Star performers are those employees who are a crucial part of a company’s success through innovation, clever ideas and brilliant strategy. As I pointed out last week, having star performers in your company becomes more and more important, according to what Aguinis Herman and Ernest O’Boyle Jr. said in the latest edition of Personnel Psychology. So, how do I actually identify star performers ?

Redefining selection procedures and performance

In Talent Acquisition, the use of selection methods is traditionally based upon the fact that many characteristics of a person are normally distributed. Does this sound too technical? Well, let’s put it this way: individuals are different from each other in terms of skills, such as their ability to draw logical conclusions, their emotional stability, etc. Of course, there might be outliers here and there, but over 80% are more or less slightly above or below the average. The same applies to work performance.

Personnel selection – at least the part that can be empirically justified – is based on the assumption that the higher the score for a certain capacity, for example assiduousness, the higher your professional performance, if the respective job requires this capacity.

Star Performers are beyond the “normal” scale

The performance of our “star performers” is far beyond the average performance. So, how can you possibly identify the real star performers? We have collected 4 tips to identify those geniuses – because you cannot necessarily use traditional personnel selection methods here. Extraordinary people require some outside-the-box thinking.

1 – Please do not rely on university grades!

10,000 hours or 1250 days or 20 hours weekly, 50 weeks a year … it takes more than 10 years to become a real star performer. This is the result of a study, conducted by researcher and psychologist Ericsson, who examined innovative, artistic or athletic high performance and how this level of performance is achieved.

Tip: You will not identify star performers by looking at their (top) grades or the time they do a speed-3-year-bachelor-programme. Therefore: leave formal criteria behind. Ask yourself the following, for example: Which of your candidates has already programmed their first website at the age of 14, expanded their negotiation skills for years within a community service or entended their expertise in a certain field over years starting from school ?

2 – Enable “divergent thinking” and measure it

Creativity researcher Robert R. Weisberg came to the conclusion that many scientific and technological breakthroughs differ from small moderate progress by one essential thing: Divergent thinking, which is the contrary of convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is the ability to derive patterns of regularities, to make analogies and conclusions. Convergent thinking is measured by classic intelligence tests.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Tip: Why not use methods that capture divergent thinking and make it measurable? This means to drop traditional cognitive tests.

3 – Together we are stronger – Check teamwork ability and team fit

Most breakthroughs are no longer achieved by lonesome star performers, but by entire teams. The high degree of specialization that many tasks and projetcs require makes team work necessary. It’s impossible for a star to reach this goal alone. Most of them work in multidisciplinary teams. Michael West did some research on the topic of innovation and teams and found that the team process plays an important role in transferring know-how and knowledge from one star to another. This is how it can unfold its full potential. In order to pass knowledge among people in the best possible way, it is crucial to share visions within a team, establish a climate of security to provide clarity of purpose, and to ensure the frequency and quality of interactions.

Tip: In terms of personnel selection and development: Check not only a top performer’s ability to work in a team, but also their fit to one particular team to make sure they have what they need to properly share their expertise with the others.

4 – Link product and recruiting strategy

To make sure that innovation can have full impact you often just have a very limited time frame in which the market is ready for your innovation and competitors are not prepared yet. Apple, for example, has definitely not invented the first smartphone, but their longer-existing competitors did not have the advantage of a market addicted to modern technology. There are many examples like that.

Tip: Instead of only filling vacant positions just-in-time, you shoud opt for sustainably linking recruiting strategy to product strategy, they should go hand in hand. What skills and expertise do you possibly need for future products? Creating competency models can help structure required skills in a diagnostically sound way.

Note the following: if you decide to hire high performers that are able to do the same as competitors are already able to do, it will be too late and you will have lost the competition.

What do YOU think? Are there any more useful tips you would like to share with us? We’d be happy to discuss with you.


Ericsson, K. A., & Smith, J. (1991). Toward a General Theory of Expertise: Prospects and Limits. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Weisberg, R. W. (2006). Creativity-understanding innovation in problem solving, science and the arts. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.