Star performers elsewhere may not be the star performers in your organization. Hiring star performers from other organizations may not really be a substitute for developing star performers from within. There is enough empirical evidence on the subject available today which categorically shows that merely because an employee has been a star performer in her previous organization would guarantee that she would also be a star performer in the subsequent organization as well. Quite to the contrary, the empirical evidence convincingly suggests that the probability of success with transplanting a star performer from another organization is relatively low.
Counter intuitive as it may sound, the rationale behind the same is convincing. Star performers do have traits which they share with other star performers across organizations and industries. For instance, star performers in any organization are likely to have deep domain knowledge or functional expertise, high results orientation, they are likely to have a high analytical bent of mind and have the ability to dive deep, they are likely to be able to problem solve in complex situations, they are likely to be able to set the agenda for themselves as well as their teams, they are likely to have a high bias for action they are likely to be able to influence others with logic and rationale, they are likely to show high degree of ownership, so on and so forth. However, many of these competencies which make an employee a star performer in an organization are contextual in nature. In other words, they blossom in the context of certain organizations. Therefore, an employee’s competencies may blossom is a particular organization context to make her a star performer but in another organization context the same employee may struggle to stay afloat. To take an analogy from the plant kingdom, it is like a cactus which may survive very well in desert conditions, which are usually very hostile for any plant to survive, would simply wither away in temperate conditions which otherwise are more conducive for vegetation to survive. Just because a cactus could withstand the extremely hostile survival conditions in desert does not mean that it would survive in any kind of conditions. Analogously, just because an employee has been a star performer in a very challenging work environment does in no way guarantee that the same employee would be a star in any organization context.
The match between individual dispositions and organization culture has an immense role to play in the success of a star performer in an organization. It is when an employee’s individual personality type, individual values, individual motivations match with what the organization has to offer that the probability of superlative performance becomes high. It is not to say that just because there is a very high match in the above, the employee would become a star performer. However, the converse is certainly true: if the match is not there or minimal, the probability of that individual becoming a star performer in those circumstances is negligible.
This is not to suggest that star performers in one organization would not do well elsewhere. They do several times but rarely do they become star performers across organizations. They do well elsewhere because part of the skill set that a star performer carries are generic in nature and those can be relatively easily transplanted from one organization to the other. For instance, high achievement or results orientation or a high drive for action or ability to distil inferences from complex data and information may be individual specific and can be carried over from one organization to the other. However, there is a large part which is contextual and the difference between a good performer and a star performer is often the contextual element. For instance, ability to influence and collaborate effectively across the organization or ability to lead a team effectively or the ability to meaningfully understand the business context and tailor make solutions which suit the specific business context are certain skills which may be contextual. What may work wonders in one organization setting may be quite a disaster in another one. That is where the organization context makes a huge difference.
Besides the organization context, another reason why stars in one organization do not necessarily become stars in another is because stars in any organization are usually treated in a differential manner from others due to the credibility that they would have earned and quite unrealistically many of them assume that the credibility would get transferred along with them without any dilution. That is rarely the case. While the fact that an employee may have been a star in one organization could be a factor in her selection in another but that is where it typically ends. The star of the previous organization would have to earn the trust of her colleagues, peers, team members, seniors inch by inch, quarter by quarter, one result after another. It would not get “transferred” from the previous organization nor can that be taken for granted. However, since stars are treated differentially in most organizations and therefore the stars know that they are stars, they expect the same treatment to get transferred from Day One to the new organization. No matter how unrealistic that expectation maybe, the reality is that many stars do come with those.
The other reason is that if an employee has been a star in his earlier organization for a period of time, typically he comes with the proverbial “chip on his shoulder”. The stars often do not realize that a significant factor contributing to their being a star was contextual in nature and not just what they themselves bring to the table. Therefore, the possibility of them displaying a certain level of arrogance is often not very uncommon which does little to help them earn the trust and credibility of the people in the new organization context. This could get further aggravated by the fact that the news of a star joining from another organization can create disdain and apprehension amongst the people in the new organization and the arrogance can only fuel that disdain further.
Moreover, there are several occasions when a star is hired at a compensation which is higher than what internal equity would warrant. No matter how confidential compensation is meant to be, the fact of the matter is that it is only a question of time before it gets known to others in the organization and the worst impacted is usually the star of the previous organization since her integration in the new organization gets challenged because of this very fact. Besides compensation, the star from another organization may be brought over some existing employees who may have been performing very well but were over looked for the position for which the organization decides to get a star from elsewhere. The wrath of those within the organization who feel over looked typically falls on the new hire from outside and that does little in helping the latter to repeat the performance of the previous organization, certainly in the short run.
Therefore, if the probability of a star in another organization to be a star in a new organization is not very high, then is it really worth the effort, time and money that organizations typically invest in luring stars from another organization? If the same effort, energy and time is invested in building stars within the organization, the returns are likely to be significantly higher, not just for the business performance in the long run but also for the reputation of the organization. Think of all the organizations that have a history of building stars from within- not only has their performance over the long run spoken for themselves, but they have created an enviable and more importantly unique track record of building star performers. Reason I call it unique because while any organization which can afford to throw enough money can buy talent from anywhere, it is not just as easy to be able to build star performers from within. Certainly not year after year and rarely generation after generation. This is a competitive advantage which is very hard to imitate, if at all. It is not a mere coincidence that organizations which have a reputation of building star performers from within are also the same ones which have demonstrated outstand business results not just quarter on quarter but decade on decade.
Kinjal has over 20 years of experience and has worked with organizations like PepsiCo, ITC Infotech India Limited, Hindustan Unilever Ltd & ITC Limited. Kinjal holds a Master’s Degree, Human Resources Management/Personnel Administration from XLRI Jamshedpur.