Management in Action: Managing Rock Stars

They’re strategic thinkers who can also execute. They’re passionate about their work. They beat every deadline. They have a positive attitude and a commitment to the organization. They are the high performers.

guitar-1015750_640I call them rock stars, and I have been blessed to have managed many throughout my career. Rock stars are talented and make hard work look easy, and I gladly pick the brown M&Ms out of the candy dish in order to keep them performing well. But like actual rock stars, high performers need the right combination of support and autonomy from their leaders to keep them playing at a high level.

Got a high performer on your team? Here are some things to do to keep them rocking out:

  • Keep their instruments tuned. It’s your job as a leader to set your team members up for success. This means doing your best to get your people the tools they need to do their job well. Whether it’s investing in new technology or providing professional development opportunities, do what you can as a manager to get your rock stars what they need to continue to excel.
  • Give them a solo. As I mentioned, I’ve managed a few high performers over the course of my career, and I learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for them is to just stay out of their way. Micromanaging is about the worst thing you can do to a rock star. That being said, it’s not always reasonable for your high performers to expect complete autonomy. Work together to find that balance.
  • Have them write a song for a change. Most high performers are quick learners and pick up things easily. Playing the same songs day after day can get boring, so give your high performers new challenges and opportunities to branch out. Encouraging your rock stars to take the lead on certain projects and initiatives allows them to apply their talents in different ways, which can be reinvigorating for employees and foster higher levels of engagement.
  • Let them know how the album is doing. It can be difficult and de-motivating to work in a vacuum and not know how your day-to-day work is impacting the organization. Take time as a leader to connect those dots for your team by linking individual goals to your organization’s strategic goals, and give your rock stars regular feedback on how things are progressing.
  • Make sure they get their standing ovations. Often, high performers leave organizations because they don’t feel valued. Are you doing all you can to get them proper recognition? In addition to giving your high performers positive feedback and appreciation, make sure the higher-ups of your organizations are aware of your rock star’s hard work and talent. Encourage your high performers to engage with organizational leaders so they can raise their profile.
  • Put the band first. Having a high performer as part of your team can motivate other team members to higher achievement, or it can totally intimidate then. Rock stars tend to get a lot of attention, garner more responsibility, and perhaps enjoy more freedom. Continue to make investments in the rest of your team so that they too can develop the knowledge and skills that can elevate them to rock star status.

Rock star employees can absolutely be assets to your team, but it takes some careful management in order to get the most value. A high level of talent is not an excuse to treat people poorly or behave unprofessionally—something that actual rock stars have something of a reputation for. Good communication is crucial to understanding and creating a working dynamic that benefits you, them, the rest of your team, and the organization.

Rock on.

Readers: have you worked with rock stars? What’s been your experience with high performing employees? Share in the comments.

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