Rockstars vs Superstars — get to know your people
The Future of Work

Rockstars vs Superstars — get to know your people

by Sinan Ata
Rockstars vs Superstars — get to know your people
  • 👩🏾‍🎤 Rockstars
  • 👩🏽‍🚀 Superstars
  • Golden Ratio

If you have management experience over five years, you probably already have an idea of what I’m talking about. In the majority of teams and workgroups around the world, there are Superstar and Rockstar type of people inside. We’re not going to talk about below-average people in this post.

I liked the way Radical Candor covering this topic because it’s real and it resonated in my business memories. Leaving below-average people and bottom performers aside, let’s talk about the definition of Rockstars and Superstars in business. These may sound like a couple of fancy titles, but I promise, it’s more than that.

Performance data alone is not enough for understanding talent and achieving sustainable high-speed growth. As we’ve learned from Andy Grove and his example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, knowledge workers are driven with the sense of “what I can be, I must be”, meaning they are more likely to run for their dreams. The idea here is combining business performance data with the answer to “what is your dream?” per individual.

Rockstar flowchart

Growth Trajectory Chart by Kim Scott

This post is not about choosing one of two groups, it’s about finding the balance because your business desperately needs both Rockstars and Superstars.

👩🏾‍🎤 Rockstars

Do you remember that colleague who you thought had a lot more potential but surprisingly happy with what she was doing? Even though she’s a top performer, her dream was just keeping the job she had and doing it for multi-years.

Well, she is a typical rockstar. She has rock-solid knowledge and expertise but still happy where she is. There are many others with less expertise and success taking higher seats but she chose to stay where she’s happy.

Does that make her a loser? Should businesses get rid of less ambitious people like her? The answer is no. Businesses desperately need people like her to sustain high business productivity at every level.

Let’s go deeper, should you only hire Rockstars? Ironically, the answer is no again. Let’s see why your business needs Superstars.

👩🏽‍🚀 Superstars

Let’s try to remember your super-smart friend who just got a great job but already started to look for more in the first year? Is this because she’s just greedy?

Since we’re not talking about low performers and below-average people here, her ambition has business value for the company. Just because she’s highly motivated to get a promotion, she’s going to push herself to the limits of learning and experimentation to discover the next step function in growth and try to get a better job inside or outside her current company. So she’s more likely to discover optimization and creative ideas.

Businesses need people like her to gain ground and stay competitive.

Golden Ratio

Right after you read this post, I assume you already bucketed top performers in your teams as Rockstars and Superstars. The idea is very simple:

Superstars are great for gaining new ground in business while Rockstars are much better becoming the expert and going deeper

So the question is “what is the right ratio?” Well, it depends on what do you expect from your team. As William quoted in his post from the book, The First 90 Days, you need to decide what do you want first.

Which of the following describes your expectations from your team? Based on experience, I believe the maximum team headcount is 8 so I’ll use this figure.

  1. Startup — In an ever-changing business environment, your rockstar teammates will have serious problems with so-called ‘job safety’ and ‘lack of time for becoming the expert in some business aspects due to high pace’
    ⚖️ Rockstars 2:6 Superstars
  2. Turnaround — While trying to turn your whole business or a specific function, you are going to need tons of domain expertise. So you need to go deeper.
    ⚖️ Rockstars 6:2 Superstars
  3. Accelerated Growth — Title explains your need to grow fast. Assuming you’re going to over-invest to gain market share. Here you need a full balance.
    ⚖️ Rockstars 4:4 Superstars
  4. Realignment — This usually happens after a steep growth period or acquisition. Ok, you grew fast, broke the system multiple times to grow but let’s get aligned with a bigger plan. Your need for going deep and provide stability is higher than ever now.
    ⚖️ Rockstars 7:1 Superstars
  5. Sustained Success — Let’s say you have a support team and all you need is keeping your NPS over 98%, you don’t need to gain more ground all you need is gaining depth, meaning Rockstars.
    ⚖ Rockstars 8:0 Superstars

Hope this helps. Looking fwd to learn from your experiences.

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