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Stars & Sustainers - Why You Need Both In An Organization


Last week I had lunch with a client of mine. He is the CFO of a successful Canadian wide service organization. We had a very interesting conversation about one of his employees. About 7 months ago, my client hired a new Controller to help alleviate some of the work from him. The Controller is a quiet guy. He comes to work every day, keeps his head down, gets done what needs to be done and goes home by 5:30 pm. He doesn’t cause problems but he also doesn’t “wow” anyone. The CFO feels the guy is a slacker for all of these very reasons – anyone who is this quiet and who leaves by 5:30 pm everyday can’t be a keeper! So began the conversation around what is a Star versus a Sustainer and why you need to have both.

Stars versus Sustainers… what does an organization need? Let’s first understand what each of these characters look like. Stars are those who perform outstanding work, who possess the greatest opportunity for advancement and those (we all know one of them) who just shine in their organization. Stars are the movers and shakers in an organization – the ones who are ready to pursue more responsibility and have little patience for normal career advancement – my CFO client is one of those Stars. Sustainers are those who perform at the required level, maybe a little over. They are consistent, solid performers who you can rely on to get the work completed but they do not strive to move up the corporate ladder – they are happy going home at the end of the day and leaving their work behind. Now there also tends to be a 3rd character in the workplace… a Slacker…this is the group of individuals who ride on other people’s coat-tails. They believe they are entitled to their job and that they can skim by on the least amount of work and effort. Sustainers must not be confused for Slackers – there is a big difference!

Sustainers should be seen as solid citizens in an organization. If we have too many stars, everyone will always be looking for that next step up and there will be no one left to do the day-to-day work. If increased opportunity does not exist for Stars, they will tire and move on. Sustainers push out the work each and every day and can be equated to the backbone of the organization. Sustainers may not be the Stars that come up with the new ideas or who take the risks to launch new products but they will be there to see the project through for you. For an organization to work effectively, it needs to focus on having the right balance of Sustainers and Stars. What you don’t want is an organization of Slackers… then nothing would ever get done.

At the end of the conversation, my client agreed that his new Controller is in fact a Sustainer and without him a lot of the work would not be getting done. He has agreed to look at him in a different light.

For all of you Stars out there in leadership roles, remember that not everyone can be like you - they’d all be vying for your job if they were. As well, eventually Stars lose their shine and fall - a Sustainer is not a bad role to fall into!

To learn more about Organizational Effectiveness and Structuring your Company from a People Perspective, please contact Leslie Dornan, Director – MNP Consulting Services.

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