Star Performers

Why the Best Leaders Want Their Superstar Employees to Leave

When it comes to superstar employees, many extraordinary leaders have built outstanding companies not by hoarding great people for themselves, but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations, writes Sydney Finkelstein.   PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

When it comes to superstar employees, many extraordinary leaders have built outstanding companies not by hoarding great people for themselves, but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations, writes Sydney Finkelstein. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

By Sydney Finkelstein

Should bosses try to hold on to their star performers?

For most of corporate America, the question might seem like nonsense. Star performers are seen as so valuable that managers should pull out all the stops to keep them—or else see their companies take a big hit in productivity.

Yet some of the best managers not only allow their top performers to leave, but actively encourage it.

I’ve spent the past 10 years studying the world’s greatest bosses across 18 industries, luminaries such as Ralph Lauren in fashion, Julian Robertson in hedge funds, Norman Brinker in casual restaurants, Larry Ellison in technology, Michael Miles in packaged food, Jay Chiat in advertising and Tommy Frist Jr. in hospitals, to name a few.

As I was surprised to discover, these extraordinary leaders achieved outstanding results in large part because they abandoned conventional thinking about keeping the best employees.

They weren’t afraid to lose their best people. On the contrary, most willingly unleashed their top performers onto the world, going out of their way to help them land outside opportunities. The leaders I studied built iconic businesses, transformed entire industries and in a number of instances became billionaires not by hoarding great people for themselves, but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations.

Doing so will make an organization far more resilient, sustainable and successful over the long term. The talent-flow strategy is also better tailored to many of today’s abiding business realities, including volatile markets that demand more dynamic workforces; a generation of millennials less inclined to stick around for loyalty’s sake; and an entrepreneurial, gig economy that encourages frequent shifts in employment over the course of an individual’s career.

Not joined forever

The stories of these bosses reveal a crucial shared belief: You’re better off having the best people for a short time than average people forever. (Read More...)