Why Newly Hired Superstar’s Fail…


We’ve all done it many times. A sales vacancy arises. We hire the superstar from the competition. He has been their top salesman for 5 years running. He knows the product and the industry inside out. He has all the relationships. References comprehensively prove that all this is true. And plus we get the chance to weaken one of our biggest competitors. It has to be a great hiring decision….doesn’t it?

Research overwhelmingly shows that hiring top performers from the competition rarely works. Some studies show that as little as 25% top performers will perform at the same level if they move to the competition with as little as 7% top performers going on to perform better. (See this interesting Harvard Business Review article for one such study: http://hbr.org/2004/05/the-risky-business-of-hiring-stars/ar/1)

Some of the reasons for why hiring the competition’s superstar rarely works are described below:

click here 1) All great employees are supported by great teams.

Every star performer relies on a great team to get the job done. You can hire a great goal scorer but he can only score if the team wins the ball and gets it up-field. Too often companies overemphasise the impact of one single individual on an organisation and underrate the impact of the rest of the company. It is better to gradually build the capabilities of a team than try to hire one person who will be expected to fix-it-all.

2) All great employees are managed by great management teams.

Superstars will not hang around if management is weak. Before hiring top performers management should carefully assess its own capabilities. Is the strategy clear? Are the required resources available? Do they allow top performers to develop further responsibilities? Do they manage all employees equally and fairly? Is remuneration fair and at least market rate? And most of all…..does management lead by example?

3) Superstars can bring unrealistic expectations.

Its human nature to get excited by stories of past success. However most of the time this builds unrealistic expectation for new hires which ultimately leads to disappointment. This can lead to more stress and even resentment on behalf of both new hires and their hiring managers.

4) Management will often pay far too much to poach from the competition.

As management have unrealistic expectations, they are often prepared to pay whatever it takes to get the deal done. Regardless of whether it is good value to the existing business. Not only does this quickly cause resentment, but also this can upset existing employees who are loyal to the company.

5) Superstars from the competition have much shorter time frames to produce.

With increased expectations comes less patience. Management often expects results quicker. This can lead to more stress for new hires and also uncertainty as to whether they made the right decision to move across.

6) Superstars themselves can end up comparing the competition.

Every time a problem arises, new hires can end up comparing how things were in the “old place”. They are more likely to become frustrated with lack of resources or operational differences that prevent them from getting the job done. Often they are keen to prove themselves quickly and therefore may not have the patience to deal with the new set-up.

7) Most superstars are nurtured by the company.

In a the above mentioned study by Harvard Business Review, most “top performers” worked for companies that invested heavily in learning and development for their staff. In other words the companies themselves had a big influence on an employee’s performance. Often new employers do not have the framework to continue to nurture the new hire to out-perform.


8) A salesman from a competitor is not necessarily the best salesman…

The biggest mistake in hiring the superstar from the competition is the fact that hiring managers actually over emphasise industry experience in the first place. Hiring managers often confuse experience for skill. Just because someone has experience in a particular company does not make them more skilled for a particular role. Skill is much more important than experience and our experience over 10 years has consistently proved that a better marketer or project manager is a better marketer or project manager, regardless of where he or she has worked.

The reason for hiring from competitors seems pretty rational – they should be quicker to get up and running (actually untrue), should be able to replicate their success (again untrue) and how else are we supposed to narrow candidates down?

The simple reason why most managers do not consider candidates from outside the competition as strongly is uncertainty. It feels more risky hiring someone from a company we don’t know or more importantly who doesn’t know us. Strangely enough however the opposite is true – most candidates when asked would prefer to transfer their skills to outside the competition and often to an entirely different sector. And in many cases, the top performing new hires are usually people who have come from a different industry and have transferred their skills successfully.

I mean, wouldn’t we all like to try something a bit different one day? :)


Jas Singh

Iopa Solutions – helping managers recruit efficiently