Let’s start with a simple truth: Whether it’s the athlete who singlehandedly throws a team on their back to make a run to an unlikely championship, the actor that wins Oscar after Oscar, or the digital genius churning out inventions that change our lives, everyone loves superstars.

The notion that individuals – blessed with nothing more than determination and a set of remarkable abilities – can regularly rise above seemingly impossible situations on their own rings true, doesn’t it?

But is it REALLY true?

That was the core question that Harvard Business School professors Boris Groysberg, Ashish Nanda, and Nitin Nohria (2004) set out to answer when they started studying 1,052 high-flying stock analysts – individuals ranked at the top of their profession by Institutional Investor magazine between 1988 and 1996.

Specifically, what Groysberg, Nanda and Nohria wanted to know was did top performers REMAIN top performers when they moved from firm to firm?

Could stars succeed regardless of new sets of circumstances?

What they found might surprise you: In EVERY situation where star analysts moved from a larger company to a smaller company OR between companies of similar sizes, they experienced a measurable drop in performance that lasted anywhere from 2 to 5 YEARS.

Interesting, isn’t it?

If our core belief in the infallibility of the personal traits that define successful individuals were true, shouldn’t star stock analysts succeed regardless of the company where they’ve chosen to hang their professional hat?

The truth, however, is that company-specific factors – resources and capabilities, systems and processes, internal networks, leadership and training – have a direct impact on the success of its employees.

As Groysberg, Nanda and Nohria explain:

Most of us have an instinctive faith in talent and genius, but it isn’t just that people make organizations perform better. The organization also makes people perform better.

In fact, few stars would change employers if they understood the degree to which their performance is tied to the company they work for.   (p. 5)

A similar study of successful mutual fund managers cited by Groysberg, Nanda and Nohria takes this surprising conclusion one step further, determining that 30 percent of a mutual fund’s performance was the result of decisions made by the individual manager while 70 percent was attributable to the structures and processes put in place by the manager’s company.

What does this mean for the principals of professional learning communities?

Perhaps most importantly, teachers and learning teams – no matter how accomplished they are individually – cannot succeed if they are working within a poorly structured organization.

Groysberg, Nanda and Nohria explain it this way:

Obviously, a star doesn’t suddenly become less intelligent or lose a decade of work experience overnight when she switches firms.

Although most companies overlook this fact, an executive’s performance depends on both her personal competencies and the capabilities, such as systems and processes, of the organization she works for. (p.3)

The systems and processes that support your learning community – sets of clear vision statements, school-wide systems for remediation and enrichment, master schedules that create built in time for collaborative work – are essential to ensuring that teachers and teams maximize their individual potential.

So what are you doing to make sure that these structures are in place in your buildings?

Do you spend AT LEAST as much time evaluating systems and processes as you do people?

If not, why not?



Groysberg, B., Nanda, A. & Nohria, N. (2004, May). The risky business of hiring stars. Harvard Business Review, 2-8.


Related Radical Reads:

The Importance of a Clear Vision

Are YOU Making PLC Expectations Clear?

PLC Tip: Finding Time for Collaboration

PLC Logistics: Teaming Structure

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