The Value of a ‘Portable’ Career


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Stellar teamwork and star talent will be on display February 1 at the National Football League’s annual Super Bowl, in Tampa Bay, Florida. For football fans, the much-awaited Super Bowl is the highlight of the year.

Minus the dramatic interceptions and exciting touchdowns, however, football teams are not so different from organizational teams in other fields of life, including business. And watching the career moves of football stars may shed light on how you, too, can plan your next step.

That’s the message of new research by HBS professor Boris Groysberg, Lex Sant, and Robin Abrahams. Their case study “When Stars Migrate, Do They Still Perform Like Stars?” looks at the “portability” of performance and the likelihood that some positions may improve or diminish one’s prospects for career advancement. In autumn 2008, Groysberg and coauthors described their work on the National Football League in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

“As research on the National Football League reveals, sometimes the specific nature of a job determines whether a great performer at one company can replicate that performance at another,” they wrote.

The lessons are directly relevant for hiring managers, too, says Groysberg. “Managers might want to think strategically about what positions they can hire a top-notch outsider for, and which ones they’re better off developing talent for inside the organization.”

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