Is the Increasing Success of “Star Employees” the Beginning of the End?


Many of us are interested in Top Performers, whether it is within organisations or – even more likely – in sports. In the work place, if you need information where would you usually go? We typically go to the people who have the best information and Top Performers – most of the time – have the best information.

For example: When I was working on my PhD research I was a visiting fellow at Warwick Business School. Spending time with Professors Pettigrew and McGee I greatly benefitted from the fact they were in a special network of management professors who receive all the interesting working papers long before these were published. As such they were 2-3 years ahead of researchers who received these papers when they were published.

It is not hard to imagine how being a top performer or – as Groysberg puts it – a star employee, creates a virtuous cycle of increasing affiliation further increasing importance and visibility. However, could this upward spiral of stardom also lead to information overload and subsequent demise of the star?

Oldroyd and Morris argue that this could be the case. Here’s what they say:

  1. Because of high performance and high visibility star employees they have exponentially more social capital;
  2. Because of this social capital star performers send and receive exponentially more information;
  3. Because of these extreme levels of information flow, stars are likely to experience information overload;
  4. As star employees experience information overload, their performance is likely to decrease;
  5. As a result, star performers will decrease the amount of valuable information they share or even leave the organisation.

Instead management would need to help star performers to increase their information processing abilities and, more importantly, implement organisational processes and systems and create better network conditions to help prevent information overload.

Is this virtuous cycle of stardom the reason, perhaps, that so often stars have one “truly great idea or act” and end up spending the rest of their lives repeating it? Hopefully not.

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