When your Superstar Quits

When your Superstar Quits

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Why it’s difficult to keep our superstars in spite of the world being at their feet?

The stock market did not like it when Apple’s Chief Design Officer quit recently. The long term impact of Jony Ive’s departure will be known only in a few years’ time. Star players joining competing is common in soccer, remember Neymar leaving Barcelona to join PSG? There is no denying that an immediate impact is felt every time a star performer leaves the team.

Why do our star performers quit is never really understood? Their bosses put them on the pedestal, their peers are in awe of them, their team worships them, and their competitors fear them. In sports, politics, and at corporates, we have these uniquely talented people who seem to be blessed all the time. It would be difficult not to notice when you are working with a star, as they make things happen, there is always an aura about them. Still, they never seem to be happy with their continued success. They tend to move on from time to time, leaving behind their team and organisations shattered. When they are treated almost like a god, I wonder why they won’t continue to stay?

Continuous Challenges

Most often you find these race horses or superstars to have the right combination of fire, energy, speed and many back it with an enviable work ethic. Their hunger for success is infectious. They set audacious goals and more often than not achieve them. Beyond a point even achieving these goals can bore them. So, it’s important to provide them with continuous challenges. The key is to stay current with what interests them. In the organisation context the challenges
could be a new project, a turnaround situation, overseas assignment or even M & A. However, one thing that keeps them binding to the organisation is their emotional connect which can be achieved in different ways.

Inspirational Boss/Mentors

For all the tenacity high performers demonstrate they too are human and can find themselves isolated. Their bosses leave them alone in the name giving them space, their peers may ignore them due to jealousy, their team could be in awe of them and could struggle to keep pace with them. Some of these superstars may not even know how to manage the adulation at work and may feel pressurized. It’s no secret that Superstars also look up to mentors. Steve Jobs described Jony Ive as his spiritual partner which probably kept Jony Ive going much longer even after Jobs left. Organisations need to provide the superstars’ mentors of their choice to ensure their emotional needs of the job is also met.

Continuous Recognition

Ensure there are constant recognitions even if you feel sometimes the superstars have underachieved by their own standards. The success spikes they produce overwhelmingly compensates for any blips they might have had in between. These special talents need to be treated with a positive bias even when they are underperforming. This favoritism is tough to pull off in an organisation context, but will definitely buy you high loyalty, discretionary efforts and top performances from this special talent. Another sure shot way of recognizing these superstars would be to consult them for any new initiatives the organisation might be embarking upon. Even though they might not have the capability to contribute its one sure shot way of keeping them engaged.

I distinctly remember once our CEO took about 4 of us colleagues into a specially convened meeting. In about 30 minutes, he presented a strategy they were considering. We gave our opinions; I sensed that he had anyhow made up his mind, but here he was cleverly getting our buy-in it. However, we were all thrilled that we were even consulted.

Team or Star

Financial Motivation

We need stars even though we preach about teamwork, stars always give you that extra momentum which sometimes may dwarf team efforts and results. I once protested with my boss when I learned that one of our peers who had a bad year had got an incentive. My boss nonchalantly shot back. In a good year, she contributes 4 million dollars to the bottom line and this year is a bad year where she has done 3 million. If I take note of it now I know she will produce 5 million next year, he sort of left me with this feeling that he really did not care what I thought or what was fair. He wasn’t wrong, the next year she surpassed the number he quoted with consumable ease. As much as teams are important stars give you the momentum to put you in the next orbit. So, they definitely need a differential treatment. AB de Villiers, for example, wasn’t allowed to return as they felt it would affect the team dynamics. But, they had no X factors in the cricket world cup and got ousted of it in no time.

It’s important to keep up with the pace of the market by offering your superstars above market salary, bonuses, ESOPs and competitive benefits. It’s important they get the best designations & marquee office spaces if you can afford them. Remember that the easiest way any competitor can lure your top performers is by offering
tangible benefits like money and role. Always ensure you are on top of those as they are easy to measure. The intangibles like how they are made to feel on day to day basis, the autonomy and recognitions given are not easy to match by anybody. However on a bad day financial motivation could become a key differentiator to leave as top performers will rationalize their move for money if not for anything else.

Dignified Exits

When superstars resign organisations need to react with dignity. Any hostility faceoffs, name calling during the exits limits future reconciliation. After all we have all seen enough examples of superstars returning to their organisations after short stints elsewhere. We now hear Neymar wants to return to Barcelona, After
all, beyond their own talent the ecosystem support also would have contributed to the top talent’s success. This is difficult to replicate externally for competitors who hire them. Not all teams survive superstars absence especially when success is built around them. The converse is also true for superstars, they can find it difficult to perform at alien conditions with new teams. The pressure of highly paid jobs with competitors where they have to prove their elevated
price tag from day one could be daunting and many eventually fail. Organisations may need to keep one door open for possible second innings with their superstars even though they might sometimes lose them due to competitive pressures.

Some of our colleagues are rare gems of talent. However, they quit due to various triggers. I am sure there are unique ways to retain them without breaking our bank and the trust of our colleagues.