Why you need “A” players

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One popular leadership training exercise is called “Mission to Mars.”

CEOS are told to select from their company not more than five passengers to accompany them on a rocket going to Mars.

There are three criteria. First, every individual must have high creditability with their peers. Second, they must be the most competent in their roles at work. Third, they must have a gut-level understanding of the core values of the company.

A decision of this kind is hard. There are plenty of people to choose from, but in the end, to be successful on the long trip to Mars, you have to pick “A” players.

I’ve reached the conclusion that companies rise or fall based on the people that work in them.

I like Nordstrom, Zappos, Jet Blue, BMW, Salt Creek Grille and ARCLight Cinemas for the same reason I like In-N-Out Burgers and certain Starbucks outlets: the people employed there.

One of the primary responsibilities of the CEO is the selection and placement of the best possible people available into the company.

Better people cost more money. They are also much more impactful. A company with more “A” players needs fewer total employees on the payroll.

What is an A player? The definition of an “A” player is someone who consistently excels and goes beyond expectations, reinventing and improving new situations.

Two things describe individuals of this nature and that is that they take initiative and purposeful action.

Additionally, for the company, they are a shining example for others; they lead by example. These individuals live the company core values.

How do you know if you have an “A” player? Ask yourself: if you could hire anyone in the world to do a specific job, would it be this person?

If there is any doubt, or if the answer is no, this person is not an “A.”

Make no mistake “B” players consistently meet the expectations set for them. They support others and company values.

Notice the differences between an “A” and a “B.” An “A” excels, reinvents and improves, a “B” supports.

Having “B” players are essential. Companies can be built on “B” players but it is the “A” players who do both the planning and the building.

“C” players, which are often found in abundance, are those that are not “A” or “B” players.

No organization can have all “A” players as much as it is desirable to do so. But “A” players have to be in the key positions in order for the organization to be successful. And success means value.

The problem is that many CEOs rate their people as “A” players when they are “B” players or less.

That happens because not many CEOs like to acknowledge that the people that report directly to them are not “A” players.

A great exercise to undertake would be to rank all of the direct reports to the CEO not by name but by position. Once that is completed, the CEO should determine what the point of constraint is within the organization. The point
of constraint is defined as the place that blocks the organization from being more successful.

It might be in sales, it might be in operations, it might be in human resources, it might be in IT. Wherever the constraint is, the CEO has just determined that the person in charge of that department must be an “A” player.

This process can then be repeated until a candid assessment of all the positions that report directly to the CEO and the people holding those titles have been evaluated.

If your organization has a solid business and profit model and is underperforming, look at your employees. Having “B” or “C” players in key positions serves as a brake on growth, innovation, initiative and taking appropriate risks.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.


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