ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (8): 1265-1286.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.01265

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Exploring the proximal and distal ripple effects of star employees in the organizational context: The theoretical framework of social influence

ZHAO Kai1, YANG Runshu1, YU Xi2, PENG Gege1   

  1. 1School of Labor and Human Resources, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China;
    2School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Jersey 08854, USA
  • Received:2023-09-18 Online:2024-08-15 Published:2024-06-05

Abstract: As a kind of important strategic talent capital, star employees only occupy a small proportion of the organizational staff, but make an extremely high contribution to the organization. Star employees can contribute to the organizational value creation activities not only through their direct disproportionately high and prolonged performance, social capital, and visibility, but also via exerting extensive and profound influences on their colleagues, that is, star employees’ ripple effects.
Based on a systematic literature review, this study draws upon the theoretical framework of social influence to specifically elaborate how star employees generate proximal ripple effects on their nonstar team members and the whole team, and then how to generate distal ripple effects on external-team colleagues in the organizational context. Further, this study also explores the boundary conditions of these ripple effects from the perspectives of human resource management practice and star employees’ interpersonal characteristic. Specifically, we proposed three research modules, including four theoretical models. Module 1 draws upon social comparison theory and resource perspective to examine the “double-edged sword” influences of star employee on their nonstar colleagues’ psychological state and interpersonal behavior within a same team (model 1). Module 2 investigates the social influence of star employees on their affiliated groups’ task performance (model 2) and creativity performance (model 3), focusing on the mechanisms of group climate or collective behaviors. Both of Module 1 and Module 2 explore the boundary conditions of the social influence from the perspectives of star employees’ interpersonal characteristics and the relevant HRM practices. Module 3 explores, under what conditions and through what means, the key attributes of star employees exert distal social influence on the colleagues outside the team (model 4).
This study makes three primary theoretical contributions. First, this study analyzes the boundary conditions of ripple effects of star employees from the perspective of “interpersonal characteristics”. This attempt transcends the limitations of previous studies, which solely focused on the explicit features of stars such as identity, quantity, and network position. By doing this, we shift the research focus to the source of social influence—star employees, whose interpersonal characteristics can significantly affect the outcomes of ripple effects.
Second, this study expands the boundary conditions of stars’ ripple effects from the perspective of “HRM practices”. Ripple effects, inherently exploring the social impacts of interpersonal interactions, are shaped not only by the characteristics and behaviors of the interacting parties, but also by the social context. Therefore, this study introduces HRM practices as critical contextual factors, to help scholars and managers deepen their understanding of how HRM practices promote or inhibit the various ripple effects of star employees. Additionally, it provides evidence-based management recommendations for managers to adopt proper HRM practices to maximize the positive ripple effects of star employees and mitigate their negative impacts.
Third, this study extends the scope of objectives who may be influenced by star employees’ ripple effects. We not only investigate the stars’ influence on their teams, but also extend the influence to their colleagues outside the team. On the one hand, our research breaks through the dyadic interpersonal relationship of star employees’ social influence, which is the centric approach of prior research, by facilitating scholars’ knowledge about how star employees exert spillover effects on their teams from a collective influence standpoint. On the other hand, by investigating the formation, mediating mechanisms, outcomes and boundary conditions of distal ripple effects of star employees, scholars can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the diffusion processes for the role modelling, resource sharing, and reputation dissemination of star employees.
In conclusion, our theoretical framework will not only be helpful for scholars to gain a more comprehensive and deep understanding about how star employees exert positive or negative social influences on organizational value creation, but also provide valuable suggestions on the star employee management practices for Chinese organizations.

Key words: star employee, ripple effect, social influence, interpersonal characteristic, human resource management practice

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