Many thousands of car fanatics are mourning the loss of Jeremy Clarkson from BBC’s internationally successful Top Gear program. But the case is a good illustration of a common tension in many business – that of a high performing and ‘successful’ employee who engages in controversial (and sometimes unlawful) behaviour.

Clarkson is renowned for behaviour which might be called ‘edgy’ by some, and ‘offensive’ by others. Often high-performing employees are excused for ‘quirks of character’ that, in other employees, might lead to a swift exit from the business. These quirks are often seen as part and parcel of the person’s high performance nature – ‘oh, that’s just the way he is’ or ‘that’s what you get with her’. Managers can be reluctant to take action for fear of losing a person responsible for bringing in significant customers or high volumes of sales.

There are obviously a range of views about whether the BBC made the right call (including petitions for Clarkson to be reinstated). This gives us food for thought about how we approach these issues in our own business:

  • remember that each organisation is bigger than a single person – each business has many employees who contribute to its success. Ensure that your whole team can achieve to their maximum potential by developing a culture that everyone can work within; and
  • think about how you will ensure that there is a well understood and consistent approach to workplace behaviour in your own businesses – each business needs to decide on how it will deal with these issues and then to stay the course. This might mean making difficult calls which can be to the short-term financial detriment of the business, but businesses who ‘take a stand’ on their culture are ultimately more successful than those relying on the cult of personality.

While watching what might be the last few episodes of Top Gear, think about applying the ‘Clarkson test’ to your own businesses – how would you deal with the same situation?