True, on an individual level, superstar employees produce great work and great results. But their value to the team extends much further. On top of incredible productivity and excellent performance, they also are able to:
Spot More Good Talent
There is a cognitive bias that the most capable people underestimate their ability, while the least competent overestimate their capabilities. It comes down to not being skilled enough to recognize your own lack of skill. And if you can’t recognize it in yourself, you can’t see it in others either. “A players hire A players; B players hire C players,” was a motto of Steve Jobs at Apple.
Attract Other Superstars
In his review of a National Bureau of Economic Research paper titled “Why Stars Matter,” Walter Frick concludes, “in at least some cases, the biggest effect of hiring a superstar is who it allows you to hire next.” The research he cites found that a superstar’s impact on recruiting was a more significant driver of improved organizational productivity than the superstar’s performance alone. Starting just one year after the superstar joined the department, the talent level of newcomers to the department increased significantly. Vick Vaishnavi’s example of Lebron James joining Miami Heat supports this: A-players like to work with other A-players.
Develop Others by Modeling the Right Behavior
A team of low performers has low expectations by definition no matter how hard they work. The biggest problem they have is that they don’t realize this is the case until they can see, feel, and experience the difference between two disparate levels of performance. Just by working for or next to a superstar, everyone else’s capability and potential increases.
More formally, they also explicitly teach and train others. High performers are always learning, growing, and developing their skillsets. This often puts them at the cutting edge of innovative thought, new trends, and best practices. After vetting and implementing new approaches, they bring that new knowledge and capability to others.
Elevate Team Norms
Superstars are motivated to work hard and achieve results. This builds a climate of excitement. They also want to feel a sense of equity, and will be quick to not tolerate underperformers.