The Star Performer Hype Cycle

When it comes to building a team, venture capitalists and experienced leaders spout a classic refrain: “hire slow, fire fast.”  The logic makes sense at one level.  You only want to hire A players – in skills, cultural fit and motivation.  And often within the first 30 days, you find that new hires are exactly who they ultimately will be. Therefore, take your time finding the fit and if you determine that the person is not right – fire them.

But here’s why it often makes sense to hire fast:

  • The market for great talent is hot… as hot as it has been in the Valley in years.  Decisiveness counts for something in identifying the right candidate.
  • In many cases, more interviews just create confusion. Consensus on a candidate in a candid, aggressive culture almost never happens.
  • Interviews are fundamentally flawed.  The probability of a better hire with more data degrades fast when the macro issue is that interviews yield highly imperfect results.

Firing fast is the more dangerous decision.  Firing fast has cultural implications – it creates a lot of turnover, it sets initiatives back, it often creates politics and it creates a murmur of “why did Person X leave” (assuming one does not disclose publicly who leaves voluntarily and who doesn’t)?  If the hiring bar is really high (as it is at BloomReach) – firing fast creates a simple message for the team: “You are only as good as what you do in the first 90 days?”

Really?

We’ve had plenty of amazing people who were put in the wrong role, struggled to understand how decisions are made initially or were slower (but ultimately more productive) learners.  And culture isn’t something that someone gets overnight.  It takes time and osmosis to build relationships.  I have found that most hires operating in a high-performance organization go through their own version of the Gartner Hype Cycle. (Lets call it the Star Performer Hype Cycle.)  It looks a lot like this:

hire fire

 

In the Star Performer Hype Cycle – the trigger is the hire and often in the beginning the star is a breath of fresh air.  They bring in new ideas, new contacts and a new personality into the mix.  It often feels like they have the silver bullet to all of your problems.

Until they don’t. That’s when the peak of inflated expectations comes crashing down into the trough of disillusionment.  That’s when you feel like they don’t sell enough deals or get your technical architecture or even understand the most rudimentary concepts of the business.

For stars, at some point something clicks.  They know how to execute in your chaotic environment.  They sell one deal and that helps them sell the next.  Confidence breeds confidence.  And the virtuous cycle grows.  Extricating your new star from the trough of disillusionment can sometimes take an intervention from their manager: a refocus on priorities, a clarification of role, a therapist to listen to their struggles.  I’ve taken a lot of BloomReachers through this trough and out to the high performance category.

Fire fast and risk falling into the thrall of the “grass is greener syndrome” – betting you can replace him or her with instant greatness.  Remember, your star performer may be one quarter away from greatness.

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2 thoughts on “The Star Performer Hype Cycle”

  1. This curve is so true for life in general. The article is written from an employer hiring/firing an employee and this makes sense. I think the exact same happens from an employee’s standpoint as well. When an employee joins a company, they go through the honeymoon phase of learning about new things, new culture, new perks (e.g. the commute is great now!) and everything that was wrong before in the previous company isn’t wrong any more and they feel like they made a fantastic decision. That lasts only so long. Then all the comforts that one was used to before is no longer true and reality hits hard (e.g., I was so well respected in my previous company). In fact, I think that trough is a point where nearly every person in her/his first job thinks of leaving and a significant fraction do in fact leave because they are going through the cycle for the first time which is especially hard. Assuming that you do stick it out (and like the article says the company decides to keep you I guess), you figure out your niche, how to slowly get back the things that you missed while having the things that you wanted. I think this holds for adopting any new social change and life in general. But nevertheless, great article.

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