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Role Player vs. Star: Embedded Observations From the Field...

We’ve got this little series at DAXKO called the TMD program.  TMD stands for “Team Member Development” (I know, it’s a sexy branding statement, isn’t it?) and the concept is that you bring your lunch, and we’ll provide a speaker (could be internal or external to DAXKO) to get you up to speed on a topic that should matter to you.
It’s a brown-bag series, and it’s been around for years at DAXKO with approximately 2 sessions a monthSuperstar-superstar-9913716 being staged.  I like the concept, but the challenge is trying to keep it fresh.
With that in mind, I did a TMD session this week entitled, “8 things you should know about Role Players and Superstars”.  The goal?  To get people talking about what defines someone as a role player in an organization, and what it takes to become a star.   Slides appear below, although I'm using more and more image-only slides these days, which means you may have no clue what I'm saying over the slides....

Focus points of what we talked about:

--Employees nearly always overestimate their own performance.  I cite the research that appeared in BusinessWeek a couple of years back that 90% of the workforce considers themselves to be in the top 10% of all performers.  Get your head around that one for a minute.

--Next up, we talked about the reality that most managers would rather do a termination than go through the steps of giving critical feedback via a coaching process.  It's called CONFRONTATION people, and most of us don't like to tell someone they need to improve.  Especially if they think they're in the top 10% of all performers.

So, that sets the stage for a conversation about Role Players vs. Stars.  If most of us think we're already stars and those who manage us would prefer not to tell us we're not, how do we really expect that we're going to improve the performance of the organization and our own individual contributions?

It's a nasty combination.

What I love about throwing up a presentation like this, with actual team members, is the conversations that result.  I'm usually the big winner, because I always learn stuff from the folks to whom I'm presenting.  Nuggets from the sharp group I had with this presentation:

--The term "Role Player" isn't a negative to most people.  When asked to define a role player, most team members spoke in positive terms.

--Stars were thought by this group to be driven by passion and to be naturally curious, which leads to them gaining knowledge about other areas that complement their current role in the organization.  That additional knowledge and expertise can either make them a star, or cement their status as one.

--There's some natural suspicion among general team members on the motivation of stars.  Are they just naturally driven, or are they attention hounds who want all the glory.  I thought this line of thinking was pretty interesting and got me to thinking - even if Stars are driven by ego, should it matter?  Doesn't the organization still benefit?  In any event, I can see the ego-driven point that was made. 

--Team members generally think that someone can't become a star without putting in more hours than other people.

-THE CRAZY STAT:  Over half the group in attendance thought that 60% or more of the team members at our company thought they (self-identification) were stars.  But, when asked to provide a % of team members who were ACTUALLY Stars (the raters looking at the team member base), over half the group in attendance thought 25% or less of the team members in our company could legitimately be identified as stars.

Get your head around that last bullet.  That's pretty interesting. At that point, my head exploded.

Final thought from the presentation.  I had our number two person in attendance as a participant, and I asked him to define one thing that separated role players from stars in his experience.  I'm paraphrasing, but here's what he said:

"The day job is what you get paid to do.  Everyone expects that.  Stars get the day job stuff done, but are always working on "game changers" - things that, if executed, can make a real difference to the business.  They get the stuff you expect done, but always have a game changer in the hopper".

The stuff I learn from leading sessions like this one is why I love what I do for a living.  Slides below if you are interested...



I always enjoy reading your blog, but found this post to be particularly brilliant. I've also read that Business Week statistic and it is a bit daunting to realize that managers need to have performance conversations with about 80% of the people basically telling them they're not as great as they think they are.

Thanks for sharing both your topic and your feedback, it really is helpful to understand team member's viewpoints.

Wally Bock

I really liked the description of your process, Kris. I want to add, though, that people aren't universally talented. The corollary is that most people are really good at one or more things about the job. Think John Paxon. Paxson was a good basketball player, but he was an exceptional clutch shooter. We have lots of John Paxons in our workplaces. We need to find a way to recognize them for the narrow but deep skills they bring.


I really like Wally's comment above. In an organization, it is important to not only appreciate the narrow skills people have but to help set them up for success. You can help someone be a star if they are in the right job. I have seen too many people placed in "strech assignments" because they are a star in one role but then fail in another.

Ann Bares


Awesome post and cool move. Giving it Friday Special props from the Compensation Cafe as our post of the week...


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