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How to Keep Your High Performers Happy

Based on the research and insights of Jeff Hyman , Carter Cast, Dylan Minor and Brenda Ellington Booth.

Everyone wants to fill their organization with top performers. But superstars are in high demand, so you need a clear strategy to recruit and retain them.

At the same time, don’t ignore the drag that problem employees can have on the organization. By some measures, the liability that comes with bad employees is more pronounced than the boost you get from superstars.

Here, Kellogg faculty offer advice on how to nurture superstars and rid your organization of “toxic” workers.

1. Challenge is key in keeping valuable employees.

Above all else, top performers care about challenge, according to Jeff Hyman, an adjunct lecturer of management and organizations and chief talent officer at Strong Suit Executive Search. He is also the author of Recruit Rockstars.

Stretch assignments are central to keeping rockstars engaged. Organizations should assign rockstars a senior executive as a mentor. In addition to seeking out new opportunities for them, mentors should provide career coaching and act as a sounding board for difficult situations. “And,” adds Hyman, “they are the ones who should be held accountable if that rockstar leaves.”

While providing...

The Most Effective Praise Has This Specific Quality

Many years ago, my supervisor, Marc, called me in to his office.


I was racking my brain. Had I done something wrong? Was I in trouble?

I sat there, tense with anticipation.

And then, it happened:

Instead of rattling off a list of what I was doing wrong, Marc outlined a bunch of things I had been doing right—and encouraged me to keep up the good work.

It was exactly what I needed. It built my self-confidence and also built trust between Marc and me. Here was someone who actually saw the good in me, saw my potential, and wanted me to succeed. But that alone is not what made the praise so effective. Besides being authentic, it was also, importantly, specific.

Most research about the value of specific praise has focused on children.

Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, for instance, has explored the benefits of praising children’s efforts (“You did a good job reading”) as opposed to their character or ability (“You are so smart”). The specific praise, in this case praising the effort made, proved superior in motivating children to continue to work hard in the future.

Some years later, Dweck went on to assist...

Career Reinvention May Save Your Health and Life

Is Your Job Killing You?

I always enjoy Jeffrey Pfeffer’s books, (Power, Leadership B.S.), for the research-backed approach he takes with his topics. In his latest book, Dying for a Paycheck, Pfeffer offers a compelling case for what many of us sense: our work is making us ill. Or, more specifically, the management behaviors and practices in many environments are so toxic that survival places demands on us that take a significant toll, physically and emotionally.

Of course, the question is what can you do about the situation?

Career Reinvention

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times: For much of the past year, my coaching practice has been weighted heavily on what I describe as career reinvention. Clients have been seeking me out for help in moving beyond their current roles, jobs and toxic environments. (I contrast career reinvention with a job change, where an individual changes organizations in a like-kind role.)

It turns out, based on the number of individuals attending my webinar (replay) on career reinvention, there’s a lot of us quietly contemplating and even plotting an escape.

Sure, one hopes that time and enlightenment will reverse the situation characterized by Pfeffer, however, if...

Could Ditching Rectangular Desks Improve Oppressive Open-Plan Offices?

Open-plan offices are zapping our productivity. In the quest to improve them, designers have fiddled with various solutions ranging from privacy booths to high-back chairs and sound-muffling partitions. But design industry veteran Karen John thinks that we’ve been neglecting one fundamental element: the desk.

John, who founded an office furniture startup called Heartwork, has worked with companies such as Google, Airbnb, and WeWork to create effective workspaces for various work scenarios. Her newest product line, called Square, challenges the notion that a desk needs to be a rectangular plane.



Comprised of trapezoidal-shaped surfaces that fit together to form a square, the units can be snapped together in various configurations—from shared desks to team pods and even ping-pong tables. When used as a workstation, a bank of Square desks create angles that give a sense of privacy, especially when paired with the latch-on partition screens that come with the units.

“It’s nice not to have to to sit across from someone and have the ability not to stare at them all day,” says John, who used to lead product development for the modern furniture retailer Design Within Reach.

Game table too.


Working with architect Andrea...

The Future of Civic Engagement

From its earliest days, American democracy has been rooted in vigorous civic engagement. More recently, there have been fears that increasing distrust in institutions will lead to large scale disengagement in civic life. However, some optimistic observers are hopeful that the millennial generation will create new momentum for civic involvement.  But what will that involvement look like? And importantly, what are the implications for the perceived legitimacy of government action in society?

According to a new book, New Power, authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms observe that “Participation needs to be much more than a website that allows you to point out occasional potholes in the street; it need to be a constant and compelling experience that keeps people working together on the things that matter.” In their view, “The goal of new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

The IBM Center, as part of its 20th anniversary activities this year, is looking 20 years ahead. It recently held the third in a series of “Envision Government in 2040” sessions, with participants focusing on the role of citizens in government (the first session focused on the future of work in the public sector; the second assessed...