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When do teams really benefit from ‘Star performers’?

Datum:22 december 2016
Auteur:Yingjie Yuan
When do teams really benefit from ‘Star performers’?
When do teams really benefit from ‘Star performers’?

As the labor market shifts toward knowledge-based work, organizations increasingly value star performers—the highest performing employees in work units—as one important source of corporate competitive advantages (Oldroyd & Morris, 2012). It is believed that the star performers contribute disproportionally to organizations, as they possess unique insights and rare human capital. Such a belief in star performers is particularly relevant to creative industries, where unique and rare insights constitute the cornerstone of novelty. For example, the development of Pokémon Go—an overnight phenomenon in the industry of mobile games—fully demonstrated the appeal of creative stars. Based on John Hanke’s marvelous idea of linking augmented reality technology to pop-culture games, Pokémon Go rapidly grew out of the start-up project (Niantic Lab) in Google and developed into an independent business. Since its launch in 2016, the Pokémon Go app generated over 2 million in in-app purchases almost every day, and the share price of Nintendo has risen 12 billion dollars.

Preoccupied with the promise of juicy returns of creative stars, HR managers increasingly mark attracting and retaining creative stars as “top priority” in the talent war, and invest enormous resources on creative stars, such as unprecedentedly high income, status, and generous personnel resources. Efforts in creative stars, however, do not always pay off. In a ten-year study on 1052 US star stock analysts, scholars found out that hiring star performers did not boost and sometimes even impaired the performance of their work units (Groysberg, Nanda, & Nohria, 2004). Relying on creative stars is a promising, yet highly risky business. The question is, when do teams benefit from creative stars?

My coauthor, Daan van Knippenberg from Rotterdam School of Management, and I explored when team contexts help realize the benefits of creative stars on team creativity. In a field study on 60 teams, we took a social network approach to analyze the role of creative stars, team information processes, and network positions. Our findings spoke to the issue of managing creative stars and team creativity in two different angles:

  1. Creative stars ought to be strategically positioned in teams to play roles. Our results indicated that star members only promote team creativity when positioned in a subgroup with a low level of “information elaboration”—a concept capturing the extent to which information from all individual members is exchanged, processed, and integrated in a work unit. A high level of information elaboration indiscriminately integrates all individual resources and, as a consequence, lowers the weight of star inputs in team solutions; whereas a less elaborate environment directs attentions to the most credible and recognizable resources—the creative stars—for team solutions.
  2. The advantage of creative stars diminishes as the surrounding subgroup gets better at collective process (i.e., subgroup information elaboration). Surprisingly, our findings pointed out a tradeoff between depending on creative stars and relying on collective work--high informational elaboration in the immediate subgroup around creative stars. More specifically, high star creativity relates to high team creativity only when the subgroup information elaboration is low, and the positive link between team creativity and information elaboration also only exists when creative stars are less creative in an absolute sense.

Considering the continuous emphasis on collaborative processes in contemporary organizations, this may explain why hiring creative stars sometimes ends up with trivialized impacts on team creativity—suppressed by the positive impact of collaborative processes (i.e., subgroup information elaboration).

In terms of return on investment (ROI), a strategic deployment of creative stars is important for managers. Our study implies that recruiting and retaining creative stars does not provide an omnipotent solution to team creativity. Its benefit is rather conditional. Creative stars have to be properly placed in order to exert their influence (i.e., in a less elaborate subgroup). Moreover, the ROI of creative stars composes an important concern for managers, as the impact of creative stars may be substituted by the quality of collaborative processes.

For more information about this research project, please email me: yingjie.yuan

Yingjie Yuan, Assistant Professor Department HRM and Organizational Behavior.

Research on creativity,  team processes, social networks.


Yuan, Y., & van Knippenberg, D. (in process) A Networked—Disjunctive Model of Team Creativity: Creative Stars and Subgroup Information Elaboration as a Moderator.




Tags: Performance


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