For years, we have heard reference to the term “A Players” about top talent. I facilitate a CEO Forum. As we reviewed topics to discuss for the year, the group suggested exploring how to identify, hire and retain this top talent. One of our CEOs recommended I contact Rick Crossland who had recently written a book, The A Player. Many companies are now struggling with talent and expect that this challenge will persist for the near future.
During our conversation about why he wrote the A Player book, Rick indicated, “I led workshops with top leadership teams and often heard that they wanted to institute A Player cultures in their teams. Because I kept hearing this and realized there are less than 6 books in the marketplace on how to be a great employee. I wanted to create a tool that leaders could use with their teams to accelerate results.”
As we explore the topic of A Players, let’s look at Rick’s definition:
- The top 10% of talent available in the industry for the compensation offered.
- An employee you would enthusiastically rehire.
- A new employee who is so good that within their first week on the job you say “wow!”
One important note, A Players are not always “fast burners”. It is possible to have A Players who might be considered “steady eddies”. They are top of their peer group in skills.
For those who have run companies or departments, we often find that we have a mix of A Players and B Players so I wanted to understand Rick’s perspective on B Players. Rick said, “I use the analogy that most of us don’t want to be on a flight piloted by a B Player pilot or have surgery performed by a C Player surgeon. Why is the work our organizations are doing any less important? Also most companies won’t keep the C Player around, so what makes keeping the B Players around make sense? Why would we not want the best team money can buy?”
We shifted the conversation to why might a company hire and retain B & C Players. The reasons may cross a broad spectrum:
- Some leaders retain B and C Players because they are themselves B Players or even C Players, so they have a level of discomfort with hiring people who are better than they are. These leaders often build mediocre departments and even companies. Evidence of mediocre leaders could include those who are not committed to their own personal growth and development and even worse, those who hold employees back from learning by denying employees appropriate opportunities to grow.
- Some A Player leaders inherit groups of employees and they shape the group over time. They want to attract A Players but this is a process not an event.
- Some company cultures are inconsistent with attracting and retaining A Players. The company needs to address factors that will inhibit A Players. An example of this is companies that do not actively address under-performers but rather expect key talent to do their own work and the work of the poor performers. Then to add insult to injury – they all get the same raise.
Organizations certainly need to address issues with leaders who are intimidated by top talent and don’t manage performance issues. They also need to take a strong look at the culture and performance management systems to ensure the talent they say they want is the talent they can attract and retain. They need to have an honest evaluation of who they are and who they want to become to accomplish their goals.
Now that we understand what A Players are and why companies might have a mix of talent, let’s shift our focus to how to recruit A Players. Rick indicated, “You successful recruit A Players for your team by having a documented process that defines and screens for A Player performance. This starts with defining A Player performance for each and every position. We call the document that defines this performance the A Player Agreement. Instituting these in your organization will immediately improve the performance of both your existing employees as well as position your new recruits for more immediate success.”
Rick goes on to explain, “Where organizations make repeated mistakes is being in a hurry and shortcutting the fundamentals of the screening and hiring process. In particular, too often they do not specify the position before they post or source candidates. This leads to the organization not knowing specifically the qualifications they are looking for. Also, many organizations use poor interview questions that the candidates can actually make up answers to, as opposed to specific behavioral interview questions that tell what results the candidate has accomplished. Finally, many hiring managers skip detailed interviews of the candidates’ references. Best practice is to conduct phone interviews of prior direct managers of the candidate.”
Everyone can become the A Player, and we all have areas we can and should improve. Rick encourages you to get a copy of The A Player for yourself and your team, and learn and apply the core concepts together.
About the Authors
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.
Maureen has published several papers and articles and speaks regularly on innovative leadership, resilience, and organizational transformation. She is the author of the award-winning Innovative Leadership Workbook series and the co-author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, winner of an International Book Award for Best Business Reference Book. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes.com.
Rick Crossland, an internationally known expert and thought leader on A Player talent. He works with organizations across the country to transform good companies into great companies with his unique A Player approach. His innovative approach to developing and validating A Players has been published on leading business sites such as Inc.com, Fortune.com, Entrepreneur.com and many others.