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Bridging the Gap Between “Solid” and “Killing It”

Pushing your staff to go from adequate to exceptional.

B-Player to A-Player
Illustration by Peter Snow/Getty Images

How To Hire A Players author Eric Herrenkohl spoke to the Virginia Council of CEOs at our retreat last month. His keynote was titled “Turning B-Players Into an A-Players Team.” I’ve been skeptical of the idea that B-Players (the merely good) can somehow move into A-Player (star performer) status, but sat down with an open mind, nevertheless.

Herrenkohl opened with a simple slide:

RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT 40%+ of introductions become clients. Daily 5×5, asks for referrals.
EXECUTIVE COACHING Clients value and recommend Clients accelerating and winning big.
WRITING 2+ LinkedIn posts/week Spending ½ day per week on next book.
SPEAKING Speaks intermittently on requested topics Thought leader on B-Player to A-Player
PROJECT MANAGEMENT Good job coordinating current projects Uses project manager, focuses on relationships

I began to quickly understand the difference between A- and B-Players revolves around innovation and anticipation. Herrenkohl describes B-Players as “solid citizens.” These are folks who show up, do what they’re supposed to do day in and day out, go home, and come back the next day to do it all over again. A-Players, on the other hand, are constantly challenging the status quo, coming up with new ways to automate repetitive tasks or testing out ideas in response to shifting market dynamics.

Herrenkohl asked us to each list a job description in our organization where if that person were an A-Player, it would free up two to three hours in someone else’s week. I decided to use one of our sales roles as an example:

PROSPECTING Completes weekly commitments as assigned. Extrinsically motivated. Outperforms consistently and intrinsically driven.
INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE Reads assigned books and articles Researches independently and brings new solutions to team meetings.
SALES TRADECRAFT Meets with sales manager weekly and does after-actions and ride-alongs when requested Seeks out and demands feedback, editorial, and constructive criticism to keep edges sharp
REVENUE PERFORMANCE Meets assigned sales revenue goals Exceeds assigned goals and establishes own reach targets.
DEADLINE MOTIVATION Will complete tasks within timelines assigned Clears workload quickly and keeps inbox managed daily. Cannot stand having pending work.

Defining some of these behaviors made me realize to what degree we sometimes reward work that’s merely adequate. That drives A-Players insane. In Reed Hastings’ book No Rules Rules he describes top talent as 10x (or better) more productive than average performers. This means that any position where performance (specifically with creative roles) is key can well afford (or can’t afford not to) pay top of the personal market when it comes to salary.

Also by Henry Clifford: Building the Ultimate Employee Tractor Beam

If the difference between B-Players and A-Players revolves around innovation and anticipation, how can people without those innate skills possibly crossover from B to A territory? Herrenkohl has a simple answer: make their role smaller. Many positions (especially in small businesses) require wearing a ton of hats, causing us to switch tasks constantly, eroding our ability to deliver A-Player work. With the decline of specialization in the computer age, this constant task-switching culture has become the norm and turned a lot of potentially amazing A-Players into B-Players. Someone who may have delivered A-Player performance in 1985 is considered a B-Player in 2022 because they can’t walk, chew gum, juggle, and use five different apps at once. Just because we can do all these things at once, doesn’t mean we should, suggests Herrenkohl. By rigorously focusing on specialization and creating a modern-day knowledge worker assembly line, we can rethink how we work together and level-up many of our current miscast B-Players.

Are you tolerating merely adequate performance in your organization? Are your people task-switching and not performing at their highest and best level?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.