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Should You Give Your Star Employees Star Treatment?


Should You Give Your Star Employees Star Treatment?

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How vital are your vital few? In any team or organization, a small number of individuals will account for a substantial amount of collective output. These “stars” are able to systematically outperform the majority of their peers and confirm the well-established Pareto effect whereby 80% of collective output can be attributed to 20% of the people in a group, or even fewer.

Contrary to popular belief, there are universal traits that predict whether individuals will be part of an organization’s vital few, such as their higher levels of intelligence, work ethic, and social skills. In other words, people who are smart, nice, and hard-working tend to outperform their peers. They also learn faster and are more likely to adapt to new demands, which means they have higher levels of potential even for jobs they have not done in the past.

Because of this, stars are more likely to be in demand than their peers, so they will be approached by recruiters and rival organizations, who will try to entice them with better job offers and career opportunities. As McKinsey predicted 20-years ago, there is a War for Talent, and, in the age of human capital, a company’s stars are the commodities being fought for. This is particularly critical in high-complexity jobs, where the average output difference between average and star employees is 800% (as opposed to 50% in low-complexity jobs).

So, what can you do to keep your star performers motivated? Since engagement is a critical driver of performance, minimizing the gap between what your stars can do and actually do will be vital to achieving the highest level of collective output. Here are a few data-driven suggestions:

Know who they actually are: This may sound obvious, but since most organizations rely on subjective ratings of managers to identify their star performers, false positives are the norm. Unfortunately, this unreliable methodology turns the pivotal exercise of internal talent identification into a popularity contest whereby politically astute employees who manage up and take credit for others’ achievements are more likely to emerge as high potentials — though they more faux po’s than hipo’s. Consider that a seminal meta-analysis on the main predictors of career success identified that political skills are the strongest predictor. As I argue in my forthcoming book, this is one of the reasons why men are more likely to emerge as leaders, even when they are incompetent. In order to ensure that you know who your star performers really are, you should: (a) put in place reliable quantitative performance indicators to compare people’s relative contribution to the team’s performance; (b) use valid psychological assessments to identify their potential (beyond their past performance); and (c) pay attention to your employees’ reputations, particularly what their peers and colleagues think of them (you can’t fool all people all the time). And remember: some people will always get annoyed when they find out they are not regarded as stars, but fair rules and transparent criteria will significantly reduce the number of complainers.

October 16, 2018 at 03:19PM


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