The A+ Employee: No, You Just Don’t Go Out and Create Them

I know a ton of HR/Talent Pros are sick of hearing employees broken down into A, B and C players. It seems played out and dated.

But I like it. I’m simple and the A-B-C player scenario is easy for me to describe, in very quick manner, how someone is performing.

I’ll give you this, though — there are problems. Once you have your “A” players, how do you tell which is the best one? Can’t a “C” player be close to moving up to “B,” but another “C” may be close to getting terminated?

The problem is, A-B-C doesn’t accurately describe individuals, it just describes groups of employees – a range of performance at any given snapshot in time.

I was having a conversation about this the other day with a peer and was describing a person’s performance who worked for me –- an “A” player. As I was describing this person, I said, “but you know what, they are better than an ‘A’ player – they’re an ‘A+’ player”!

Oh, boy, here we go. What the heck is an “A+” player?

Traits of your “A+” players

All the talent and performance of your traditional “A” player, but with this:

  • They work like they’re a “B” player hungry to get to “A” status;
  • They lack the ego some “A” players tend to get upon gaining “A” status;
  • They don’t believe they’ve reached “A” status, even when they have.

Yes, “A+” players are special. As soon as you read the traits, you probably had an individual come immediately to mind.

It’s that person who is a great performer, but also someone you wish all of your employees would emulate. A person who is a joy to work with and gets things done. Maybe they’re not the best at any single task, but they are the person you want to do every task.

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You hire talent capable of being an “A” player

“A+ “players aren’t culture changers, they are the culture. Not everyone has an “A+” player, and I don’t believe you can create one. You usually have to hire them – and they ascend to the “A+” level very quickly.

When people tell me they only hire “A” players I tend to judge them as not having any idea about HR/Recruiting/Life. You don’t hire “A” players. You hire talent you believe is capable of becoming an “A” player within your organization.

Just because they were an “A” player at another organization has very little impact on their performance level within your organization – unless you somehow magically cloned their previous environment, leadership and resources and put them back into that same place. It’s true that past performance is predictive of future performance, but only when you put that talent into a very similar circumstance.

That’s why it’s really hard to find “A+” players, because you don’t even know when you hire someone if they will reach that level. You might have a feeling, like “oh boy, we’ve got someone special coming in,” but you don’t know until you know.

All I really know is this: when you have one, do what you have to keep them around, because you’ll never know if you’ll get another one.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


3 Comments on “The A+ Employee: No, You Just Don’t Go Out and Create Them

  1. Maybe we could find A++ players. We need to be able to defind ratings Adding more rating levels makes it that much more problematic. I’ve seen as manay as 9 levels — and know its nonsense.

    One of the truths from good ol’ Dr W. Edwards Deming, years ago, was that managers make mistakes in assigning employees to rating levels. One might say an employees is a ‘3’ and another might say the same employee is a ‘4’. Where that happens — and it alwys a possibility — it says the ratings are invalid.
    Three levels is plenty. This is not a science.

  2. This is a great post about finding the best employees in your organization. It’s true that it’s very hard to hire A+ employees because it’s hard to know who will become a superstar in your organization and who will flame out. In the interview, whether it’s in person or through online video, you should make sure to ask candidates about their prior workplace and its company culture. If the cultures were similar and the employee did great work, you just might have someone special on your hands. Nothing is a guarantee, but if you focus on well-fitting employees you’ll increase your chances of hiring candidates who can become A+ talent.

  3. Interesting and informative read on A-B-C player scenario. Finding top performers has historically been difficult when hiring.

    In Mr. Sackett’s article above he writes, “That’s why it’s really hard to find “A+” players, because you don’t even know when you hire someone if they will reach that level. You might have a feeling, like oh boy, we’ve got someone special coming in, but you don’t know until you know.”

    Could using pre hire job assessments solve this problem?

    In a recent Affintus poll, 100% of respondents said they expect that hiring
    the right talent will be a challenge over the next 12 months; in another poll,
    87% expressed the same concern. Another survey published earlier this
    year reported that despite the unemployment level and a large pool of
    applicants for nearly every job, executives and managers are worried about
    being able to hire the right people.

    As it turns out, they have good reason to worry. More than half of companies
    looking for employees report that it was so hard to find the right person, they
    just gave up! Almost 50% of survey respondents reported they eventually
    settled for a “good enough” candidate rather than continue to look for the
    right candidate.

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