Growing Individuals: Fire Your Stars

by abclarke

(4f of 5 in The Rules of Naked Management)

You’re Fired!

In the intro to this section, I laid out my argument for why you should “fire your stars”, but to recap:

“Fire your Stars” means tangibly change the responsibilities of the best performer on your team (and optionally change their title and compensation), even if it means transferring them to another group in the company.

This goes counter to most management advice which says retain your stars at all costs, but I say “Fire your Stars” because:

  1. Without action on your part, your stars will leave anyway.
  2. By “Firing Your Stars”, you can control the timing and circumstances.
  3. Your team becomes more resilient.
  4. Your team’s morale increases.
  5. Your team’s performance reaches a higher level than before.
  6. And damn it, it’s the right thing to do for your Stars anyway.

See the intro if you want the background for why these things happen.

Your Goal

This part of Growing Individuals is deceptively simple. You’ve already identified the top performer on your team (you did it as part of Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is). Now, you need to set the following goal for yourself:

Within 12 months since your last top performer changed responsibilities, you will change the responsibilities of your current top performer.

That’s it. Once every 12 months should give you a maintainable rate of change. You can “Fire more Stars” if you think your organization can handle it, but the minimum is one.

Now hitting this isn’t easy, you have to do lots of things:

  1. Understand and anticipate potential opportunities for your Star within your organization or other organizations.
  2. Pre-sell potential stake holders on the change.
  3. Aggressively make your Star fill any gaps that would preclude success in the new role.
  4. Balance the reality of your organization (probably slow moving) with the expectations of your employee (wants fast change).
  5. Handle unexpected realities, such as another person quitting unexpectedly.

Worse, there is no cookbook to follow for this one either, because each individual is unique, each circumstance is unique, and each set of opportunities is unique. In other words, it’s hard.

But it’s the right place to spend your time growing individuals. It means in reality of the time you spend on “growing individuals”, you spend most time on just your top performer. But that’s ok, because by following the other rules you’ve outsourced most of the rest of the work to the other individuals on your team and as a result they are growing nicely on their own.

For The Unbelievers

Some people will try desperately hard to retain their stars through other means. Usually they resort to compensation or title changes without actual changes in responsibility. I know I have before I figured out to Fire them. I can say with certainty, having tried all combinations of ways to keep stars that “Firing Your Stars” actually leads to the best retention for your company (if not your team). Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve experienced when I had a star who wanted to grow and changed some combination of title, compensation or responsibility.

A black circle represents something changed (for example, on the first entry, I changed nothing, resulting in the Star deciding to leave the company on their own):

One Last Caveat

The key thing about “Firing Your Stars” is making sure your Star has new responsibilities. But it only works if your Star feels that they are genuinely new responsibilities, and that some of her old responsibilities no longer need to be done directly by her.

I’ve tried, and seen many managers try, to spin an increase in responsibilities as a “new job” to an employee and they see through that bullshit immediately.

Here’s the key rule of thumb: if your Star does not perceive the change in responsibilities as a real step forward in their career, then you have not “Fired Your Star”, you’ve pissed them off. Very different.

Managing The Naked Team

Still, I believe if you run a naked team, grow a naked team, and grow individuals, you’ll end up with the strongest of teams you could possibly have. But, as GNP pointed out, it’s a lot of steps to follow. How the hell do you do all this without going crazy? That’s the next topic.

– Art