Project Practitioners > Managing in Superstar Cultures

Managing in Superstar Cultures

By Ed Reynolds

Do you want everybody on your team to be a superstar? Having lots of superstars can be an ego boost for a manager and even make the day-to-day work go smoothly but it can also have serious negative consequences. This is an area where courage to deviate from the norm comes in handy.

I worked for a company that viewed everybody at a certain grade level –call it grade 10 - as a director candidate. They had to be smart, have a commanding presence and carry a workload that promoted frequent executive visibility. At review time, grade 10s received the highest scrutiny because they received the highest bonuses.

How do you suppose this played out on a daily basis? Well, the competition was cutthroat. In the hallways, respect was shown but in private it was a cold war. During important meetings, all the superstars wanted a seat at the table, even when they weren’t stakeholders in the subject matter. If a competing grade 10 was giving a presentation, it was open season; every opportunity for a shot was expected and usually taken. The less visible grade 10s were also heavily scrutinized: Were they at the meeting? If not, why not? Is their work important to us?

The anointed few achieved their financial and title goals. The average performers didn't. Many moved to other positions in the company where competition was less heated; some left the company. Savvy managers began grading new personnel reqs lower than what they actually needed. They subsequently had to provide lots of training, coaching and outside education but the new employees felt challenged, happy, like they were learning and had something to aspire to.

Bottom line: having one or two superstars that complement your abilities and that can stand toe-to-toe with the superstars of your peers is plenty. In my opinion, everybody else on the team should be competent and trainable, for your mental health and theirs.



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A very good article.


In my experience, a lot of "superstars" are superstar kiss-ups and superstar yes-men and superstar self-promoters, not superstar performers. A good organization will have terrific people, whose efforts it can channel into productive efforts which are rewarded rather than destructive politicking and competition.


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