In the News: How Valuable Are Superstar Employees

A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that superstar employees not only hit it out of the park on their own, but can also elevate the productivity of those around you.

In the paper, which focused on university academic departments, productivity was measured by the number of papers published, and the number of times those papers were cited in other academic journals and outlets. Using this criteria, a superstar was defined as an academic who ranked above the 90th percentile based on citation-weighted publications.

What is most interesting, however, is how these so-called superstarts turned things around once they entered a new department. Specifically, the paper showed that upon the arrival of a superstar:

•Department-level output increased by an average of 54 percent after the arrival of a star
•Further, after removing the direct contribution of the star, department level output still increased by 48 percent.
•Just one year after the superstar joined the department, the average quality of new hires at all levels within the department improved significantly, which in turn led to even more improvements in productivity and quality.

Commenting on the phenomenon, Ajay Agrawal, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto and one of the paper’s authors noted that “additional research is required to have confidence in generalizations, but there are reasons to suspect that the broad findings are not unique to academic science.” However, he conceded that the effect of superstars likely varies across and even within industries, citing previous research that has demonstrated that superstars do vary in how much they help their colleagues.

Still, I think most of us can agree that hiring a superstar is good to fill a role, and any other improvements that may stem from their presence is mostly an added benefit.