What Top Performers Can Learn From Disney's Firing of the Voice of Kermit the Frog
Last week, Steve Whitmire, the actor and muppeteer who had been the the voice of Kermit the Frog since creator Jim Henson’s death, was fired after 27 years on the job.
In a blog post, Whitmire wrote that in October 2016, he was told the role was going to be recast. “This is my life’s work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero.”
He went on to say that while he “offered multiple remedies" to Muppets Studio higher ups' "two stated issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call,” it was to no avail. Whitmire described feeling “devastated” that he wasn’t able to fulfill his duty to Henson.
The actor said he believed that his “continued involvement with the characters is in the best interest of the Muppets.”
But now Disney, which has owned the Muppets since 2004, and Henson’s children Lisa and Brian shared their side of the story, citing conflict around both the creative vision for the character as well as the handling of business negotiations.
Related: Why Teamwork Matters at Every Level
“He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations,” Lisa Henson, who is also the president of the Jim Henson Company, told The New York Times.
In speaking to The Times, Brian Henson said that Whitmire would “send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director.” In Brian’s recounting of events, Whitmire also did not want to have an understudy and would not appear with younger performers who could potentially take on the role.
"For workers of all stripes, this story brings to light the surprising tie between some top performers and toxic behaviors."
In a 2015 study from Harvard Business School, researchers found that the very traits that some of the highest performing employees have can actually make them some of the most toxic. Workers that are terminated due to toxic behavior are often more self-regarding, more confident and also work more quickly and are more productive -- in terms of quantity, not quality -- than workers who are not fired for that reason.
But having a toxic team member can be both emotionally and financially taxing, especially with regard to having to replace the people that a company can lose as a result of one bad apple.
“The total estimated cost is $12,489 and does not include other potential costs, such as litigation, regulatory penalty and reduced employee morale,” wrote researchers Michael Housman and Dylan Minor. “Also not included are the secondary costs of turnover that come from a new worker’s learning curve: a time of lower productivity precedes a return to higher productivity. … Even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1 percent, it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one.”
Which goes to show, even those at the top of their game still need to be team players. Because if you follow the money, even superstars sometimes need to be replaced.