Is 'Rock Star' Talent Worth It?

Susan Hall

When reading the post "Sometimes Fit Trumps Talent" on the site of talent management firm Envisia Learning, because it was about athletes, I misunderstood the word "fit." I was thinking "fitness," as in physical fitness. No, it was talking about cultural fit, a trait companies are placing increasing importance on in hiring.


Blog writer Wally Bock says:

Talent is important, but it doesn't need to be great talent, just enough. ... Sometimes a star player can be more of a problem than a help. ... Talent is important, for sure. But talent that doesn't fit or, worse, talent that disrupts operations and dissolves morale, is a very bad thing indeed.

In an interview with The New York Times, Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of digital marketing and communications agency Big Spaceship, says that's been a big hiring lesson for his company. He says:

Probably the biggest lesson I learned as we started to grow was-and this is a more sanitized version of the expression we use-"Don't hire jerks, no matter how talented." ... I'm looking for people I like, because I've seen how, no matter how talented they are, the negative is always going to pull down any positive. The second- or third- or fourth-best candidate who isn't a jerk is going to ultimately provide way more value. Because we learned that early on, we've always guarded against that sort of rock star culture.
... They say all the right things in interviews, and then they come in and really make people's lives miserable. You spend at least a third of your life at your job. You should have a place you're happy to go to every day. And if you're not making good on that in even the smallest way, it becomes sort of pernicious. It can amplify itself very quickly.

Surely negativity and especially cynicism, which Kathy Savitt, CEO of social-networking and e-commerce site Lockerz, calls "a cancer" in this Wall Street Journal piece, must be dealt with at the top of the organization.


But negativity differs from conflict, according to this blog post from consultancy Critical Performance. It says the best teams thrive on conflict:

A lack of conflict suggests that ideas may represent path of least resistance, or lack of creativity and innovation. Lack of conflict may also suggest that the team is in a comfort zone, or worse, apathetic. If the ideas and approaches within a team are never coming under challenge or scrutiny, it could very well be a safe assumption that there a significant lack of contemplation and due diligence in the team's decision-making.

Also, check out the video "The Secrets to High-Performing Teams," by Assistant Professor Kristin Behfar at the University of California-Irvine, on this post. One of her surprising findings is that team members favor equity over equality, meaning not everyone does an equal amount of work, but that everyone does what she calls "an appropriate" amount of work for the team. She said that companies can be successful by finding ways to harness the talents of difficult personalities within the team while minimizing the disruption they cause.


Do you think that's worth the effort? Or, like Lebowitz, would you go with the second- or third- or fourth-best candidate?

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 17, 2011 9:35 AM Lav Boynes Lav Boynes  says:

I love this article. Smart Hire will look not only for skills but the cultural fit.


Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.




Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.

Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.