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Rock Stars vs. Superstars: How to Identify and Manage Them

Explore Kim Scott’s Radical Candor management philosophy and learn to identify rock stars and superstars on your team today.

By Brier Cook  •   July 21, 2022  •   7 min read

When we say rock stars and superstars, we’re not talking about Taylor Swift, The Beatles, or Elvis. In Kim Scott’s bestselling book Radical Candor, Scott identifies two types of high-performing employees: rock stars and superstars. Both types of employees are talented and driven. The difference is simply how quickly they plan to climb the corporate ladder. One type of employee isn’t better than the other. Organizations desperately need both rock stars and superstars to achieve great results!

Let’s take a look at these two types of employees, why it’s important to identify them, how to manage each type accordingly, and how rock stars and superstars can work together to better your team! 

How to identify rock stars and superstars 

1Rock stars 

Rock stars are a source of stability within the organization. If you’ve ever had a colleague who you thought had a lot of potential but was surprisingly content with what they were doing, they were probably a rock star. These are the employees who are talented at what they do and happy within their role. While they like their work and are good at it, they have chosen not to follow a rapid growth trajectory. These individuals possess rock-solid knowledge and expertise but have no plans to quickly ascend. Organizations need rock stars to sustain high levels of productivity at every level. 

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Superstars are the individuals within your organization who are going to change everything. As high performers with a rapid growth trajectory, these employees are willing to push themselves to the limits and serve as a source of growth for a team. They’re prepared to dedicate the necessary time and energy to move up in the ranks and will come up with ideas that will help carry the team to the next level. Businesses need superstars to stay competitive.

Superstars should ask senior-level employees career development questions that will help them develop new skills and provide them with the tools they need to ascend.

​​Why it’s important to identify rock stars and superstars 

1Ensures employees are properly motivated 

When you have a high-performing employee, it’s important to discuss their professional goals often. Identifying your rock stars and superstars is the first step to employee satisfaction. For example, if you regularly encourage your top-performing marketer to keep up the great work so they’ll be eligible for a promotion, but they’re a rock star more concerned about performing well in their current role, they may become less engaged. Alternatively, if you attempt motivating a team superstar with learning opportunities as opposed to a guaranteed growth trajectory, that individual won’t feel satisfied either. Learn to keep your employees eager and focused by rewarding individuals for their hard work based on how they’d like to be recognized. 

2Identifies which management style works best for them 

Different employees need different management styles. Identifying your own team’s rock stars and superstars will help you manage each type accordingly. Superstars should be given autonomy, challenged often, and asked about their career aspirations and objectives on a regular basis. Rock stars should be acknowledged for their dedication, provided regular feedback, and recognized in group or private settings. Rock stars usually do well with a manager who inspires them to succeed within their role, seek collaborative solutions, and engage completely with each workplace process. Superstars thrive when their supervisors push them to great accomplishments through encouragement, motivation, and incentives. 

3Helps retain employees by keeping them happy 

When an employee’s daily work is aligned with their personal and professional goals, they’ll be more likely to stay with your company. All too often, managers squash their superstars’ ambitions and growth because they want to keep their great work for themselves. Alternatively, managers may push their rock stars away by forcing them to take on more work than they’re willing to handle. It’s simple: don’t create a culture that is so obsessed with status that it feels embarrassing for rock stars to stick around. You shouldn’t force promotion on an individual in rock star mode, nor hold back your superstars if you want to retain great talent. 

4Allows managers to delegate tasks strategically

By identifying your rock stars and superstars, you’ll be able to delegate effectively. When assigning work, it’s important to play to employees’ strengths and goals. With rock stars, you should delegate tasks that can help bring employees in the middle along. These individuals are often excellent performance coaches and teachers, so allow them to be the internal experts! Superstars thrive with projects that will help them acquire the knowledge needed to get to the next level. Challenge them to learn new skills at a fast rate. Become a master at delegating by checking out our top tips!

How to manage rock stars 

1Acknowledge their hard work

Your rock stars deserve acknowledgement for their role in keeping the team running smoothly. You can meaningfully recognize your rock stars by establishing them as experts on your team, giving regular recognition to show that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, and giving them praise that’s attuned to their interests. For example, an introverted employee may prefer to be thanked in private, as opposed to in front of their team. 

2Provide constructive feedback 

Constructive feedback will reduce confusion regarding expectations and improve the morale of your team’s rock stars. Constructive feedback isn’t inherently negative; it’s an opportunity to help your employee understand how they can improve their performance. Remember, rock stars don’t want to be held back either; they merely prefer learning opportunities and recognition to promotion. The next time you meet with a rock star, give them precise feedback that lets them know you care about their goals! 

3Encourage them with recognition, not promotion 

Before you think of putting a rock star on your team up for promotion, have an honest discussion with them about what they want. Oftentimes, these employees have no desire for a new position and simply want to grow within their current role. Forcing an individual uninterested in rapid career growth to take on a promotion may overwhelm them and could even cost you a valuable employee. 

How to manage superstars

1Challenge them

Superstars are prone to boredom when left unchallenged. To prevent this, provide these individuals with tasks that will help them rapidly expand their scope of expertise. Help them look for new learning opportunities and encourage them to find a mentor outside of your team who can help them carve a path to achieve their goals. Don’t become too dependent on your superstars or try to clip their wings. It’s bound to happen, so don’t feel bitter when they outgrow your team! Instead, encourage their growth and ask them to teach and train new employees when they leave. 

2Give them autonomy 

Don’t get in your superstars’ way or stifle their growth! This will only cause resentment and poor performance. Your job as a manager is to encourage your high performers to go as far as they can and give them an environment in which they can thrive. Check in frequently, but don’t micromanage. Chat with your superstars about what resources will help them succeed and help them find other opportunities where they can do great work when the time comes! Never hold an employee back from pursuing a better opportunity.

3Understand their career goals through regular one-on-ones 

One-on-one meetings are key if you want to learn about your superstars’ ambitions. You can help these determined employees by coaching them through professional decisions. Send a meeting agenda at least 24 hours in advance of your one-on-one and encourage the other party to contribute their own agenda notes. During each one-on-one meeting, you should discuss the employee’s upcoming projects, delegate action items, and give positive and constructive feedback. Another important part of these meetings is discussing your employee’s goals, future, and career development. 

How rock stars and superstars work together to better your team 

Rock stars and superstars need each other to succeed. Rock stars are there to balance the team and keep things running smoothly, especially when a superstar is attempting to implement a new and ambitious idea! Superstars motivate their teams to be better by setting the bar high. Don’t view one type of high performer as lesser than. Each organization needs workers who are consistent and reliable, and others who challenge the status quo. Both are vital to the growth of your team. 

Parting advice 

Both rock stars and superstars are consistent team players who are capable of excellent work. An important thing to note is that employees can move in and out of both categories, so don’t allow your own perception to limit a person’s future decisions. Learning what kind of growth trajectory each person on your team wants will allow you to manage accordingly and help your team prosper! The next time you sit down with one of your employees, ask them about their goals. You may learn some invaluable information!

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