The two kinds of high performers and how to keep them happy

Rockstars vs Superstars

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, points out there are two kinds of high performers in your organisation, and both of these people have very different futures.


First, there are the rockstars, who have a gradual growth trajectory in your organisation (Rock as in geology, not as in music). Rocks are solid, always there. They’re strong and consistent performers. These people aren’t looking to move upward to more senior roles. They don’t want additional responsibility. They will continue to do their job with a smile, because they like what they do.

There is a common misconception about rockstars. Some believe they lack ambition and drive. But sometimes people just work out what level they want to play at, and once they find a position they like, they want to keep doing it. This isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of intellectual maturity.

A rockstar will drive excellence and stability in your team. You want as many rockstars as you can find.


Superstars (think shooting stars) are full of ambition and are always looking for the next step up. These individuals are the personality types who drive growth within the team. They will challenge norms, gravitate towards the new, and because of their willingness to adopt more responsibility, will be comfortable moving into more senior positions.

When Rocks become Super

One important thing to note is that people may move from one to the other. You may find a superstar wishes to change things up and find a place of stability because suddenly, a family member becomes very ill. Or perhaps they’ve just had enough of bureaucracy and politics and wish to become an individual contributor for a while.

Everyone has different needs

To build a well rounded team, you need both rockstars and superstars. You need some reliable people to provide stability and quality, and some to drive growth and really fire up the rest of the team.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make when they have a rockstar in their team is to push them into promotions. You want to avoid this as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow.

To help rockstars grow, what they want is to deepen their technical expertise. So it’s worth providing opportunities to allow them to do that. They may also respond well to opportunities to share some of their technical expertise with others.

Be mindful of your culture

The second thing you want to be careful about is your culture. You don’t want a situation where the only path to celebration is through promotion. If the only way to validate if someone is doing a good job is how many times they’ve been promoted, you will end up with the wrong kind of signals to rockstars.

When you only glorify promotions, rockstars will end up pretending they are superstars for fear of being left behind. They’ll feel ashamed staying in a role for so long. So you want to ensure rockstars are valued (and they know they are valued) to ensure this doesn’t happen.

A basic rule is this. Make sure rockstars and superstars are praised, and paid, accordingly.

Management isn’t growth

When it comes to superstars, make sure you don’t always promote superstars into management positions. Remember that growth isn’t always about managing people. Some people really don’t like managing staff, it requires a totally different mentality, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to shoot for the stars.

With superstars, make sure to encourage ambition, aiming high, and remove as many barriers as you can so they can grow your business.

In case of emergency

One final tip is to ensure your superstars have a second in charge. You want to know who could step up and take their place if they are moving up the ladder to more senior positions. They will be in a steep growth curve, so ensure you are not leaving a vacuum as they move onto different positions.



Product Management Executive 🖥 Writer 📚 Tea nerd 🍵 Machine Learning Enthusiast 🤖

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Brad Dunn

Brad Dunn

Product Management Executive 🖥 Writer 📚 Tea nerd 🍵 Machine Learning Enthusiast 🤖