aparna sharma

Ways to deal with your star performer | Aparna Sharma | Consulting Editor | The People Management

starManaging your star performers should be no sweat, right? After all, they’re delivering results and exceeding targets. But don’t think you can just get out of their way and let them excel. They require just as much attention as everyone else. How do you keep stars excited about their work? And what risks should you watch out for?

What the Experts Say

Having a supremely talented employee on your team is a boss’s dream. But it can be a real challenge, too. You need to make sure your star has enough on his/her plate to stay fully engaged — but not so much that he/she gets burned out. And you need to “offer positive feedback” — but not in ways that are counterproductive to the person’s growth and development. Whether your star performer has just joined your team or has been working for you for a while, here are some tips on how to manage them.

Think about Development

One of the hardest things about managing a supremely competent and confident employee is making sure they are sufficiently challenged in the job. The antidote to this problem is “classic talent development”. First, “ask your employee, ‘Where do you want to go next, and what experiences do I need to give you to make sure you get there?’” Then, find opportunities to help the person acquire new skills and sharpen old ones. Help the employee get “exposure to other parts of the organization” that will “broaden their perspective.” And, of course, “don’t neglect the B players”. Otherwise, you’re not building the capacity of the team, and “over time, people become de-skilled.” Everyone on your team “deserves to be developed.”

Offer Autonomy

Another way to ensure your star employee stays engaged and excited about coming to work is to “give them more autonomy”. Demonstrate trust by delegating authority and responsibility for certain projects and tasks. And don’t micromanage. Give them discretion in how they do the work. If a formal promotion is not possible, or your employee is not quite ready for one, think creatively about ways to sharpen their leadership skills. Give them training responsibilities. “Ask your rock star to work with other people on the team to mentor them and develop them.”

Don’t go overboard with Positive Feedback

Generally speaking, “stars tend to be very needy” and require more praise and reassurance than your average employee. But you don’t want to “get into the habit of feeding an ego.” Give your stars “the appropriate amount of feedback” by “acknowledging their contributions.” If your star executed a project beautifully or made a stellar presentation, say so. But you needn’t go overboard. Help them to learn to monitor themselves and to acknowledge the contributions of other members of the team who are helping them be successful. Some stars don’t expect or want constant praise. “Don’t assume you know what motivates them.”

Manage your star’s Workload — and everybody else’s

An important part of your job as a boss is making sure the work is divided fairly. This can be a challenge when you’re managing someone who is head and shoulders above everyone else. “You want to give [all] the tasks to the rock star, because you know the rock star will get the job done. But while “it’s convenient for you,” overwork will lead to burnout. To keep that from happening, keep doing “a careful analysis of what’s on [your star’s] plate” to identify tasks and projects that can be removed “to make capacity for other projects.” It’s likely that your “rock star will be reluctant to let anything go,” but you must hold firm. “Be explicit and
say that you want to give them more bandwidth so that they have the brainpower, energy, and time to be at their best.” And beware of team burnout. “Superstars are known as pacesetters”. “It can be exciting and inspiring for other people to work with them, but often others can’t keep up.” You need to “make sure the workload is reasonable” for everyone.

Be mindful of Group Dynamics

Superstars can generate team tension. Perhaps they expect performance equal to theirs from others, or peers are jealous of their abilities and treat them differently than everyone else. You can’t control others’ emotions, but you do have a say in the way they act. First, and most important, “don’t play favorites” . Next, talk to your team members about group dynamics and their individual behavior. Your goal is to “make sure they’re treating [the star] appropriately.” “You need to have one-on-one conversations with everyone. Ask, ‘What motivates you and how can I help?’”

Encourage your star to Build Relationships

You’ll need to talk to your star, too. Many high performers have trouble developing trusting relationships. “They’re quick studies, so they don’t ask questions and don’t try to build bridges — mostly because they don’t have to.” It’s your job to encourage them to network and to “help them develop their capacity to engage with others and learn the power of collaboration.” Explain that “to contribute to organizations today, you need to be able to work with other people in different functions.” Then “be a partner in helping the person integrate with the group.” Demonstrate “how his work benefits from other points of view.” And use
role-play to teach him how to successfully work with peers.

Don’t be Selfish

No one wants to lose a superstar employee, but when you’re dealing with someone who is very “competent and capable,” it may be a “signal that they are ready for more than you can offer” in a particular role. Don’t lose them to another company, though. Consider the priorities of your entire organization and whether there’s a fit for them outside of your team. Be prepared “to fight battles on two fronts”. “Talk to your boss about finding your star a position in the company so that they move up, while also making sure they are replaced” with someone who will succeed in the role. It’s a “common trade-off and management dilemma”. “But you can’t hoard talent.”

In Summary – Principles to Remember

 Offer praise and reassurance, but also encourage your star to acknowledge the contributions of others.
 Demonstrate trust by delegating responsibility for certain projects and letting your star decide how they do the work.
 Make sure the team’s workload is reasonable. Superstars are pacesetters and not everyone can keep up.

 Overload your star employee — otherwise you risk burning them out. Analyze what’s on their plate and identify which projects can be removed.
 Neglect the rest of your team. Find ways to develop each of your direct reports.
 Hoard talent. If your employee is ready to advance, you must advocate for their promotion.