Managing Your Rock Stars

It’s exciting to bring a rock star into your company.

No, no, not Mick Jagger. We are talking about someone big in your field, someone who is well known, with a lot of talent, in high demand…and you’ve got ’em.

You hire a rock star because they can do great things for you, but a lot of that will depend on your ability to lead and manage them. There is a certain value that you expect from them, and you want to make sure you get that. At the same time, you do not want to lose value overall by alienating or demotivating your other employees.

Each of your employees is unique, and while you will have some common leadership principles that you use across the workforce, there will always be things you tailor to each individual. You need to keep that in mind when you start thinking “why am I catering to this person’s needs?” Think about what each individual needs in order to produce the value that you expect, and balance the cost of meeting their needs against that value. If the cost of keeping them happy and productive seems to be greater than the benefit of having them, well, then you will need to reconsider how much you need them. But if you are getting more value from them than you are investing in them, it sounds like you are coming out ahead on that deal. Your rock stars may demand more; only you can decide if they are worth it.

“Keeping them happy,” by the way, does not necessarily involve money. It just means ensuring they have the environment in which they can be most productive. Yes, that might mean a bigger salary, but it might also involve such things as empowerment, work/life balance, expanded responsibilities, or even just a nice office.

Consider what it is that makes them such a rock star. What factors got them to where they are, in what environment have they done their best work? Maybe they work best leading a team, or perhaps they are a solo genius who comes up with the concept but leaves the implementation to others. Do they work better in a large open space or in a frantic office setting? Try to recreate that environment for them.

You want to make the best use of them that you can. This may mean letting them operate without a whole lot of oversight. You have hired your rock star because of what they can do, so let them do it. At the same time, make sure you challenge them so you get everything they have to offer. Consider using them to enhance the rest of your workforce; maybe as a mentor or teaching seminars within your firm so they can help enhance overall performance.

If you are providing salary, perks, recognition, or other things to your rock star that the rest of your employees don’t get, that may lead to some resentment, especially among staff who have been there a long time. Try to keep the focus on the value the rock star bring rather than what it took to get them there and keep them. If nothing else, the perks and attention they get might be a motivator for others, showing what you can get when you are at the top of your game.

A lot of folks turn their rock stars loose, letting them operate with more autonomy that others as suggested above. If you do that, be careful not to stay completely disconnected. You have expectations for them, and you need to make those clear, and ensure they are being met. If they are not — if you are not getting what you thought you would be getting — you have to step in and get things back on track.

Bringing a star into your organization can offer a lot of benefits, and you are more likely to realize those if you are proactive in your leadership. Find out what they really need/want, and use that to determine their true potential value to you. Realize there may be some hard feelings among others and take steps to focus others’ attention on the positive aspects. Stay engaged and make sure that what you are getting is what you thought you would get. Every employee is unique, and that goes for your rock stars, too, so take a close look at what it will take to get them to produce, and decide if you are up for it.