Weekly Wrap: Why Superstar Employees Are Big Game-Changers

Here’s what I took away from Apple’s big announcement this week launching the new and improved version of the iPad – game changing superstar employees are gold, and they nearly always make a huge difference at ANY company.

Think I’m going overboard? Maybe, but I really don’t think that is the case when the superstar employee is named Steve Jobs.

Here’s how the Boston Herald put it:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ surprise appearance — looking gaunt in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck — to unveil the iPad 2 overshadowed the new product announcement and signaled how important winning the tablet war is to the company’s ailing guru and co-founder.

“The big news is that Steve is in better shape than many people have thought, and that’s huge,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, a Wayland-based consulting firm. “Apple’s fate and Steve’s are intertwined. Think of him as a conductor: All the players are very good, but they cannot play the symphony without the guy who knows when to cue them.”

That’s a great point – Steve Jobs is Apple and Apple is Steve Jobs. He’s the maestro you just can’t live without, because the symphony just doesn’t sound the same if he’s not there.

And this just goes to show the critical point about superstar employees – they’re gold to your company because they are such huge game changers. Yes, they can be a royal pain-in-the-ass, too (Jobs is well-known for that), but when you really need that big clutch hit, who else would you rather have at the plate taking a swing?

This is what makes superstar employees so different from you and me, and why they can be so difficult for HR and management to deal with.

Now, it’s hard to call Steve Jobs just an employee because he’s much, much more than that, of course. But strip him down to the bare essentials and what you get is Apple’s single largest corporate asset and a guy who can send the stock surging just by making a personal appearance to pitch a new product – even if he seemingly came off his death bed to do it.

So how much does superstar employee Jobs mean to Apple? Again, here’s how the Boston Herald saw it:

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Dmitriy Molchanov, an analyst who covers consumer devices at Boston’s Yankee Group, said Jobs’ appearance was the biggest surprise of the iPad 2 launch.

“There’s lots of uncertainty about his health, and it’s obviously affecting Apple’s stock price and the company’s valuation,” he said. “Steve was there to bolster the perception that he’s OK and throw all his weight behind one of the company’s most important product lines. It was very important that he was there…”

Kay at Endpoint Technologies said it’s impossible to calculate Apple’s value without Jobs. “He’s the inspiration for the company,” he said. “He took it from near-death more than a decade ago and brought it back to this colossus in the tech industry. It’s his doing. Who would be the creative leader to come up with new products that no one even thought about? He’s been the only guy to do that.”

Does your company have a superstar employee you just can’t do without? Not many do, and even when they do, it can be a mixed blessing. That’s because the flip-side of the superstar game changer is what happens when the superstar game changer eventually goes away. Jobs’ health issues have made the company – and more importantly, it’s shareholders – really worry about that a lot.

But for at least this week, all is well with Apple. They launched a cool, updated product, and Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance to do it. Plus, his showing up sent the company stock shooting up. What’s not to like?

Take it from me, managers and HR pros everywhere should look at this and tell themselves, “now THAT’S the kind of people-management issues I want to have!”

Of course, there’s a lot more in the news this week than Steve Jobs popping up to pitch a new iPad. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. Yes, this is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • More workers showing up for work on time. Despite the slow recovery as we dig out of the recession, many people are still worried about keeping hold of their job. And, here’s more proof of that: workers are working harder to show up for work on time. As this story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out, “The number of U.S. workers reporting late to work has fallen 25 percent in the recession, dropping from 20 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2010, according to a report from Harris Interactive and job-placement website CareerBuilder.com.”
  • Competitive necessity, or over-generous payout? There’s a lot of focus right now on public sector pay and benefits, and as this story from the San Diego Union-Tribune points out, what is frequently painted as a competitive necessity is all-too-often just an overly generous benefits giveaway. “(San Diego) County’s sick leave payout for its managers is uncommon in the region, and a survey of 39 employers by (the newspaper) found only one that offers a benefit more generous. The county portrayed the benefit last month as a competitive necessity to get and keep the best talent. The U-T found fewer than half of employers surveyed allow workers to cash out unused sick time.”
  • Why workers are taking control of training. Lots of unemployed workers are finding that their skills set just isn’t up to what employers are looking to hire today.  And as workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman of The Miami Herald writes, “if there’s one thing employees have learned from the recession it is not to rely on the bosses to keep our skills sharp … we now know if we want to seize those opportunities — and take ownership of our own professional development — we need to figure out what training we need, where to go to get it, and, if appropriate, how to ask our employer to provide it to us.”
  • Late to work excuses you may not have heard yet. If you have been a manager or HR pro for much time at all, you have probably heard some wild excuses for being late to work. And, here are a few more to enjoy, courtesy of Contra Costa Times columnist Tony Hicks and another CareerBuilder survey.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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