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Shoot for the Stars: Implement a “Star” Strategy to Ensure Organizational Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas  September 7, 2009 06:00 AM

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By Elaine Varelas, 09/07/09

Gazing up at the sky on a clear night can give you an appreciation for stars. It almost looks as if they were strategically placed, and they shine even brighter because they are offset against the dark nighttime sky.

As an HR manager, you can think about the “stars” in your organization in a similar fashion. If you are deliberate in choosing and placing your top talent within the organization, those people will also shine and create a more brilliant overall organization.

When you look at developing strategies for recruiting and retaining stars, you will of course be looking at people, not celestial bodies. And when you do, you shouldn’t begin by asking, “Who do we need?’” you should first ask, “Where do we need our stars?”.

It isn’t realistic or economical to have a goal of filling every post in a company with a star. It wouldn’t even be a sound strategy if money were no object: those with star-potential would easily become bored in some entry-level positions, and would leave the organization in search of a more challenging role. Managing the resulting turnover would be a nightmare! And just as stars would be unfulfilled in certain positions, there are many working people who just don’t want to be stars! They are looking for stability, security, or even good health insurance and two-weeks of paid vacation. What they don’t want from work, is a high-stress job.

Instead of looking to crowd an organization with stars in every post, HR managers should direct leadership teams to consider where top talent is most needed. If you can’t have superstars everywhere, where does it make sense to have them? In what posts will high-potential people have the most impact? Of course, organizations want to have the best talent, but it is more important to have the best talent in the best spot.

The identified positions will be different for every organization, even those in similar industries. For example, a high-end hotel chain may focus on hiring friendly and knowledgeable concierges, while budget hotels may need speedy, efficient housekeepers. The needs of a company will also evolve over time. A role that is vital in a troubled organization may not be as important during more stable times. The positions where stars are required are also not always C-suite jobs. An organization may have a need in a mid-level post. There are also, most likely, positions within the company where it just won’t matter if you replace an average performer with a star, so these key positions must be identified with care.

Once the leadership team identifies the most crucial positions, HR managers can help the team define the role. Why is this position important? How does it align with the company’s vision and long and short-termed business goals? What skills and experience are needed to properly fill this post? What will this person “look like” on paper and in person? Defining the position will help organization pinpoint the right people for the job—and can alter the recruitment and retention strategies. An organization that is poised for a turnaround might need a CFO who has helped pull other companies from the brink of bankruptcy, but that experience might not be necessary in a company that is steadily growing by 5% each year.

Once you start looking for the people to fill the roles, beware of the “shooting star.” This person might look glorious on paper (“I’ve never seen such an impressive resume!”), but if the experience and skills don’t match what is required for a top position, that “star” may just fizzle out at your organization. This is especially important during lean fiscal times when every hire counts.

Some of an organization’s needs may be filled by looking at the people already employed at the company. Make sure managers within the organization know which positions you want to fill and what type of people you want to fill them, and help them to determine who, if anyone, on their teams may be a good fit. Managers should also be schooled on how to identify potentials and high-potentials so HR managers can work to develop this next generation of superstars.

There is a well-known business mantra that states that an organization needs, “the right people in the right place at the right time.” But by focusing first on positions and finding those people who will best meet the needs of the organization and have the greatest impact, HR managers can ensure that they have “exceptional people in the right positions at the right time.”

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm headquartered in Boston, and has over 20 years of career development and HR experience. She also serves on the board of directors for Career Partners International, the world's largest career management partnership. E-mail her at

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.