A Globoforce blog post by Derek Irving this week admonished the practice of ranking employees. Irving wrote: “One attitude that I’ve come to regard as deeply insidious and dangerous in an organization is thinking about employees as “A” and “B” players. Yes, we all know there are superstar employees, and those who are a skilled or perhaps less committed (or sometimes, just more interested in truly achieving worklife balance). And yet, the blinders of “A”vs “B” causes us to miss out on the great work, contributions and support of our so-called “B” players are ready and willing to give, if just given the chance”
The origin of his post was the writing of Harvard professor Thomas J DeLong, Harvard Professor in Organizational Development, and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan, now a researcher at Innosight Institute Healthcare. The gist of their thesis is that all employees are important. Duh! Their original article appeared in the June 2003 HBR issue, entitled Let’s Hear It for The B Players. Then, their added perspective was posed in a November 28, 2014 article, 2 Myths About Engaging B-Players. The appeal of all of this to me was 20-plus years of research around the personality values of A and B players. To them, “A” players are like star performers and “B” players, supporting actors.
Dr. Delong: “A” Players, it is true, can make enormous contributions to corporate performance. Yet in our collective 20 years of consulting, research, and teaching, we have found that companies long-term performance … even survival … depends far more on the on the unsung commitment and contributions of their “B” Players. These capable, steady performers are the best supporting actors of the business world.”
This examination here is “professor light”. In my book Peerless, my take-away was that high-performing organizations were homogeneous blending of skill levels and leadership temperament. We can make the same case for the outcome of academic research held in high regard. Thus, here are their findings:
“A”players: willing to move anywhere any time to shoot up the corporate ladder (however, they look down on peers not similarly ambitious) … “A” players see themselves as stars, mostly invested in themselves (vs. company).
“B” players: willing to be mentored … have aversion to calling attention to themselves … place high premium on work-life balance … tend to be functional experts … have high regard for the organization’s culture and are motivated by the service they render for the good of the organization.
This examination of employee categories likely is inspired by the superficial perspective that comes from the tech world where innovation brilliance launches new but soon-to- be-billion-dollar- enterprises. You know, a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
Yet, little closer examination reveals that all humans seek the same innate human desires, or needs: for meaning, belonging and ownership. All of us want to work for a cause or purpose that benefits humanity … and in the process have an opportunity to grow by belonging to a purposeful culture (Starbucks) while being a validated for contributions emotionally and financially (Southwest Airlines).
So, in a nutshell build a culture that is attractive to all players (brilliant and methodical). That’s the heart of it!