Sometimes managers fool themselves into thinking that their superstars are so talented, skilled, and motivated that they don’t need to be managed at all. But even superstars need to be managed.
Just like everyone else, superstars have bad days, sometimes go in the wrong direction, and have lapses in judgment. Like everyone else, superstars need guidance, direction, support, and encouragement. Most of all, they want to be challenged and developed.
Often senior managers want to know what to talk about with the superstar. After all, this person is so talented, skilled, and motivated that she is able to handle more responsibility than most. She can make her own project plans; she gets lots of work done very well, very fast, all day, every day; she doesn’t cause problems; she learns quickly and steadily; she has great relationship skills; she understands the big picture; she is a great critical thinker; and she takes exactly the right amount of initiative without overstepping. So how do you make sure your one-on-ones are a good use of time?
It really requires you, the manager, to take your discussions to the next level. Instead of stressing over a game changing approach to manage your superstar, keep it simple. Here are a few key tips to keep a superstar engaged:
Always check regularly to make sure that things are going as well as you think. Just like everybody else, superstars need to provide regular reports on their tasks, responsibilities, and projects. Regardless of their talents, you need to verify that the work is getting done.
Pay close attention to how superstars challenge you in ways that you don’t expect. Learn from the way they force you to stay on your toes and think on your feet. Brainstorm about recurring problems and innovative solutions.
Learn from their front-lines intelligence. What’s really going on out there? And learn from their analysis. What do you make of what’s going on out there?
Help you superstars pursue technical expertise, professional training, and any specialized knowledge. Make sure they get their needs met and aren’t looking for another job. Go out of your way to ask regularly, “What do you need from me?” Keep track of their great work and look for ways to provide them with special rewards.
Challenge superstars to be peer leaders and to take ad-hoc leadership opportunities like short-term projects and teams, and coach them every step of the way.
Teach them the tricks and the shortcuts, warn them of pitfalls, and help them solve problems. Support them through bad days and counsel them through difficult judgment calls.
Once in a while talk strategically about how superstars should navigate their careers within the organization. Discuss how work assignments have been going and what assignments should be sought next; new training opportunities, transfers to new work groups, or moves to new locations.
Use your influence and authority within the organization to make sure that the most valuable players are getting the lion’s share of resources to support and accelerate their career success. Talk regularly with your superstars to make certain that nothing has gone wrong or is going wrong in their work assignments. Steer them to the best training opportunities, the choice projects and assignments, and the most powerful decision makers. Fast track them to win bonuses, raises, promotions, and desired work conditions.
—Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young talent and supervisory relationships in the workplace. He is the author of The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-Step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Problems (Wiley, September 2014). Since founding the management training firm RainmakerThinking in 1993, he has been a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. Follow him on twitter @brucetulgan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .