May 14, 2007


The Key to Managing Stars? Think Team: Q&A with: Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee(Martha Lagace, 5/14/07, HBS Working Knowledge)

What contributes to an individual's ability to remain a star? To what extent does past star performance predicate future star performance? And to what extent does a key organizational factor—colleague quality—help or hinder the ability to sustain star performance? The performance of stars is an important career matter for individuals as well as for managers who want to inspire, nurture, and recruit stars.

A new study by Harvard Business School's Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee on star knowledge workers, specifically security analysts, addresses these questions. As they explain in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, it is true that a star's past performance indicates future performance—but the quality of colleagues in his or her organization also has a significant impact on the ability to maintain the highest quality output.

"Stars need to recognize that despite their talent, knowledge, experience, and reputation, who they work with really matters for sustaining top performance," say the authors.

The article, "The Effects of Colleague Quality on Top Performance: The Case of Security Analysts," outlines important implications for star players as well as their managers. Groysberg and Lee explained more in this interview with HBS Working Knowledge.

Martha Lagace: Let's begin with the key question you ask in your paper: Who "owns" top performance: individual stars or their organizations?

Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee: Both. We found that even though an individual's past performance can indicate future performance, the organization also significantly affects top performers' ability to maintain their performance.

Specifically, top performers rely on high-quality colleagues in their organizations to improve the quality of their own work and to deliver it effectively to clients.

Q: What is important now about knowledge workers from both a business and a theoretical perspective? Where do you see beliefs about performance playing out in business today?

A: Some have pointed out that the main difference between knowledge workers and, say, manual workers, is that knowledge workers own the means of production. That means they carry the knowledge, information, and skills in their heads and can take it with them. As the basis of competition shifts to superior knowledge and information, organizations have naturally become increasingly concerned that they attract, leverage, and retain the best knowledge workers.

In addition, our culture is very enamored of stars and with the idea that extraordinary talent accounts for individuals' extraordinary performance. The business media likes to treat star knowledge workers, such as top analysts, bankers, lawyers, and CEOs, as if they are star athletes. There is an assumption that these star knowledge workers, like star athletes, actually "own" everything they need to perform at the top level and can take that knowledge and skill anywhere. They are treated as free agents who can take their top performance to work for the highest bidder.

Our study debunks that myth. Star analysts rely a lot on the quality of the colleagues that their organization provides to sustain top performance. They cannot simply replicate their top performance in any organizational context.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2007 12:00 AM

(If I remember the story correctly:)

John Wooden failed to win a NCAA basketball championship at UCLA (in a period when that was news!) despite having the best collegiate player of the period - Bill Russell. Russell had gimpy knees, and Wooden allowed him to miss practices to save them for the game. Wooden later wrote that Russell had convinced him that Russell didn't need to practice, which was true, but that they had erred because the team needed Russell to practice.

Posted by: Mike Earl at May 14, 2007 2:16 PM

Are you sure you don't mean Bill Walton?

Posted by: Craig Lazzara at May 16, 2007 9:58 AM