Human Resource Insights #3: Star Performers are Nurtured, NOT Acquired

By: Shriram Shanmugham, Founder – – The People Empowerment Platform

Reading time: 4 minutes

“Inside every mediocre candidate is a star-performer waiting to be unleashed”

When it comes to high-skilled recruitment, the phrase “War for talent” is an understatement. The demand outweighs supply and recruiters work under tremendous pressure to fill positions. Unfortunately, the time taken to on board a candidate, surpasses the notice period served by the outgoing employee by a large margin. Our research indicates that it takes 3 months minimum to fill positions, while some middle management or above positions extend beyond a year. This is because the HR department across all sectors fail to overlook a simple question:

What is the #1 reason that makes hiring such a long and painful process?

Answer – The obsession with on boarding star performers*

*Note: To those HR folks who disagree with this claim, we have spent over 2 years researching the recruitment process globally and interviewed over 1100 people (recruiters and hiring managers combined), and can justify this #1 reason with conviction. Detailed insights of this research can be found here. The sad reality, is that companies are not even aware of this predicament, because this obsession is subconscious. We call this obsession the Superman/Superwoman syndrome – an attitude dominant in enterprise companies, in wanting best-in-class workforce. However, the reality is otherwise.

Be it any industry, here are 3 important questions that HR department should consider:

  • Are all employees genuinely star performers in deep-pocketed enterprise companies?
  • If enterprise companies recruit all the best performers, then how is it possible for thousands of small to medium enterprise to survive successfully? Does this imply that small companies are managing to attract star performers better?
  • What is the secret ingredient of some companies that are known to retain best talent?

Our research indicates that best in-house talents are nurtured, not recruited. The secret lies in a culture that prioritizes in-house mentorship, training and development. We have noted companies where even without training budgets, some managers or team leaders voluntarily mentored and encouraged upskilling of their teams at regular intervals. When such work culture is missing, companies resort to wasting a lot of time in on boarding star performers, and invariably settle for mediocre candidates as the position can’t remain vacant for long.

An Example

A market research firm based out of Bangalore with 400 strength, specializing in business insights reports and strategic consultation for multinational companies, had issues in quality content creation. Clients complained of lack in expository reporting, and inability to comprehend insights drawn from data analysis. Of the 400 total strength, 280 were analysts composing these reports, out of which 200 analysts has quality issues in expository writing skills.

Conventional HR practices would have resorted to these options:

  • Invest in training & development for improving business writing which would require high budgets to train 200 analysts over a period of 8-12 months
  • Ensure new hires are tested meticulously for possessing good writing skills despite causing delays in time-to-hire

This market research firm executed an out-of-box solution that didn’t exercise any of the above options. Some of the best reports were assessed for quality writing and the engagement managers who reviewed and edited those reports were identified. Turned out that barring 10-15 analysts, every other analyst had writing issues. It was two engagement managers who took special interests in editing the reports professionally before it was sent to clients. The company made a conscious decision to let these managers conduct multiple levels of training workshops in effective business communication, with focus towards expository writing and composing insightful executive summaries.

The company also ensured that the general work load of these two engagement managers were reduced. This was another important decisions because the business value proposition of a market research firm solely lies with effective reporting to clients. In a span of 8 months, qualitative reporting was achieved with 100% success. Another smart decision that this company made was that it recorded these training sessions conducted by these managers. Viewing this training video was made mandatory to new recruits, as part of induction program. The only cost this company had to bear, was paying for the recorders. They neither had to spend a high budget to bring in external trainers, nor resorted to wasting time to hire better writers. Even without the luxury of big budgets, this company achieved exceptional results.


This example is a classic case to justify that star performers are nurtured.  We have noted that mediocre candidates in one company perform well in other places mainly because of the mentoring atmosphere existing in the latter. It’s about time companies realize this and come out of the vicious loop of experiencing attrition and filling new recruits under tremendous stress. Imagine the possibility of hidden talents already existing in a company’s workforce. Imagine the possibility of achieving exceptional results without big-budget expenditure. Inside every mediocre candidate is a star-performer waiting to be unleashed. This is possible in a work culture where mentorship, training and development is encouraged in-house. This is the only solution to nurture star performers from within.