There is a subject that makes me crazy whenever it comes up, as it did today in a meeting when the a senior manager started talking about “retaining stars.” To be honest, I get pretty hot, because I find not just the concept, but the way it’s so often done, offensive.
To start with, there’s the whole idea of “stars.” From the vantage point of my 25 years of headhunting I know that this is true: people work to the quality of their management. “Star” is a strictly subjective definition—one manager’s star is another manager’s pain in the behind.
In my experience the workforce breaks down into three segments.
- At the top you have the so-called stars, the 10% who succeed on their own no matter what;
- at the other end are the 3% I call destroyers—because that’s how they get their kicks.
Both these groups do their thing in spite of how they’re managed.
What of the rest?
- 87% are neither stars nor destroyers on their own, but can become either because of how they’re managed!
Aside from its being mathematically impossible to hire nothing but stars, would you really want to? Stars may be creative, but they also do it their own way. Because they’re leaders, they need constant advancement, if not in your company then in another. Don’t get me wrong, stars can be team players, but they play better if it’s their team. Sayings such as, “Too many cooks spoil that soup.” and “You can’t fight a war with nothing but generals.” have been around for decades because they are true.
What’s more, singling out a few people for special treatment turns off the rest of your organization. Let’s say you have a 30 person group out of which you identify seven stars. To retain them you create a program of special mentoring, training and development, and make sure that they have access to extra opportunities and they stay with the company for four years.
Around 30% of your other 27 people will spend six months to a year trying to gain entree to the program and will usually leave if they don’t. 10-12% will get angry over what they see as favoritism and start looking immediately. Over the next few years, the rest usually experience a drop in confidence, lower self-esteem, declining productivity, growing frustration and dissatisfaction culminating in a call from a headhunter or ex-colleague. By the end of the four years you still have your stars, but have experienced turnover in excess of 100%, since the same sequence of events will effect the replacements.
A far better approach, from CEO down, is to recognize that it’s your responsibility to provide the environment, opportunity, encouragement and support that inspires people to achieve all that they can and become a star in their own right.