The science of hiring and retaining superstar employees
Hiring 5 minute read

The science of hiring and retaining superstar employees

Rise | February 21, 2019

For an employee to thrive in a fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, they need to possess the qualities of a superstar.

“A star performer is someone who drives firm performance,” writes Alex Mayyasi in Priceonomics, “by getting more out of the resources of the organization and making the entire team better.” Ultimately, these versatile and resourceful team members have great appeal to organizations through their dedicated efforts to helping their company work faster and smarter.

What is the secret science behind finding and keeping these A-players?

How to identify a superstar employee

Research is proving that EQ is the foundation that superstar employees use to build the competencies that enable success in the workplace. 

In 1999, psychologist Dr. Carey Cherniss wrote a paper urging businesses to pay attention to the emotional intelligence (EQ) of their potential hires and employees, as well as the impact EQ will have on the bottom line. 

Since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ in 1996, the idea that EQ is more critical to our success in life, compared to IQ, has been gaining traction. In, EQ is described as “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions,” and applies to understanding your own emotions, as much as those of the people around you. According to Huffington Post, empathy, optimism, resilience, and intrinsic motivation are all traits of a high-EQ individual. 

Numerous studies have proven the link between EQ and performance at work. In his book Working with emotional intelligence, Goleman studied over 200 companies and found that the difference between top performers and average or poor performers is two-thirds due to emotional intelligence, and only one-third due to skill or ability. Psychologist Martin Seligman conducted research that “found that new salesman who were optimists sold 37% more insurance in their first two years than did pessimists.” 

Administer an emotional intelligence assessment or, better yet, have a qualified research professional administer it for you. Here are some questions to consider when identifying superstar employees:

  • Do they ask curious and provoking questions?
  • Are your conversations with the person engaging and present?
  • Are they curious about how things work? Do they seek out new experiences?

How to retain superstar employees

You went through the recruitment process with an inkling that you had a superstar candidate on your hands. Now, you have hired them and they confirmed their superstar status – they have learned quickly, have impeccable communication skills, and have hit their deadlines with ease. How do you make sure that your superstar employee sticks around?

“Don’t be the Hewlett Packard managers in the calculator division, who five times ignored Steve Wozniak’s design for a personal computer,” writes Alex Mayyasi for Priceonomics. Don’t get in the way of your superstar employees or you could risk missing out on their big ideas, or worse, losing them completely.

The type of environment that motivates people the most has been extensively researched by Daniel Pink for his book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Surprising for many of us, Pink found that “the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough so they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work.”

Instead, Pink suggests 3 states that people are motivated by, along with some tips for incorporating these concepts into the workplace:

Autonomy, which is our desire to be self-directed.

  • Schedule a daily or weekly check-in meeting to align on priorities instead of checking in constantly throughout the work day
  • Set high-level goals and discuss strategy with employees to refrain from dictating too much of the details of execution
  • Similar to Atlassian’s 24 hour no holds barred tradition, allow your employees to work on anything they want for a day. You might be surprised with what they come up with.

Mastery, which is our need to improve at something that matters to us.

  • Check in with employees once every quarter to see if they are proud of their improvements in any aspect of their job, and to see what they would like to work on in the future.
  • Offer an allowance to buy books or attend conferences that would help employees learn new skills or gain insight into their industry.

Purpose, which is the feeling that we are doing something with a greater meaning than ourselves.

  • If you don’t have a purposeful workplace, it will be obvious through high turnover and mediocre results. This will require a big shift in how decisions are made (from putting profits first, to putting people first). This can be helped along by being completely transparent and honest about what and how things are changing.
  • Consider how you could further involve employees in organizational decisions and changes. It will also help with autonomy to give employees as much control over their working environment as possible.

Every superstar employee will be different, but by simply trusting them and their ability to do the work, you will provide them with an environment that promotes their motivation and productivity.

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