How to Nurture a Star Employee

How to keep the franchise player without alienating the franchise.

How to keep the franchise player without alienating the franchise.

All the world loves a star, regardless of whether it’s an athlete or an employee. But in the shadow of stardom lurks resentment, and a good manager must know how to keep and nurture a key player without alienating the rest of the team. It’s a ticklish problem, and this month we take advice from three local experts: Edoardo De Martin, studio general manager at Next Level Games; Elliot Fishman, executive vice-president at Habañero Consulting Group; and Ryan Walter, a Vancouver Canucks assistant coach.

Be subtle

The last thing you want to do is nurture a star employee, says De Martin. A true star should already be aware of his elevated station, and this self-assurance and poise allow for more subtle recognition. It can be as simple as a pat on the back and a verbal plaudit – the same as you’d give anyone. “Reward systems cater to egos,” says De Martin. If your star is motivated by ego and not what’s best for the entire team, the star will eventually fade away.

Give her the prime cut

There is no greater endorsement of someone’s potential than added responsibility. Achievers measure their personal growth by the challenges they take on. De Martin says he likes to figure out what the company’s next big problem is and then “throw it in that person’s direction.” Walter agrees: “Consistent among high achievers is their hunger for added responsibility.”

Don’t treat him like a dog

It may sound obvious, but there are a couple of canine strategies you’d best avoid. The first is dog-eat-dog schemes to boost sales. Pitting people against each other builds resentment and motivates for the wrong reasons. The second is Pavlovian rewards. In De Martin’s view, there’s a great pool of talent available to you as a manager, and you don’t want someone who salivates only when he’s given a treat. One way to get away from fear and reward, says Fishman, is to put a bullet in the annual performance review. “Incorporate your critique and praise into the daily and weekly rhythms of the company,” he advises.

Recognize her uniqueness – like you do everyone else’s

Whether on the ice or in the boardroom, developing a high-functioning team involves recognizing that players are individuals, says Walter. Your employees come together around a common purpose, and each one carries in her backpack a skill set and her own personality. Each is as unique as a snowflake, says Walter, so don’t try to treat all 24 players the same way. You can’t.

Keep you head up

A sure way to lose your star is for you as a manager to be buffeted by the storms of the moment. If leadership is about inspiring people to a better future, you need a clear view of the terrain to come. “You have to have a sense of what that player needs,” Walter says, “where he’s at, where he wants to go and what you as a leader have to apply to the situation to help them get there.”