Red giants or black holes? The antecedent conditions and multi-level impacts of star performers

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College of Business


High-achieving employees, the “stars” of an organization, are widely credited with producing indispensable, irreplaceable, value-enhancing contributions. From the recruitment of celebrity CEOs to the fierce competition for star scientists, and from lucrative contracts for sports icons to out-sized bonuses for top salespeople, human capital strategies have long promoted the importance of star performers. Sixty years of research on stars has witnessed a wide array of contexts, levels of analysis, and sub-dimensions, much of which is focused on the accomplishments of these alpha-tail individuals. More recently, however, scholars have begun to draw varied conclusions regarding both the favorable and unfavorable impacts of star performers, leading to a balkanization of the perspectives comprising the stream. Our review of the multi-disciplinary work on stars synthesizes disparate studies, settles definitional problems, and integrates complementary factors into a coherent formative construct. Through this, we foster the development of a research agenda concerning the manner in which star performers are, by their very nature, simultaneously red giants and black holes, the precise balance of which is fertile soil for future inquiry.

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Academy of Management Annals