How mobile is star talent? Actually, not very

Boris Groysberg has a new book out,Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance. Here he describes analysis of the careers of over 1,000 star analysts at 78 Wall Street  investment banks, and 20,000 non-star analysts at 400 investment banks. His startling finding: Star analysts who change firms suffer an immediate and lasting decline in performance.


It seems that the real star is the system: their previous excellence appears to have depended heavily on their former firms’ general and proprietary resources, culture, network, and colleagues.

There are a few exceptions. Stars who come with a lot of baggage (i.e. entire teams) fair better, as do women, and after 5 years or so some stars start to burn bright again, but in general those firms that went after and tapped up superstar talent very often got a rude awakening as the stars very often turned out to be mere meteors.

AfterGladwell’s2002 demolition of star talent, should we be surprised? Of course not. But talent and our belief – or need to believe – in it as a necessary stand out cure all is still big – meaning vested interest – business. The so called war for talent still rages, and wars need paying for; those who supply them stand to make the most out of a long protracted battle, so you won’t find many recruiters or consultancies out there willing to trade on an open informed and truthful acknowledgement that the real talent is the business and expensively poaching and filling it with stars from outside is actually bad for business. Another reason why we are still suckers for talent myths is that most in HR still either haven’t heard of Gladwell (and no doubt will definitely not be aware of Groysberg); but even those that have might find convincing the board – usually an all star bench themselves – a thankless task.

But the facts are there for all to see. Again.

So to clarify:

  • We’re sadly hard wired to believe in gun totting world saving talent (just as we believe in Gods and fairies and Batman)
  • But individual talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (unless you’re a recruitment agency or consultancy peddling access to that talent or plugging its importance)
  • It thrives in great companies only because the companies are great
  • And when it leaves great companies, the myth that it will somehow port over the same stellar performance is, well, as mythical as a belief in astrology

Which begs the question, are we paying too much for our talent?

Or not paying enough attention to creating a great place to work where less expensive and lesser ego-spotted talent can thrive?

Original here: 

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