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Working with stars: gain or loss?

Datum:23 mei 2019
Auteur:Yingjie Yuan
Working with stars: gain or loss?
Working with stars: gain or loss?

Star performers are distinguished from average employees for their disproportionate impact. Evidently, about 80% of corporate performance, across industries, comes from star performers – the top 10-20% of employees. This drives companies to invest an inordinate amount of resources in recruiting and retaining star performers. Nevertheless, when considering star impacts, managerial theories and practices have largely overlooked the interpersonal aspect – for individual employees, what does it mean to with work with stars?

This question is vital for two reasons: on the one hand, it addresses how interpersonal dynamics might support the functioning of star employees. Research suggests that hiring stars might fail corporate performance if there is insufficient interpersonal support around stars. On the other hand, it captures a promising picture of social learning – stars might motivate other employees to develop their performance and career successes. Thus, it is important to understand the interpersonal impact of stars in order to fully reap the fruits of star performers in organizations.

The advantage of working with stars is multifold. Intuitively, working with stars brings in valuable connections that signal promising careers. Recent studies suggest that individuals working with star performers hold a higher chance of promotion in external labor markets  and are more likely to become stars (Kilduff, Crossland, Tsai, & Bowers, 2016). In addition, researchers showed that people deliver better individual performance at the presence of star performers.

Working with star performers also implies challenges. Collaboration with stars is not necessarily easy. Groysberg and Lee (2009) found out that stars do not easily cooperate with their new members (or the other way around). This led to performance declines in not only star employees but also the entire group. More indirectly, psychologists showed that people working with experts are more likely to defer to opinions of these highly competitive (influential) individuals (Fragale, Sumanth, Tiedens, & Northcraft, 2012). It is thus valuable to further investigate how the presence of stars affects interpersonal and team information processing (e.g., knowledge sharing, knowledge hiding, and information integration).

To conclude, working with star performers is more complex than it seems. Despite the advantages of social capital and performance development, the challenges in collaboration and knowledge management are not negligible. Given the crucial role of star performers in organizations, it is thus essential to organize, monitor and manage the interpersonal relationships around those stars.

Dr. Yingjie Yuan (yingjie.yuan is Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior at the Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen, with expertise on Creativity/Innovation, Social networks, Star Individuals, Team information processing, and Idea Selection.


Fragale, A. R., Sumanth, J. J., Tiedens, L. Z., & Northcraft, G. B. (2012). Appeasing equals: Lateral deference in organizational communication. Administrative Science Quarterly. doi:10.1177/0001839212461439

Groysberg, B., Nanda, A., & Nohria, N. (2004). The Risky Business of Hiring Stars. Harvard Business Review.

Kilduff, M., Crossland, C., Tsai, W., & Bowers, M. T. (2016). Magnification and correction of the acolyte effect: Initial benefits and ex post settling up in NFL coaching careers. Academy of Management Journal. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0239