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Star Employees: How to Keep Overachievers Shining at Work

Updated: May 25, 2023

"To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with your work."

~ Sister Mary Lauretta

After that incredible Oscar duet by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, I had to jump right on the bandwagon and watch A Star Is Born.*

The chemistry was undeniable. The choreography was perfect. The filming was flawless.

Everyone was abuzz about the electricity between these two — were they really in love?

Or was this just a reflection of a lot of hard work?

My HR instinct told me that this is the kind of magic that can happen when people do their jobs with passion, determination, and experience.

(This clip of Lady Gaga on Jimmy Kimmel confirmed my hunch!)

A little chemistry can go a long way...

Onstage chemistry rarely "just happens," but it absolutely can be built with technique, practice, and a mindset shift.

I played Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream in college. Demetrius and I had to do some major headwork to make our hot and cold onstage romance “real” by performance time.

It was a lot of work.

Brad and Gaga sure have chemistry — but in a way, it's about so much more than a would-be romance.

Attributing this outstanding production merely to “chemistry” is doing these actors a great disservice.


The success of the film lies squarely in the fact that Cooper and Gaga not are naturally talented and worked tirelessly and passionately to enhance and even perfect their talents.

But what do you do when the spark is gone?

It may be easy to understand how two movie stars make a love story seem so “real,” but what about the rest of us?

What is happening to our work projects? Do we have the workplace equivalents of Brads and Gagas in our organizations?

And if we do have them, are we giving them room to shine?

Whether a person is an Accountant, Welder, Engineer, Teacher, Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker, shouldn’t we feel some kind of chemistry when we do our life's work?

When we first discovered our passion, wasn’t there a bit of a spark?

Where does the spark go, and how do we get it back?

In our quest for work-life balance, are we losing some of the passion?

One of my biggest fears is that we allow all of these talents to stay guarded by assuming that our passion and joy must be limited.

We behave as if we only have a finite amount of energy to put towards various facets of our lives: if you are too much of a "go-getter" at work, for instance, you won’t have enough energy left for the family, and maybe vice versa.

But isn’t it quite the opposite? The people who are high achieving, tend to be that way in multiple areas. Energy and positivity are contagious between people, and once sparked in one area of your life can easily flow into others.

So it's not just the mega-talented "movie star" types that seem to be able to "do it all."

My brother-in-law has a saying, "if you want something done, ask the busiest person in the room."

(Mind you, this is usually a precursor to asking me to do something like plan a family dinner or watch his kids.)

How do we build a company culture that supports Superstars?

If we really want our organizations to shine, we first must hire people with whom a natural talent, a genuine interest, some experience, and a drive to succeed.

Levels of each can vary, of course, but employers must create opportunities for them to fall into alignment.

How do we keep the "spark" alive?

According to Karie Willyerd's Harvard Business Review article, "What High Performers Want at Work," high performers are looking for organizations that do these three things really well:

1. Pay Well

If you've worked with me before, you know that I generally give my clients several candidates to choose from when hiring a new employee. Time after time after time, the candidate with the highest pay expectation is chosen.

According to the article, the most important thing to high-performing employees is base pay, followed by bonus pay.

All-stars know their value and they want to be compensated for it.

And you can bet your buttered popcorn that Gaga & Cooper were paid handsomely.

2. They Show the Love

Let's face it, there is a stigma that sometimes goes with being an overachiever: these people go for the thrill of...well, achieving. But egg-white diets and self-help books can only get achievers so far.

High achievers also want to hear from their leader about their performance. They want to sit down with leaders at least monthly to discuss performance.

Annual reviews are certainly not enough for these highly sought-after individuals.

A former manager of mine put it this way: "Your team is going to get your focus one way or another. By being proactive and giving them the time and attention they need and deserve upfront, it prevents them from getting your attention in other ways — like quitting."

Sage advice. High-achievers will seek out a mentor. Be the support that they need!

3. They Grow Brains

As a recruiter, this one always blows my mind...or brain, if you will. (I wrote a slightly snarky article about it here.)

The main reason I see people leave organizations is that they aren't challenged. They want more. They love to learn and get bored when they don't.

And they often want or need a little direction in this way, too. They may need their curiosity piqued.

I recently learned of an organization that was creating an online buzz because they allowed their employees to read books at work. I honestly can't think of an easier way to show employees that you care about their intellectual capital. As an HR Manager, I always kept a huge library of resources.

I read a study that suggests you can often predict who will be a performer based on their desire to learn. And feeding that needs to learn could be as simple as giving a stretch assignment to an employee and pointing out the learning opportunities.

As leaders, we tend to want to simplify things for people. I say things like no need to reinvent the wheel way too much!

But the truth is that over-achievers are drawn to over-the-top projects.

I am sure part of the allure of the whole film was its over-the-top demands. Cooper directed, learned to play guitar, sang, and acted. Lady Gaga had to perfect her acting chops after decades as a singer.

Everyone has a different story when it comes to their particular passion and experience — and I do believe that anyone can learn to enhance their existing talent.

But the Gaga-Cooper power team — and the magic they created on screen and onstage — stand up as one of the most profound examples of what happens when high-achievers have the opportunity to thrive and dedicate their entire hearts, minds, and souls to a project.


Would you like to attract high-achievers to your organization? If you need help with this or any HR issue, just reach out — I’d love to chat!

*EDITOR'S NOTE: The author of this post is a business owner and mother of three under 9. The fact that she saw (by herself in a movie theater), blogged, edited, and published a post about a movie within eight months of the release of this film should be celebrated not criticized. It should also be noted that she saw it while not sharing a jumbo KitKat bar with a single living soul. The opinions of the author should be taken into context as Bradley Cooper is a personal friend she has been following his career since ‘Alias’ and might have been greatly influenced by the Alias cameos and said KitKat.

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