Three Reasons for leaders seeking growth to beware “Rockstars” and other “Saviours”

By Andrew Bass | Newsletter

In their search for sustained growth, I've frequently noticed that leaders overlook resources they have at hand, and instead, they look outside for one-shot solutions. The hope is that something or someone from the outside will bring in a kind of magic bullet that’s going to do all the work. That doesn’t usually happen.

One of the most common ways managers look too quickly to the outside for help is in trying to buy in what I call a Saviour Solution. These managers assume that a saviour has some special knowledge or ability that no one inside the organization has.

Typical examples of hoped-for saviours include "Rockstar" hires, "industry best-practices" and magical new software systems (especially if they have 'AI' in them).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for hiring the best people you can, learning from top performers and benefiting from the intelligent use of technology. The problem lies in seeing these things as saviours, because saviours often turn out to have feet of clay.

  • There's research on "Rockstar" hires that shows that they can go badly wrong. They may be unjustifiably trading on the brand name of a previous employer. In fact, they may have been dependent on that previous employer's support structures or marketing for their success. And, they can be arrogant and expensive.
  • The industry best practice that works for someone else might not work for you. Six Sigma, so successful at GE, didn't suit 3M and damaged their culture.
  • Showcase software projects are among the highest-risk things business leaders can rely on.

Of course you must bring in fresh inputs from outside. But alongside that, what if you were to give more weight to:

  • searching for internal best practices (I bet you have a lot of them going on under the radar)
  • exploring unused capabilities of the software you're paying for already (often far more than 50% of the features, some of which could be incredibly valuable to you)
  • developing internal rockstars?

The Eagles Greatest Hits is by many reports the best selling rock album of all time. Yet The Eagles started out as Linda Ronstadt's backing group. Who knows what some of your existing people could do given the right producer and some studio time?

Copyright Andy Bass 2022.

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