People Stuff: “A Players”

A Player
Back in the early 1990’s, I had the great fortune to be a client of Brad Smart, author of the book Topgrading and creator of the Topgrading® system. Brad is probably the person most responsible for coining the term “A Player.” I have used Brad’s system to hire nearly 100 professionals with virtually no regrets. Needless to say, I am a huge fan of Brad and the system he invented.

For Brad, if you really want to build a successful and enduring organization, one of the most important things you need to do is ensure that your talent acquisition and talent management processes focus relentlessly on identifying, hiring, promoting, and retaining A Players at every salary level in the organization.

So what is an A player?

According to Brad’s definition, it is someone who represents the top 10% of the talent available at a given salary level. One of Brad’s early clients, a guy named Jack Welch, described A Players as people who are:

  • filled with passion,
  • committed to “making things happen”,
  • open to ideas from anywhere,
  • blessed with lots of “runway” ahead of them,
  • have charisma, the ability to energize themselves and others,
  • can make business productive and enjoyable at the same time, and
  • exhibit the “four E’s” of leadership:

1- high Energy levels,
2- Energyze others to achieve common goals,
3- the “Edge” to make difficult decisions, and
4- the ability to Execute consistently.

While I have immense respect for Brad and Jack, I have never been able to make their definitions work for me. Brad’s wasn’t powerful enough to help me swiftly and effectively illustrate the concept, and I found Jack’s definition too much to memorize, so I came up with my own definition. I have always described A Players as people who not only do their job exceptionally well, but add energy to the organization. Then, depending upon how much time I have, I may describe many of the things that Jack does above, plus other notions like “going above and beyond the job description.”

In my book, defining those who aren’t A Players is just as important. For me, a B Player is someone who does his or her job well, but doesn’t consistently add energy to the organization. C Players, on the other hand, may or may not do their job well, but they always drain an organization’s energy. I have also come to believe that there are D Players. These are people who simply should never have been in the job in the first place.

As you may recall, EOS’s talent assessment and people management system strongly encourages hiring and retaining people who meet or exceed your cultural bar and who GWC the job (Get it, Want it, have Capacity to do it) and all its roles. There is nothing contradictory in the two systems; in fact, they are rather complementary. I would suggest, however, that both A and B Players can GWC a role, and that there are some important questions leaders need to think through when deciding whether or not they want to purse an organization comprised solely of A Players; a topic we’ll address next time.

Until then, may you build with passion and confidence.

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