More Stars, Fewer Vacuums: A Sure-Fire Way to Improve Employee Performance and Company Culture

In every organization, the dynamics between employees play a crucial role in shaping overall success. But understanding the interplay between dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees in a company can be an overwhelming task.

Fortunately, we can simplify it for you.

Employees can be categorized into one of three broad archetypes with respect to their impact on culture.

  1. Stars. A Star is an employee about which you instinctively say, “Thank goodness that person works here.” Stars are exceptional individual performers who also make a positive impact on their colleagues.
  2. Vacuums. Vacuums are self-centered, cynical, unaccountable, and/or toxic individuals who suck the energy and optimism out of the teams and people they work with.
  3. The People in the Middle. Admittedly, the title we give this third group isn’t quite as creative or memorable as the first two groups, but make no mistake. Winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the “people in the middle” is where the company culture game is won or lost.


The Power of Stars

Stars are the shining beacons within an organization. They combine outstanding individual performance with exceptional teamwork skills, making them big-time assets to any team or project. Stars inspire and uplift those around them. Their high level of EQ, competence, and commitment sets the standard for excellence and invites others to join them in striving for excellence.
When Stars are present on a team, their positive influence spreads like wildfire. They raise the bar for performance, encourage collaboration, and foster an environment of continuous improvement. Middle-tier employees who work alongside Stars find themselves motivated and inspired to achieve greater heights. Stars serve as role models, offering guidance, support, and mentorship to their peers. They make a big impact on the collective success of the team.
In short, Stars pull the People in the Middle up! They inspire others to be more and do more – both for themselves and the organization.

The Perils of Vacuums

On the other end of the spectrum, Vacuums have a detrimental effect on the performance and well-being of middle-tier employees. These individuals exhibit negative attitudes, make every situation about themselves, distract from company objectives, often display toxic behavior, and drain the enthusiasm from those around them. Their negative outlook can create a toxic ripple effect, leading to decreased productivity, unresolved conflict, and an increase in staff turnover.  Employees who are constantly exposed to the poisonous influence of Vacuums will usually show a decline in both job performance and job satisfaction.

Bottom line: Vacuums create an atmosphere of cynicism, dissatisfaction, and demotivation within the team. Their negative influence degrades the work environment, hindering team progress while sending the People in the Middle on a downward trajectory.

Winning the Stars vs. Vacuums Battle

One of the most compelling and powerful ways to think about company culture is to consider this question: “Who is winning the battle for the People in the Middle at your organization? Your Stars…or your Vacuums?

You can think of your workplace culture as a tug-of-war between your Stars and your Vacuums (with the people in the middle…well…in the middle). Again, your Stars will pull others up; your Vacuums will pull others down.

Your job as a leader is to do whatever you can to tilt the world in favor of your Stars – to empower them in any way you can – while reducing the influence of your Vacuums.

What might that look like?

  • Celebrate the impact of Stars; make sure they receive frequent and public praise while Vacuums are left wanting
  • Ensure that Vacuums are aware of their detrimental impact via candid performance conversations; set expectations for improvement
  • Add the attitudes that constitute a Star into your evaluation system
  • Don’t hesitate to favor your Stars (Treat everyone fairly, not equally!)
  • Publicly invite Stars into decision-making processes.
  • Pay your Stars more, and make sure they know why!


Ultimately, if you want to ensure that your Stars win that tug-of-war for team and company culture, leaders need to do their job of protecting the right of good employees to work with other good employees. If managers work diligently to help Vacuums either shape up or ship out, there will never be enough critical mass for the Vacuums to exert their downward influence.

You’ll know that your Stars are winning when you see things like:

  • Improving employee engagement scores,
  • A reduction in undesirable turnover,
  • Improved psychological safety among teams,
  • Increased trust in senior leadership,
  • A decrease in HR complaints,
  • Improved teamwork and greater collaboration,
  • Better customer satisfaction
  • More laughter in the workplace
  • More employee participation in optional activities


Your Stars and Vacuums are not in direct battle. But they are nevertheless each consistently exerting real influence on those People in the Middle. For too long companies have left their Stars out on their own to fight this battle.

Companies would be wise to align the influence, policies, and procedures of your company shoulder to shoulder with your Stars. BetterCulture feels so strongly about the importance of this cause that we have created a powerful software product, 20 Tenets of Culture, that companies can use to both define the characteristics of a Star and to embolden more employees to show up like Stars every day.

20 Tenets is built for every employee in an organization. It is designed to help build the health of your workplace culture, while helping your employees find pathways toward personal and professional success.

But at the macro level, it is also designed to tilt the world dramatically in favor of your Stars by raising their reputation and influence – something that will help both your company and a high percentage of your employees.

Share This Post

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join us in making the world a better place to work