Walter Frick (HBR, The Magazine, 14 April 2014) tells us that the contribution of superstar employees extends beyond the work they actually do. Granted, every organization that can afford it would want to have A players in their midst for one major reason: they are productive and their contribution to the bottom-line. Other things being equal, they pay themselves and pay many others. However, like everything that is good, there is a big caution relating to superstar performers.
The caution is threefold: the impact the superstar has on the rest of the team. on performance sustainability or continuity and on an organization's risk profile.
The impact on the rest of the team
: Because superstar performers are very much aware of their worth, most verge on being both arrogant and intolerant of what they consider to be 'lesser' beings. Having superstars may lead to a need of a new skills set of handling the workplace dynamics on the part of the supervisor. How does a supervisor act in a manner that shows their support for the superstar(s) while not completely alienating the other team members? How does the supervisor ensure that the other team members do not set up the superstar to fail by not being cooperative? How does the supervisor train an opinionated superstar employee the importance of emotional literacy in a workplace?
: Continuity with superstars is problematic as most of them tend to be mobile, hopping from one 'exciting' job to the next; or from one highest bidder to the next. This is more in some industries than in other. Further, while they have a positive impact on productivity, sustainability can be a problem as they need to learn to work within a team and to appreciate that every team member has a role to play. Organizations opting for the superstars have to seriously consider where they are placing them. Perhaps they are better off on projects with clearly stated deliverables and a definite finish date.
: The high propensity to change jobs on the part of the superstar employee may open an organization up to risky situations ranging from migration of their proprietary information and practices, to losing an entire team of key personnel to the superstar employee setting up a competing business. This is particularly prevalent in knowledge based businesses and no amount of restraining clauses in the employment agreement can give an employer complete protection.
While the direct benefits of hiring superstar performers can be phenomenal, a lot will depend on a manager's ability to carry out three crucial activities namely: a) handle the team dynamics in a manner that makes the superstar performers emotionally literate members of the team who appreciate not just their own role but that of the other members; b) acknowledging that the superstar's stay may be short lived and building in mechanisms to ensure performance continuity (will they leave their intellectual knowledge behind?); c) and finally taking measures to reduce an organization's risk exposure.
Is the improved performance worth the risk? Sometimes reliable and loyal B+ players are a better bet over the long term.
Recently recognized as one of Canada’s most powerful women™, Debby Carreau is the CEO and Founder of Inspired HR. She is often asked to speak and write about women in the workplace and eliminating harassment and bullying.