reports’ progress and make sure they have support); put a flexible working arrangement in place to ensure the late arriver makes up the hours elsewhere; keep the genius away from the pressure of high profile key meetings; or don’t promote the nice person beyond their capabilities. These approaches may work in some organisations for some people but will not work for everyone everywhere. This is a point where no amount of talent is worth the money or hassle required to pay out or put up with. I suppose it is a question of knowing your employees; what they are good at and how to work with them to the best advantage of the company but also to have a realistic view of how much trouble they are worth. Most employees are not internationally recognised actors who can hold out for $1million per project; they are normal people who can be coached, counselled, trained, disciplined and (if absolutely necessary) dismissed.