Recruit Cal Ripken, Not Reggie Jackson, To Your Startup

Some People Are Indispensable, But No One Is Irreplaceable

Reginald Martinez Jackson was also often referred to as a “hotdog” for his self-promotional antics and lackadaisical on-field play.

In addition to his reputation as a showoff, Reggie was renowned for deriding his teammates in the press and initiating clubhouse fights. While it is not uncommon for losing teams to squabble, Mr. Jackson fought his teammates in good times as well as in bad.

Despite his attitude issues, Reggie was a perennial major league baseball all-star throughout most of his 21-year career. He earned the nickname “Mr. October” because of his consistent ability to hit home runs during clutch situations in playoff and World Series games, which contributed to his teams winning five championships.

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Managerial Oversight And Performance Matter At A Startup

In the following 3-minute video I discuss the four categories that emerge when employees’ productivity and their required degree of managerial oversight are considered.


Of the four employee categories described below, seek to hire Self-effacing Superstars and promising Unproven Recruits.

Self-effacing Superstars – These trusted employees share the company’s vision and worldview, perform with autonomy and consistently exceed your expectations.

Temperamental Superstars – These individuals episodically perform at a high level, yet they constantly demand a high level of managerial attention to assuage and reassure their oversized egos.

I typically avoid Temperamental Superstars, as they can have a dramatically negative impact on a healthy corporate culture. For instance, if your fellow employees observe a Temperamental Superstar being rewarded for their performance, despite their socially disruptive behavior, you risk alienating your Self-effacing Superstars and sending the wrong signal to your Unproven Recruits.

In contrast, Lex Sisney, author of Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business, CEO Coach and Co-founder of Commission Junction has had success compartmentalizing such difficult high-performers. According to Lex,“Sometimes you just can't say no to great talent. The best way to maximize the performance of a Temperamental Superstar is to make them a sole contributor, with no direct reports. Give them conscribed assignments which compliment their talents, but minimize the degree to which they interact with the rest of the company. In this way, you can gain the benefit of their expertise, while reducing the chances that their errant behavior will negatively impact your organization’s corporate health.”

I asked Lex what advice he gives his CEO clients with respect to managing such high-maintenance and high-achievers employees. He noted that, “One of the consistent mistakes I see CEO's make when working with a Temperamental Superstar is that they assume that giving the Temperamental Superstar increased rewards will transform them into a better person. 'Hey, if we give Reggie the salary, or title, or stock options he's wanting, then perhaps he'll settle down and be the team player we need him to be.' Nope. Reggie is who he is. No amount of incentives is going to change that fact.”

Unproven Recruits – These individuals are entrepreneurial lieutenants who have the raw talent to become Self-effacing Superstars, but lack the necessary maturity and experience. Hands-on management of these teammates is a worthwhile investment while you determine if they have the ability to sufficiently enhance their productivity and autonomy. If they do not adequately improve over time, consider counseling them out of your startup.

Prima Donna Benchwarmers – These individuals represent the worst type of startup employee. Not only do they consume a significant amount of management resources, their output is lackluster even when they are performing at maximum capacity. Cut your losses and find an alternative home for such employees, ideally at one of your competitors.

Confusing Indispensable With Irreplaceable

Although Mr. Jackson was assuredly a superstar baseball player, he failed to realize that even though he was indispensable, he was not irreplaceable. As such, he played for five different teams during his career. Learn from Reggie’s transgressions: you can be simultaneously indispensable and imminently replaceable.

Cal Ripken, Jr. was also a baseball star. However, unlike Mr. Jackson, Cal was a selfless, self-effacing athlete who routinely played with injuries and placed his team’s victories ahead of his personal statistics. During a 17-year period, he played in 2,362 consecutive games, earning him the nickname “Iron Man.” In doing so, Mr. Ripken broke the prior consecutive game record, which had stood for 56 years, by 500 games.

Rather than pursue an ever-higher salary from a variety of teams, Cal repeatedly turned down contracts that offered him more money and greater media exposure. He played his entire 21-year career with the same team, the Baltimore Orioles.

Although Mr. Jackson and Mr. Ripken represent extreme examples of high and low maintenance sports superstars, the analogy they represent is valid in the business world. Numerous executives have the ability to deliver value to your venture. Some will do so in a quiet, unselfish fashion, while others will deliver results while generating negative, unintended consequences.

Seek CALs: Players with Class, Ability And Longevity

Although Temperamental Superstars will help your company achieve short-term victories, most startups do not have the time or energy necessary to keep them happy over the long run. Such mercurial superstars generally do not maintain their high level of productivity while they are sulking over their perceived lack of attention.

As such, you are likely better off allowing your competition to hire the Reggie Jacksons of the startup world and focus your efforts on recruiting high performing, low maintenance teammates, like Cal Ripken – folks with class, ability and longevity.

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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