Seeing stars

Jul 20, 2020

In this time of constant realignment, sustain success by appreciating your stars and making space for discussion.

Building a great team during an age of working from home has been on the mind of AEC firm leaders across the country. Even those teams with fantastic cohesion and alignment pre-COVID have now experienced inevitable shifts as work and home have become so intermingled. As schools across the country are making difficult decisions that will impact each and every family represented in your company, I would encourage leaders of teams and projects and people to invest time in speaking one-on-one with your colleagues to understand where they are feeling energized and drained, and how this environment has – and might continue to – require different demands than we are used to from people we may have worked well with for years.

This topic has been on my mind a lot, as multiple women I know in AEC firms have confided in me that they are reckoning with the reality that they may not be able to contribute at the same level that they are used to if they will also be teaching multiple children from their homes. There are career conversations and concerns that are weighing heavily on all parents, and as a leader, it would serve you well to be part of these conversations. Just this week, one of our ElevateHer book club groups invited me to join their discussion of Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor. One of our takeaways from the book centered on the need to celebrate both rock stars and superstars, and before I go any further, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that this call included a third star: Liz Bartell, a member of our inaugural ElevateHer cohort as well as a 2020 Rising Stars winner.

Scott describes superstars as hyper-ambitious contributors on a steep growth trajectory, the type of people with tremendous motivation who fuel explosive growth. In contrast to superstars, Scott presents rock stars as those who achieve exceptional results and love their work and are on more of a gradual growth trajectory; they’re doing something they are very good at and they enjoy it. You can depend on a rock star. Members of both the rock star and the superstar subset are highly competent; we are leaving low-ambition, low-performers out of this particular discussion, because the challenge for many leaders is to recognize the power of the rock stars.

We need stability on our teams. We need people who sustain high business productivity at every single level, day in and day out. Unfortunately, many companies and leaders instead tend to minimize the contributions of rock stars, and see performance reviews as a one year ambition map, measuring how highly motivated someone is in terms of how they can get the next job and advance. We need the super stars to push us to stay competitive and to grow, we need the rock stars to delve deep into a role and become true thought leaders and experts.

In this environment, we are presented with a time when the brightest stars (whether rising, rock, or super) are experiencing nuanced externalities. It is a time of constant realignment for many, and the key to sustaining success is to appreciate the stars and to make space for a discussion about how to continue to apply the right degree of appreciation and pressure during this time will help you learn more about your team and, hopefully, sustain success together.

Jamie Claire Kiser is managing principal and director of advisory services at Zweig Group. Contact her at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.