Ready for ‘A Mission to Mars?’

The Santa Clarita Valley Business Journal

A leadership training exercise I recommend to CEOs is called “Mission to Mars.”

CEOS are told to select not more than five passengers from their company to accompany them on a space trip.

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 company’s core values.

These are difficult decisions. There are many to choose from, but in the end, to be successful on this long trip, you must pick only your “A” players.

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

I enjoy Nordstrom, Zappos; Jet Blue, BMW, Mastro’s, Salt Creek Grille and ARCLight Theatres for the same reason I go to In ’n’ Out Burger and Starbucks: the people employed there. Think energy, customer focus, above and beyond service.

A primary responsibility as CEO is the recruitment and retention of the very best people.

Better people cost more. Get over it. A company with more “A” players needs fewer total employees on the payroll. Your payroll will decrease if you rid yourself of those who are not contributing.  

What is an A player? An A player is someone who consistently excels and goes beyond expectations, reinventing and improving new situations.

Two words describe these individuals: initiative and action.

They are also a shining example for others; leading by example. They live your company’s 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 in that category.

“B” players consistently meet expectations set, supporting others and company values. Notice the differences: A excels, reinvents and improves — B assists.

Having B players is essential, and companies can operate with them, but it is the A players who plan, build, and grow. Everyone else is a “C” player and too many of those can put a company into a death spiral.   

No organization can have all top tier players as much as it is desirable to do so. But A players must be in the key positions for the organization to grow.

The problem is that many CEOs rate all their people as A players when they are not. This happens because few CEOs will admit that the people reporting directly to them are not the very best.

B and C players are often choke points, blocking the business from being more successful. Their focus is on status quo, not improvement.

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

Make it your mission to hire A players. Do not worry about their salaries. These individuals will figure out how to pay for themselves many times over. Be open to the innovation and new ways to grow your company that they bring.  

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies and greater profitability. Email: [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.

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