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How to Manage Your Star Employee

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Rebecca Knight

Managing your star performers should be no sweat, right? After all, they’re delivering results and exceeding targets. But don’t think you can just get out of their way and let them excel. They require just as much attention as everyone else. How do you manage someone who is knocking it out of the park? How do you keep stars excited about their work? And what risks should you watch out for?

What the Experts Say
Having a supremely talented employee on your team is a boss’s dream. But it can be a real challenge, too, according to Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. You need to make sure your star has enough on her plate to stay fully engaged — but not so much that she gets burned out. And you need to “offer positive feedback” — but not in ways that are counterproductive to the person’s growth and development. Group dynamics are another concern when you have a standout performer on your team, says Mary Shapiro, who teaches organizational behavior at Simmons College and wrote the HBR Guide to Leading Teams. “Real resentment can build, due to the perception that the boss is favoring the rock star,” she says. Whether your star performer has just joined your team or has been working for you for a while, here are some tips on how to manage her.

Think about development
One of the hardest things about managing a supremely competent and confident employee is making sure he’s sufficiently challenged in the job. The antidote to this problem is “classic talent development,” Shapiro says. First, “ask your employee, ‘Where do you want to go next, and what experiences do I need to give you to make sure you get there?’” Then, find opportunities to help the person acquire new skills and sharpen old ones. Hill recommends that you help the employee get “exposure to other parts of the organization” that will “broaden his perspective.” And, of course, “don’t neglect the B players,” Hill adds. Otherwise, you’re not building the capacity of the team, and “over time, people become de-skilled.” Everyone on your team “deserves to be developed.”

Offer autonomy
Another way to ensure your star employee stays engaged and excited about coming to work is to “give her more autonomy,” Shapiro says. “Demonstrate trust by delegating authority and responsibility” over certain projects and tasks. And don’t micromanage. “Give her discretion in how she does the work.” If a formal promotion is not possible, or your employee is not quite ready for one, think creatively about ways to sharpen her leadership skills. “Give her training responsibilities,” she adds. “Ask your rock star to work with other people on the team to mentor them and develop them.”

Don’t go overboard with positive feedback
Generally speaking, “stars tend to be very needy” and require more praise and reassurance than your average employee, Hill says. But you don’t want to “get into the habit of feeding an ego.” She recommends giving your stars “the appropriate amount of feedback” by “acknowledging their contributions.” If your star executed a project beautifully or made a stellar presentation, say so. But you needn’t go overboard. “Help him learn to monitor himself,” she says, “and to acknowledge the contributions of other members of the team who are helping him be successful.” Shapiro agrees, noting that some stars don’t expect or want constant praise. “Don’t assume you know what motivates them.”

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