Do We Deserve Our “A-Players”?

To build a great team, we are told, we need to hire the best, or as Mark Suster put it in his terrific post last week: “In my experience B players hire C people.  A begets A,  B begets C. Don’t go there.”  We have also learned through surveys like this one to “hire good people, not skills”, and we have learned that “behavioral interview questions” about the past will help us better predict future performance as we recruit.  We have become pretty good at acquiring top talent.

Three Business People on Mountain Peak

But do we deserve the “A-Players” we have acquired? 

Are we fulfilling our responsibilities to them?

As leaders we have many responsibilities to the people we lead.  While these are common to all our staff, I believe there are 4 Essential Responsibilities to A-Players that we must keep front and center for these high performers.

1.)  Understand Their Expectations – What makes this a “Win” for them?

While our expectations for staff are generally clearly defined in vision & mission statements, job descriptions, employee manuals, bonus plans etc…, their expectations of us aren’t always so clear.

Top talent is typically highly ambitious, mobile, and have a plan for a specific journey.  How does working for your team or organization fit into that plan and journey?  Can you really meet their expectations and will you get what you need from the relationship during your leg of their journey?  Is this going to be a “Win – Win” for them and you?

2.) Don’t Hire Over-Qualified Candidates – Help them find their “Win”

We need to acquire people who want “the job” and not just “a job”.  While I want top talent for my teams, I will actively help sell over-qualified candidates that I find too good to pass up, to other parts of the organization.  If no opportunities exist internally, I will help them get connected with the right opportunities outside the organization. 

Over-qualified people are settling for less for some temporal reason, and you are doing neither them nor yourself a favor by hiring them.  Their heart will be yearning for “the thing I really want”, they won’t be focused on your side of the value equation, and they will disappear on you at the most inopportune time.

3.)  Watch Both Sides of the Value Equation – Manage the “Win – Win”  

Our job is to develop team members towards their full potential and give them a platform to prepare for bigger and better things, while doing the things our team needs to get done.  Our investment in them is not completely selfless, because it prepares them to return a superior value to us for an acceptable period of time.  Both you and your team members must be committed to balancing both sides of the value equation.

While this post touches on many of the questions that crave a positive response according to “First Break All the Rules”, the emphasis here is on positively answering the question: “Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?”

Many a corporate culture has run afoul because employees feel the company owes them.  You will experience no greater loyalty, dedication and quality of work, than from someone who feels a greater indebtedness to you as a result of your authentic care.

4.)  Set Them Free – Let them pursue a new “Win”

If you do the first three right, you will maximize the time the high performers will commit to you.  They become your most valuable and productive team members.  They make you look good and get things done, and you come to rely on them to pull your toughest challenges out of the fire and they help share your load. 

The time will come when you have given them all the assignments that stretch them and allow them to shine brightly. You will have given them all the professional and personal development opportunities you can, and cheered them on as they grew from tactical executers to strategic thinkers and progressed from individual contributors to leaders. 

Even when we do everything right in a healthy culture and growing organization, at some point some of our A-Players will outgrow us and the opportunities we can make available to them.  We can no longer fulfill our responsibility for keeping their side of the value equation a “Win”. 

Before it turns into a “Win – Lose” relationship, we need to do the difficult and unnatural thing, and willingly release them and maybe even give them a nudge. 

It’s time to Look with satisfaction and pride at the journey behind us, and bless them and look forward with joy and anticipation to the journey that lies ahead for them. 

With the relationship in tact, our paths will cross and again and maybe even intertwine.

Am I missing something? 

Please reply with your thoughts and experiences.

Book References

There are three books that I have discovered invaluable in honing my own staff management style, and that  I regularly recommend to others.  While the post is based on my experiences, it is also influenced by the relational core principles in these books.

The best book I know on the topic of negotiating is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.The book shifts the paradigm from the traditional self centered “Win-Lose” or “Win-I Don’t Care” approach to a creative and relational approach focused on meeting the essential interests of all the parties, (way beyond a dollar for widget exchange).  The famous and critical “Win – Win”.  Also central to this post are the relational aspects discussed in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently  and The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People (the book on staff management.  Deserves a dedicated post). 

Related Posts

Common Traits of A-Players  by Auren Hoffman


Strategy Triangle Revival

Right around 1997 Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema released The Discipline of Market Leaders.  It was an exciting book for me and my colleagues at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) because the book was researched by the CSC Index division.  A few years earlier CSC’s own Michael Hammer and James Champy revolutionized how we think about how to run organizations with their book Reengineering the Corporation.  Building on that book with new research, "Disciplines" shifted the focus from “how” to “what”.


The timelessness of what they wrote became clearly evident earlier this year, when I saw a slightly reworded version “Disciplines” at the foundation of a culture change initiative.

Though not cutting edge, exciting and new, I thought it might be worth revisiting the strategic wisdom that rings as true today as it did more than 20 years ago.


The basic premise of the book is that a corporation that wants to be a market leader in their field needs to commit itself to become #1 in one of these disciplines, and no less than #3 in the two others.

Operational Excellence

The value proposition is to be the low or lowest price in the market.  This is achieved by eliminating all waste and inefficiency.   These are fine tuned process machines seeking economies of scale, and optimization is a science.

Aldi, Wal-Mart and UPS jump out.  UPS, for example, trains their drivers how to walk and even how to best hold their vehicle key.

Product leadership

These are companies that offer products or services that push performance and innovation boundaries.  They will sacrifice price and lead the customer rather than be lead by them.

Intel and Nike made a good showing in the past but 3M is a mainstay and today no one stands out like Apple and maybe Bose.

Customer Intimacy

These companies are all about delivering what specific customers want.  It’s all about the customer.  Often these are niche company’s but it has also been achieved at a large scale.

Airborne Express and Nordstrom once dominated the category but today think Virgin Limited Edition vacations.

Nothing to Nobody

When I recently saw the recycled version of this “oldy but goody”, the triangle had a hole in the middle labeled “Nothing to Nobody”.   The visual clarity was new, the concept wasn’t.

Those companies that are hovering in the middle of the triangle, not exceptional in any of the three disciplines, are doomed to mediocrity and find themselves small in the rear view mirror of their competitors.  Even those that excel at just one discipline and ignore the other two, end up fighting for survival from the back of the pack.

Defining it is one thing.  Strategic and tactical decisions must be driven by the course set forth by the strategy.  Are you a product leader?  Then let go of price constraints as your target market is not the cost conscious crowd.  If customer intimacy is your game, then don’t hold on to self serving efficiencies in options, features, designs or delivery methods.  Are you competing with operational excellence?  Quality, selection, and esthetics of your brick and mortar will be secondary.

You have to pick one.  Just one.  It must be the tie breaker for your critical decisions and only then should you strive to be very good at the other two.

While not expressed in these words, the concept should be evident in the strategies of most successful corporation running at the front of the pack.

Can you identify which corner of the triangle your organization driving towards?

How about the organizations you work with?

Are either hovering in the middle of the triangle and does it show?