In any organization they are positive deviants (deviants from expected norms, who achieve results ) and other ‘statistical abnormalities’, by nature or nurture. Some of them become trophy employees.
Definition: trophy employees are employees who
(a) can be showcased internal and externally as an example of some sort of outstanding achievement,
(b) who are symbol or status of the greatness of the organization,
(c) who implicitly suggest that the organization is supporting or fostering this kind of people, like themselves
The trouble with trophy employees is that
(a) the showcase may be an statistically anomaly that hides the truth behind the statistically common
(b) they may be a symbol of relative tolerance to their existence but not much more
(c ) the organization may be far from fostering, it is just using them.
In the extreme, trophy employees may become what in political terms is called ‘useful idiots’
Some types of trophy employees are:
The maverick tolerated as maverick and showcased as a maverick, which implies being a maverick is something hosted by the culture, even if the numbers of mavericks can be counted with the fingers of one hand.
The award winning, Trainer of the Year, Most Outstanding Achiever in X, who may have achieved X not because the company but despite the company. Get a National Award and the company becomes ‘Best in Class’ (to the astonishment of the other 1999 employees)
The black African American, raising star who has become Senior VP of Y which shows how minority rights can be fostered and achieved in the land of healthy meritocracy. Small detail, the number of African American women in leadership positions in that company is negligible. However she is proud of being a role model
The ‘utility spectrum’ of those abnormal deviations includes;
Abnormalities, by accident
Abnormalities but the compnay is fostering them and is genuine.
Abnormalities but the company is not fostering, but happy to tolerate and perhaps showcase
Abnormalities exploited as a trophy
Abnormalities exploited as a trophy with, consciously or unconsciously, complacent, flattered and subservient incumbents: useful idiots
Look critically behind trophy employees. There may be a genuine company on a journey, or a spin manipulation to showcase greatness on the cheap.
Or anything in between.
Welcome and show solidarity with the former, call out the latter loud and clear.