The Most Proven Way To Hire, Retain, And Develop A-Players

As Steve Jobs said, “A small team of A-plus players can run circles around a big team of B and C players.”

It’s no secret that every business wants A-players. Yet at the same time, few know how to find them. More importantly, few know how to develop Bs to become As, and fewer yet are great at retaining As once they have them. (Remember The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting?)

While it isn’t easy to hire, retain, and develop A-players, it’s not impossible.

This article takes our 40+ years of experience and breaks down exactly what you need to know to properly hire, develop, and retain A-players in your business.

The Importance of A-Players

Mark Watson, former CEO of Argo, attests that A-players drive success with fewer employees. Further proof comes from Topgrading companies who reveal that they get better results with six A-players than with 12 (3 As, 6 Bs, and 3 Cs).

Similarly, Cass Wheeler, former CEO of the American Heart Association, champions Topgrading principles — along with many others — advocating competitive salaries and A-player dominated teams. He also challenges the notion that not-for-profits must settle for subpar talent due to budget constraints.

Go to any library or read any book other than Topgrading and you’ll be met with the stereotypical reasons as to what drives organizational success:

  • Culture
  • Strategy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Organizational structure
  • Allowing virtual work
  • Not allowing virtual work
  • A flatter structure
  • More company levels

The list of myths goes on and on. But there’s only one true way to elevate your business to unparalleled success:

Hire, retain, and develop A-players.

Jim Collins nailed it in his book Good to Great: get the right people on the bus (hire A-players) and then they will figure out strategy, culture, and every other stereotypical reason listed above.

Hiring A-Players

Hiring A Players starts way before posting your job. It starts by going back and analyzing your current situation.

Ask yourself What is my level of success in hiring? If you’re unsure, ask yourself about the people you’ve hired:

1 – What percent were A-players, high performers you’d enthusiastically rehire?

2 – What percent were B-players, okay performers you lived with?

3 – What percent were C-players, poor performers or disruptive to the culture, or both?

The average response to this question is that 25-percent of respondents hire A-players. Why so low? Dishonesty, unraveling interviews, and lame verification (in the form of reference checks) are the culprit.

Candidates easily game the system. They know recruiters and hiring managers won’t be able to get former bosses to take reference calls.

It’s unfortunate, we know, but there’s a solution to this: Ask candidates if they are willing, when a job offer is on the table, to arrange calls with former bosses of the past decade.

Do this and you will get honest, revealing answers that provide great verification. How do we know this? Because we’ve helped thousands of companies do this over the past 40 years. And our results are proof that it works.

Countless calls, initiated by candidates, consistently reinforce that A-players earned Excellent or Very Good ratings from bosses who would eagerly rehire them. So hire them! Because, as the Steve Jobs quote states at the opening of this article, those A-players can run circles around Bs and Cs.

Developing B- and C-Players into A-Players

Hiring B- and C-players on your team doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Not every hire will be an immediate A-player. Some simply need some nurturing.

It takes a delicate choreography of organizational dynamics, but the metamorphosis of B- and C-players into A-players is possible. When this happens, it stands as a testament to adept leadership.

Not all B- and C-players are prepared for this nurturing, however. In these instances, the writing is on the wall, but the leader rarely finds themself in a firing situation.

Why? Because chronic underperformers, even after coaching, realize the gap and leave voluntarily. And those that become A-players serve as great role models for others.

The Clawson brothers, Curt and Scott, embody effective B- and C-player management. Curt, the former CEO of Maxion (and a Congressman), and Scott, the thriving CEO of Culligan Water, exemplify A-player standards. Their journey offers a blueprint for navigating this transformative journey.

The Clawson approach to mitigate churn includes:

  • Accountability for A-Player Hiring: Clear, numeric goals reduce mishires and foster team-manager trust.
  • Comprehensive Job Scorecards: Well-defined scorecards, measurable and aligned, avert mishires.
  • Nurturing Feedback Culture: Regular coaching and personalized growth plans ensure clarity in evaluation.
  • Learning and Growth Space: Embracing calculated risk-taking encourages innovation.
  • Exploring Internal Opportunities: Role transitions offer redemption, ensure continuity, and enable Bs to become As.
  • Respectful Exits: When all else fails, leaving becomes a dignified choice. People failing to achieve the goals they said they achieve quit, knowing it’s easier to get a job with a job.

The journey from B- and C-players to A-players, echoing the Clawson ethos, underscores adept leadership’s power. With commitment and finesse, leaders can enable Bs to become As.

When this happens, those newly formed A-players become much easier to retain.

Retaining A-Players

Envision sitting down early on a Sunday afternoon in the Fall to watch your favorite NFL football team suit up. You sit and watch from the comfort of your home, and millions of others across the country do the same. In addition, roughly 80,000 people pack into a stadium to watch.

Who are you hoping to see show up on the field: A-players or C-players?

People don’t tune into sporting events for the sport itself. It’s not about the rules of the game.

Rather, they do because of the elite talent about to trot onto the turf. Eighty thousand people wouldn’t show up to a high school football game to watch a wide range of talent compete together. No, they want to see the best.

Attracting a crowd to the stadium is why A-players are paid so much. They are paid handsomely because they perform at the highest level, day after day. Plus, they always strive to improve.

Now imagine if the NFL cut all players’ salaries from millions of dollars down to $15,000 per year. Would the top talent stay? Absolutely not. They would move over to another league willing to pay them what they are worth.

In business, the same rule applies: Pay your A-players accordingly or they will leave.

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