How to Develop and Retain Superstars


Developing and retaining talent is a challenge that all organizations face, with varying degrees of success. It can be difficult to focus your efforts when your attention is being pulled in so many directions.

I have a process that I have used for quite a while. It helps with developing and retaining talent and has served my teams well. For the sake of simplicity, I classify employees that work in our organization into three different categories:

  1. Superstars
  2. Wannabes
  3. POABs

Superstars are obvious. These are the people that every company would kill to have and you are so thankful to have them with you. They knock challenges out of the park and are always willing to step up to the plate. People love working with them and they help the organization win by achieving its goals and mission.

Wannabes are wannabe superstars. There is a lot of potential in this group, which is why it’s critical to invest in them. They just need a little more direction to develop their superstar skills, but the raw talent is there. Never write off a wannabe, they are the diamonds in the rough. Wannabes may show initiative, enthusiasm, and eagerness, but lack the polish that makes superstars shine so brilliantly.

POABs are people who should Possibly be On Another Bus. They either do the bare minimum and are compliant at best or can’t see they have the complete wrong skill set for the job. They don’t swing for the fences, or seem to even care about scoring. I tend to not waste a lot of time with them. They are good people, I don’t want anything bad to happen to them, but I want to focus on the wannabes and superstars instead because the return on investment for those people far outweighs anything from a POAB.

Once I’ve mentally organized talent into groups, I go about working with them on the individual level.

I ask the superstars:

  • What is working for you? Because I want to make sure we do more of that if we can.
  • What’s not working for you? Some people say to me, ‘You don’t want to ask that! What if it’s something you can’t fulfill or make happen for them?’ Trust me, they will just be glad that you asked them and acknowledged it. Besides, in many cases you can come up with things that will work for them. Otherwise, you’re going to have a superstar who leaves and goes down the street to someone who will.
  • What would you like to do next? Because superstars always want a challenge, they want to be growing and developing. Instead of arbitrarily determining their development, ask them what direction interests them most and work to integrate it with the goals of the organization or its mission.

I ask the wannabes:

  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working for you?
  • Here’s what I would like for you to do next. Instead of asking wannabes what they would like to do next, I outline it for them. This is how you flesh out the potential superstars. You give them a challenge that plays to the skills they are exhibiting, so that they have every opportunity to rise to that superstar status.

I tell the POABs:

  • Here is what’s not working.
  • Here is what you need to do to improve it. And this is typically  the beginnings of a performance plan.

It’s important to keep in mind that these categories are not permanent. Just as a wannabe can develop into a superstar, a superstar can regress to a wannabe. It’s unlikely, but it can happen. Remember to keep an objective eye when looking at the performance of your team. Also, just because you have someone categorized as a POAB, does not mean that they aren’t capable of taking guidance and improving. While it may not happen as often as you would like, on occasion it happens.

About the Author

Todd Davis

Todd Davis has over 30 years of experience in human resources, training and training development, executive recruiting, sales, and marketing. Todd is currently a member of the FranklinCovey Executive Team where he serves as the Chief People Officer. He is also a bestselling author with two books to his credit, Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work and Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations for Tapping the Unlimited Potential of People.

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