Protecting Your A Players – Grow Great Small Business Daily Brief – July 10, 2018

Protecting Your A Players – Grow Great Small Business Daily Brief – July 10, 2018

Protecting Your A Players – Grow Great Small Business Daily Brief – July 10, 2018

I don’t know what your roster looks like, but I’m guessing that if you’ve got at least 10 employees the 80/20 rule applies. Not that 20% of your employees are doing 80% of the work, but I’m guessing that no more than 20% of your team are real stars. A Players. It may be less, but it’s not likely more. 

Talk with anybody who has been in public education for more than 3 years, but first sit down because they’re going to have lots of opinions based on their experiences. One of the things they all say to me is how the system is designed by aiming at the lowest end. Test scores have to hit a minimum mark. The kid who is failing needs to improve 2 more points on the score in order to pass. Most, if not all of the attention is focused on how to keep the people at the bottom of the spectrum from falling into some proverbial black hole. 

Sometimes that kind of thinking creeps into our businesses. We have minimum standards. Minimum guidelines. Our non-negotiables, if we have them (and honestly, I find few companies who do), are also aimed at one end of the spectrum. And it ain’t the top. 

All this effort. All this thinking. Put toward hoping we can get people to do just enough to get by. Meanwhile, over on the opposite end of the scale are your 20% – or fewer. Your stars. The A Players. 

You sit around wishing you had more like them. You pine about the ones who you know could perform better, but they don’t. You wish you had some key to finding and hiring more A players. But you don’t know anybody – any business owners – who feel like they’ve got this problem solves. Everybody is chasing the same thing. 

Okay, here’s the reason it is the way it is. The reason that only 20% (max) of your team are A players is only that many have decided they’ll be high performers. 

Once we set aside skills, experience and know-how – which are important (sometimes more than others, depending on the industry and the task at hand) – we’re reduced to what make up our minds to do. That’s true for A players, B players, and C players. Some C players are performing at peak capacity. They just have capacity limitations. At least in their current role. That’s why you should really take a look at the C players to see if they’re leveraging their most natural aptitudes and desires. Maybe they are. Maybe not. I happen to believe that everybody is capable of being pretty good at something. Likely a few different somethings. The magic is finding out what they may be. But to be fair, any of us have a capacity restriction.

You’ve hired these people. You’ve onboarded them, trained them and given them the support they need to be high achievers. Sure, I’m assuming all that and I know my assumptions are horribly wrong, but I want to give you the benefit of the doubt for the sake of today’s show. Take a look at how you hire. Examine very closely how you onboard. Seriously evaluate your training and support. The odds are you’re faltering badly in every single area — compared to what you could be doing. 

But here they are, now employed at your company. And they’ve got the same job. But one is towering above the others in performance. And like a parent whose kid comes home with all A’s and one D, you jump straight to the D. You begin doing whatever it is you do to spur the others – the lackluster performers – to elevate their game. It’s the story of your life. Always trying to whip people into shape so they’ll do their job. But you never have to worry about Ms. A Player. She’s just always doing good work. You can leave her alone.

Until she resigns. And you never saw it coming. 

Or until she’s soured with an attitude and demeanor that is now detrimental to her performance and your culture. 

You didn’t protect her. Or any of the other A players. You left them alone because you could. You knew you could trust them to just get it done. They always do. Get it done. It’s these other goofballs you’ve got to fix. You took aim at the wrong end of the scale. 

A players are like fine thoroughbred race horses. They need pampering. Plow horses don’t expect it. They grind out the day, doing what they do. Mostly what they’re forced to do. At the end of the day they’ll happily eat whatever is put in front of them. Not race horses. They expect to eat well. And be bathed, with a nice blanket draped across their back afterwards. A nice clean stall to call home. 

Here’s how you protect the A players and simultaneously work to inspire others (B and C players) to decide to become A players. That’s right, they have to decide. You can’t decide for them. You can (and must) give them the opportunity to decide to become A players. You also have to respect whatever decision they make. It doesn’t mean you have to keep them on your team though…because that’s your choice. Each of you have choices in how you want to live. You as the owner. Them as the employees. 

Celebrate A players and their performance. Reward them. Don’t ignore them because they’re doing what you expect. They’re the stars of your production. 

Stop focusing on ways to punish or “motivate” your team members who don’t perform well. Keep giving them opportunities as you see fit, but put your focus where it belongs…on those A players who are consistently making it happen. Some of your B players, maybe even a C player or two, will start trying to join the A ranks. Be thoughtful and aware. When you see it happen, foster it like mad. Do your part to help them get there. Encourage them. Sometimes all they lack is a bit of courage and confidence. You can certainly supply that. 

And remember, fairness isn’t the same as equality. Reward performance. Foster improvement in performance, even if it’s incremental. Do your part to protect the people doing the best work. As famous University of Texas football coach, Darrell Royal, once said, “Dance with who brung ya.” The A players are bringing it to you and your business. So dance with them.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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