Rock Stars, Rock Solid and Rocks

Drivers of High Performance: Pay Attention to Your Rock Stars

ARTICLE | Jun 13, 2019
by Patrick Ibarra

My 13-year-old son Maximiliano is a huge fan of Jack White, a modern-day Rock Star, whereas I’m more partial to Bono of the music group, U2. Where Maximiliano and I agree is that each of these artists possess an insatiable appetite to work at their craft and create incredible music that endures. Recognizing every day is a starting line instead of a finish line, like other Rock Stars they have adapted to changing trends among the listening public without losing their taste compass. Success never sleeps baby!

Actually, Rock Stars exist in every organization in every industry including local government. Rock Star employees are those who push every day to move the bell curve to the right (i.e. higher performance). Unfortunately, most organizations reward these Rock Stars with more work! The unintended consequence is that your organization’s Rock Stars can feel overworked, neglected and maybe even run out of fuel. Make no mistake about it, your Rock Stars are self-starters, are highly motivated and serve as the primary drivers of your organization’s success and would definitely benefit from more positive attention and support. 

In fact, I suggest these are the employees you want to immediately conduct Stay/Retention interviews with and ask them one simple question – “What can we do to help you achieve your potential?” High performers want and expect more than to simply complete the tasks that make up their job descriptions. They see their work responsibilities not merely as a job but as a role. When they perceive that they don't have the opportunities to do what they do best, they start to consider their next career stop.

The following diagram identifies the eight Factors which influence Employee Performance. Of these, far and away the most influential is an employee’s Attitude. Every employee owns their own attitude and their own morale. 

Two other types of employees are Rock Solid and ROCKS. The Rock Solid are those who arrive at work every day committed to doing their very best and are often the backbone of the organization, but also are your cautious optimists about any changes coming down the pike. You know, those changes launched in the name of improving organizational effectiveness. Not always overly ambitious, but Rock-Solid performers, nonetheless. 

Finally, there are those employees who I refer to as ROCKS.  ROCKS is an acronym I’ve coined, and it means Resisting the Opportunity to Change one’s Knowledge and Skills. Some employees quit and leave, whereas ROCKS quit and stay. Bad morale is contagious and low morale people are always seeking new recruits. These employees seek to move the bell curve to the left, dragging down performance and effectiveness. 

Question for you is which group, Rock Stars or ROCKS, has more influence over the Rock-Solid employees? I recommend you reject conventional wisdom that asserts by spending time with ROCKS, communicating with them and even involving them in the organization’s journey they’ll convert and adopt a healthier attitude. Often, they don’t change and can even become intractable. Whatever you do, do not appoint ROCKS to serve on an internal cross-functional task force/team thinking they’ll change their mind. They won’t, and you’ve just legitimized their platform and given them a bullhorn to push their points.

What frustrates Rock Stars is how leaders will accept ROCKS as members of the workforce. Remember, whatever you tolerate you advocate. Rock Star employees often have to compensate for the work ROCKS aren’t accomplishing.

Here are five ways to hire, develop and retain more Rock Stars:

  1. Recognize Rock Stars are from all demographics of your workforce, from the newbie to the most seasoned veteran. Credentials aren’t a predictor as it relates to Rock Star status. Also, sorry but you cannot train or teach initiative.  People either have it or they don’t.
  2. Modernize Pareto’s Rule so you spend 80% of your time with the top 20% of your employees, the Rock Stars. While they may not always ask or seek your attention, they’ll appreciate your time and presence with them.
  3. Hiring and Promotional processes: Explore deeper the intangibles that influence performance.  If you’ve ever made a bad hire, you know what I mean. Refresh your job announcements so you emphasize possessing a healthy attitude as a difference maker. Revise your interview questions with a stronger focus on candidates’ and employees’ desire to learn.  Ask “what did you learn last year?”  Rock Stars are curious, always dreaming up new ways of doing things, and fashion themselves possessing a mind like “wet clay” instead of clay pots.
  4. Performance appraisal process. First and foremost - Fix it.  Ensure the appraisal instrument is aligned with the job description and the work employees actually complete every day.  Remarkably those three factors – job description, performance appraisal and the daily work – often aren’t aligned which undermines the prioritization of mission-critical work. Beyond the instrument, equip supervisors, managers and leaders with the requisite skills and capabilities of providing timely, accurate and meaningful feedback to their employees. Require self-assessments from each employee as part of the process.
  5. Reinforce that Rock Stars are the visible, vocal advocates of the preferred workplace culture.  Indeed, these employees are the champions of change operationalizing the mission, vision and values to enable your organization and community’s potential. Professional, collegial employees who traffic in trust building healthy relationships, Rock Stars value individual accountability and expect their organization’s leaders to be vigilant to ensure that it exists.

The best days for your organization and your community are in front of it. Your Rock Stars are symbols of this mindset and commit themselves daily to building a stronger community. They’re energized by the mission and purpose of local government.  Today, people aren’t looking for jobs, they’re looking for meaning and local government is in the meaning business.


Patrick Ibarra is Co-Founder and Partner of the Mejorando Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice and long-time member of the Alliance for Innovation. Patrick can be contacted at 925-518-0187 or

This article originally was originally published in PM Magazine in April, 2019.

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