Why Looking After Your ‘A-Players’ has never been more important
Are you clear on the identity of your A-Players in your business? Do they know they’re A-Players? Have you told them? And are they being paid the market rate? Do they seem happy and engaged? This matters because there’s a ticking post-pandemic time bomb about to explode – ‘The Great Resignation’. We’re about to see the most significant transfer of people and wage inflation since the early 1980s.
The Microsoft Work Trend Index found that 40% of people want to change jobs this year. A survey of workers in the U.K. and Ireland put the number at 38%, and a similar U.S. survey found 26% of workers are planning to leave their current job over the next few months. The reasons are obvious. During the pandemic, many people have sat tight. There’s been minimal movement. Companies have got behind with their appraisals. Some have even cut salaries. And remote working has led to a lower emotional connection with employers. It’s particularly bad for new hires.
All of this spells Danger with a capital ‘D’. A buyer’s market is opening up for A-Players to pick and choose where they work, and it’s not just your local competitors who’ll be coming after them. Because of remote working, you’re up against more prominent London companies with a more sophisticated recruitment machine and deeper pockets. If you have good people, you need to know who they are and make sure they’re happy. Good people will stay in good teams with good managers.
What is an A-Player?
The definition of an A-Player is the top 10% of available talent for a given job, salary and location. They’re the person in your company that you would enthusiastically re-hire. They drive all the profitability and growth and are respected for their high levels of integrity.
A-Players are 10x or even 110x more productive than B-Players. Good people will do in a week what for the rest of the team can take three months to achieve. Employing A-Players can make a massive difference to headcount, enabling you to hire fewer people and increase your profitability. A-Player managers have a much wider span of control, mainly if their roles are to coach rather than task.
The converse is true if most of your people are C or, even worse, D-Players. These people will fill their time with meaningless, ‘busy work’. An extreme example was when I worked at Meditel. We were an unprofitable £14m business. Radical action was needed, so we down-sized our two offices to one and got rid of 121 of our 220 staff. Six months later, we looked at each other and said, ‘What the f**k did they all do?’ The machine was ungummed, and profitability returned.
Self-awareness of ability – The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Here’s the thing. Most people are self-referential. This means they’ve little real idea of their competence. The social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger identified this as a cognitive bias showing that people with low ability can overestimate their ability. They think they’re as good as the next person. And, even more intriguingly, people with high knowledge are just as unaware because they assume a task that’s easy to them will be easy for others.
This explains why, when Gallup surveyed different performance levels in companies, the C and D Players thought they were Bs or even As. They had no idea that their performance was sub-standard. And whilst the A-Players knew they were better than some others in their company, they had no idea that they were A-Players on the broader job market.
What’s significant here is you need a way of identifying A-Players and measuring performance. It needs to be crystal clear to every one of your employees what an A-Player looks like in your organisation. And what you need to do to achieve this status.
Identifying your A-Players
Start at the top. Are your Executive team all A-Players? Do they know this, or are they suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect? A business can’t be better than its leadership team, so ask yourself some difficult questions and take action if needed.
An A-Player will live and breathe your company’s purpose and core values. If you asked the rest of your staff who are the golden lights, or star players who represent the DNA of your company, they should immediately point towards the directors.
Move on to your managers and rank them using a talent assessment grid. Remember 85% of a team member’s employee experience is driven by their interaction with their team leader or manager. This matters for engagement.
To rank people, you will need a behavioural framework based on your core values. Once this is in place, every manager needs to understand how it works and its expectations. So, in any performance-related discussion, they should instantly know whether they live this particular value and give evidence of them doing it. Complete clarity.
Finally, rank everyone else in your organisation using the same criteria.
Introducing performance measurement
Because people fail to recognise their incompetence, you need some form of performance measurement that you can use to benchmark everyone. Every day, employees should know what was expected of them, whether they achieved it and what the score was, in real-time. I can’t emphasise how important this is – and so few companies do it. ‘I know what’s expected of me at work’ is the foundational question of the Gallup Q12 staff engagement survey for a reason.
This is one of the reasons execution is such a challenge as businesses scale. When there’s only six of you in a room, you don’t need a CRM system. Everyone can see what the others are doing. And the CEO has control over hiring other A-Players into the business. But when you get past 30 people, there’s less influence over the quality of recruitment. And Mendel’s law of regression to the mean kicks in. If you don’t put in systems that will confront people with their performance, they will assume they’re doing as well as the next person.
Set a couple of KPIs for each role. These should enable employees to measure themselves every day, week, month and quarter. Their ranking as an A, B or C Player should come from a performance and cultural perspective. And the path towards becoming an A-Player should be crystal clear. They will know what excellence looks like.
Looking after your A-Players
Once you’ve identified your A-Players and made sure they know they’re the rockstars of your business, you need to make sure they’re happy. The easiest way of tracking this? An engagement mechanism such as Friday Pulse. The beauty of this simple, weekly survey is it will show you where you’ve got poor team managers and unhappy teams. The founder, Nic Marks, can demonstrate how an unhappy team member in one quarter churns in the next.
Make sure your best people are rewarded appropriately. At the very least, they should be paid the market rate and my advice, right now, is to consider paying them more to keep them. It will cost you a lot less than having to replace them when they’ve been headhunted by that big London business I mentioned in my introduction.
And make sure you have a culture of praise and recognition. Again, Friday Pulse can help with this as it prompts you to say thank you to your best people every week. It also encourages others to do the same, promoting a healthy, happy environment.
Measuring performance so that everyone understands their ability is even more critical in a semi-remote world. We all know that debilitating feeling. You’re part of a team with a weak link. The boss doesn’t seem to notice as this person consistently fails to pull their weight. This is even harder remotely. Recently, I wrote a blog about the importance of getting people back in the office. Otherwise, it’s straightforward for a sense of unfairness to creep in.
If I’m paid the same as someone who’s working from home, but I can see our outputs are similar, then that’s fair. But what happens when one of you is hybrid? I’ve made an effort to come into the office. You never come in because the company hired you in Wales. Unless you have a measurement system that shows that person in Wales is working hard, I’ll be plagued by a sense of injustice.
Because there’s been none of the usual chit-chat and face-to-face team bonding, levels of trust are likely to be lower. People in the office will start talking about the ones who aren’t. If everyone gets the same treatment, then fine. But as soon as there are differences, you have to have mechanisms in place that show what effort people are putting in and what outcomes are expected.
So often, people say we don’t measure the inputs; we just measure the outcomes. No! Imagine if you were a basketball coach. What would your strategy be? You wouldn’t say, ‘Ok guys, what we’ve got to do is score more points than the opposition. Now it’s over to you.’ That’s b*llocks! That’s not coaching or strategy. That’s stating the blindingly obvious. Assuming your team know what the outcome should be, they need to know what needs to be done every day and what inputs are most important to achieving the outputs. You have to help people through this. This is how you create an environment where A-Players can thrive.