Star Performers in Twenty-First Century Companies


This study examines the emergence of star performers—a few individuals who contribute the majority of output—and what it means for business.


It argues that contrary to most of 20th-century management theory, the majority of a company’s output and competitive advantage is due to a small group of elite performers, not a large group of average ones. Especially in complex knowledge-based organizations such as sales and technology, the relationship between a star performer’s output and overall company output is exponential, not linear.

The authors contend that this shift has profound implications for how companies should think about star performers in their organization—how to recruit them, retain them, manage them, and pay them.

Key Points:


  • Instead of a massive group of average performers dominating production through sheer numbers, small groups of elite performers seem to dominate production through massive performance.
  • Large differences in compensation between star performers and average workers are not only justified but will become increasingly necessary.
  • Despite the importance of star performers, most methods of predicting individual productivity have improved little over the last 50 years.


Finding ways to predict star sales performance pre-hire—then nurture and retain it—is critical to staying competitive and maximizing production in any sales organization.

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