Every company has star players–the people who show up early, stay late, and go above and beyond to do the best job. These employees can easily become a manager’s favorite, earning their time and attention.
But if you’re spending more than four hours a week with your A-players, you could be wasting your time, says Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based recruiting and human resources firm.
“A-players will be top producers on their own,” he says. “Managers need to produce a strong team around the A-players who can step off the bench and into the game at any given moment. Managers need to spend most of their time with the B-players.”
B-players are those employees who fall somewhere in between the high performing A-players and the lackadaisical C-players. A-players make up the top 20% of a team, says Gimbel, while C-players–the clock watchers–make up the bottom 20% to 30%.
“In sports, coaches are always looking for somebody better, and C-players expect to get cut,” says Gimbel. “Business has a softer culture of loyalty, treating employees well. C-players keep the machine running and do a good enough job that they aren’t worth firing, but these people aren’t in love with your company.”
While you often don’t know somebody will be a C when you hire them, Gimbel says they rarely get better than average. “It’s a manager’s job to keep the middle 50%–the Bs–away from the people at the bottom,” he says.
B-players have the potential to become A-players, but very rarely do Cs become As, says Gimbel. Managers should spend 10% of their time with A-players, giving them guidance; 10% to 20% with C-players, dealing with problems; and the remaining 70% to 80% with B-players, developing their talent.
To know where to focus your time, start by ranking team members based on the quality of their work. You can also create subcategories within their job description to identify individual strengths and weaknesses.
A-players usually stand out, says Gimbel: “Everybody knows who’s the best salesperson, analyst, and writer who gets the most clicks in your company,” he says.
Get a better understanding of who falls into the B- and C-player categories by talking to team members. For example, if your company sells and delivers products, ask delivery team staff to rank the salespeople.
“Service people see a different side and get a different understanding of how someone performs their job,” says Gimbel.
To hone your list of B-players who have potential, Gimbel suggests looking for these four traits:
Employees Who Ask Questions. B-players who have potential to move up ask a lot of questions about the company and managing their time, while A-players just want to get the job done and develop their own efficiencies later.
“B-players often go to the A-players for advice on how they run their days,” says Gimbel. “In the beginning, it can feel like B-players are holding you back, because they want to know everything up front, but getting their questions answered is part of their development.”
Employees Who Are Good At One Thing. While A-players are flexible and willing to jump into other areas of a company to acquire more skills, B-players often become mono-focused, sticking within their strength. Encourage them to become A-players by expanding their horizons and assigning them to different tasks and departments.
Employees Who Are Helpers. Bs are fairly humble people and don’t have the high ego factor that As can have, Gimbel says. This often makes them the person who is willing to help others. Instead of letting them always play a supportive role, managers should give them a chance to shine.
“It’s tempting to always give out new projects to the high-performing A-players, but it’s helpful if managers throw B-players a bone once in a while,” says Gimbel. “It gives them confidence. B-players have a lot of enthusiasm, and when given the opportunity, they often knock the cover off a ball.”
Employees Who Are Motivated By Attention Instead of Rewards. While A-players are often competitive and motivated by rewards, Gimbel says B-players often flourish when they’re given mentorship.
“Tickets to a ballgame might not motivate a B-player,” he says. “They may do a better job when they get your time, more than anything else.”
Mangers who focus on B-players create a stronger company, says Gimbel. “It’s about taking a look at worth ethic,” he says. “Spend time with Bs, and you could have more As tomorrow.”