Managers, Make Your Great Teams Greater With Different Types Of Stars

William Anderson

How can you deliver the best products possible, pushing the edge when needed and still provide solid quality, stability and velocity?

The answer will alway be “people.”

Your team is bursting with talent. You know every engineer, manager, and product owner has the skills to deliver. You know they care about what they do.

Even more importantly: your most valuable stars work better in some environments than others and the ratio between the two types will vary wildly depending on your companies culture and environment.

What Types Of Stars Are There And How Do You Tell Them Apart?

According to Kim Scott, author of “Radical Candor,” there are two key types of stars:

Superstars and Rock Stars

These people are the driving force for the success of your initiatives as well as your companies growth in the future.

As Scott describes, superstars are those individuals whom rapidly grow their skills vertically, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder and always looking to stretch their skills towards the next abstracted level and promotion.

These are leaders that will drive new thinking, pull others up and challenge traditions.

Just as valuably: rock stars keep a focus on what they love to do and sharpen their domain expertise and technical skills ever deeper.

This adds increasing value as they stay within an organization, as rock stars learn and amass domain knowledge while improving their technical proficiency.

Rock stars are not stuck in place or lacking ambition, their ambitions revolve around building and execution vs management and corporate abstraction.

Where Does Each Star Work Best?

Michael D. Watkins introduced in “The First 90 Days” a system for identifying the challenges present within an organization. This framework breaks companies into one of five phases: Startup, Turnaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment, and Sustained Success.

You will want to adjust your ratio of rock stars to superstars as well as your strategy for hiring them depending on where your organization lands within that taxonomy.

Here is how:


Rock Stars will have the roughest time in startup organizations or organizations run in this mode. The speed of pivot required provides little opportunity to deepen existing skills. Ambitions around mastery will be squashed as the company’s output and objectives are explored.

Superstars however will thrive. This is an environment where as the startup learns and grows, so will they. The ability to prove themselves via adding value will provide opportunity for advancement too. Heavily favor hiring ambitious superstars in this phase, but be mindful of potential growth bottlenecks as a small team of individuals all vying for the same promotion can be disastrous.


Rock Stars are often overlooked during turnarounds. A company is in peril and they are seen as not pushing for the future. Those with established domain knowledge that have truly honed their craft however are the foundation for successfully shifting your organization. If you are reducing headcount, make sure to assess if you are truly dropping under performers or inadvertently letting go the most skilled members of your workforce. Rock stars are most likely your most productive resources and will see your new vision built to success.

Superstars are critical to turnarounds to drive the cultural and goal shifts you are looking for. While essential for bringing energy and ushering in a new era, favor having less than your institutional rockstars. Its more important to have the right people making the right changes vs everyone making every change possible.

Accelerated Growth

Rock Stars need to be folded in as you grow. As your company rapidly balloons, look for knowledge experts who will be the cornerstone of their departments and trades. They are excellent first hires for specializations as you move away from generalists. Rocks stars support their teams, share their knowledge, and grow deeper in their departments ensuring success.

Superstars in accelerated growth environments will thrive, particularly if hired early on. Look to hire a large percent of highly ambitious career-growing individuals as soon as you see the growth spurt coming. Having them move up regularly as you continue to make hires will allow them to achieve and be rewarded at each tier. It will also make sure that there is always a new position for them to grow into and give you the option to promote internally more often. Most importantly, superstar managers should be coached to hire rock stars into each team they lead as they move up through the company.


Rock stars need to be carefully identified in this phase more than others to leverage them to success. True rock stars want your organization to grow and succeed so they can keep delivering value. The success of the company is also a point of pride for these experts. Given this, those individuals that really are rockstars will be able to make changes to their habits and interactions to help with the realignment while providing valuable information on what is going on. Hiring overall is usually down-played during realignments and this is no exception.

Superstars struggle during realignments, where companies shift towards looking internally and having slower cultural discussions. Reassessing company values and solidifying structures usually means less opportunity for growth. While a few may do well given the ideal opportunities (such as leading the realignment or taking over a department to get the team oriented to larger goals), overall career-climbers will feel throttled. This is usually a bad time to be hiring those with ambitious goals unless they align with the direction your are shifting towards.

Sustained Success

Rock stars true environment is sustained success. If your company has hit maturity this is where you will want to focus on nurturing existing resources as well as your hiring strategy. In a stable environment focused on doing the right thing extremely well, craftspeople are essential and the more they care about what they do the better.

Superstars inversely will have their toughest time here, where less growth opportunity will be present and rock stars will tend to occupy deep critical positions for many years. Finding paths for the superstars you have is key to their success. When hiring, make sure to only place them into positions for which you believe there is genuine growth potential.

Knowing your top performers matters, as you will better be able to guide them and leverage there skills, acknowledging their value will go miles towards team morale too.

Undoubtably, identifying the stars within your team, and understanding where their value rests within the current state of your organization will allow you to move even more rapidly towards success.

William Anderson

Written by

Director of Engineering @ Forbes | Technical Leadership | Tech Strategy | Stegosaurus

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