Monday Mornings with Madison

A-Players vs. B-Players: Understanding the Value of Each Type of Employee

Word Count:  1546
Estimated Read Time:  6 min.

Employees are the most valuable resource of any company.  From Apple to DeBeers to Walmart, employees are the ones who lead, manage, create, innovate, implement, interact and engage with others on behalf of the company.  Only in the smallest companies do the owners perform the majority of the work.  In most other companies, employees do most of the work that generates profit.  For that reason, recruiting and hiring individuals with the skills and qualities to fit specific openings is the hardest thing any company does… even in the most successful organizations.  And it doesn’t matter if the position is an entry-level receptionist, a seasoned salesperson, a highly-technical professional position, or C-Suite executive.  Each opening has an ideal set of skills and qualities that would be the best fit for that job at that company.   But the more remarkable the skills and qualities needed in an employee, the harder it is to find the right person to fill that job.

Given the importance of employees, one would think that companies should seek to only hire the most talented and successful candidates for every opening.  They are often referred to as A-Players.  But in reality, it is neither practical nor necessary for every employee at a company to be an A-Player.  The truth is that not every opening at every company requires an A-Player and most of the time B-Players are a better fit for the majority of openings.  What’s the difference between an A-Player and a B-Player (and what’s a C-Player)?  When is it essential to hire A-Players?  And how does one tell the difference between the A, B and C-Players when they apply for a job?

Categorizing Potential Hires

Let’s start by understanding what is meant by A-Player, B-Player and C-Player.  Do we even need to categorize employees this way?  The primary reason managers categorize employees into such groups is because they need to know who are their “go-to people” in a pinch.  When there is an impossibly tight deadline or a vitally important project that must be handled with perfect precision, a manager must know which employee will take a risk or go the extra mile to ensure it gets accomplished versus which employee is going to be the best choice to handle long term projects, deal with tasks that may be tedious or mundane, or can tackle tasks that require high levels of trust and loyalty.  And certainly every employer wants to know which employees aren’t pulling their weight.  That’s where categorization comes into play.  It’s a shorthand for how to manage work and workers.

The most important thing to understand is that 80% of the American workforce is comprised of B Players.  They do most of the work and are the backbone of productivity and service.  These are the rank-and-file employees who are often overlooked and whose ongoing, reliable contributions are often taken for granted.  That means that the A Players and C Players make up the other 20% of employees.  Let’s define what characterizes each group.

A Players – The Superstars

A players are a company’s top performers. These are usually the rain makers, who typically put their professional lives ahead of their families and personal lives because they are striving to accomplish more or move up within an organization.  These individuals are generally very motivated and talented in key skill sets.  They are often referred to as go-getters or self-starters.  They are spitfires, always getting things done.   They are willing to take on additional responsibilities without being asked.  They are usually good at leading teams or managing projects or running the show.  A Players enjoy taking risks and want to be compensated based on performance.  These people are often seen as having great potential and are, therefore, often in demand by the competition.  They are also the ones most likely to leave one position for a better one.  Their loyalty is first and foremost to self.   Their resumes might show that they have changed jobs often, usually chasing more money, better benefits, or promotions.

B Players – The Worker Bees

As we said, most employees are B Players.  These employees are competent, steady performers.   The B Player wants to balance the needs of the job with that of his personal life.  B players are responsible and dependable.  They do what is asked of them.   Although many are very talented, they aren’t looking to set the world on fire.  They don’t seek attention or glory for the work they do.  They don’t mind doing repetitive, tedious, and monotonous work.  They just want to do the job – whatever that is — and do it well.  B Players faithfully get the job done during normal work hours, but want to leave at the end of the work day.   They don’t stay late finishing a project unless it is absolutely necessary and aren’t interested in burning the midnight oil.  They leave work at work when the day is done.  As long as they are treated with respect and compensated reasonably, they are loyal to their employer.   For that reason, they tend to carry the corporate history with them.  Most companies don’t actively recruit B Players, and yet are generally satisfied with the work from B Players.  They are steady, and steady wins the race.  They are the underdogs of the work world.

C Players – The Underachievers

C Players are the weaklings of the work world.  They are either mediocre in their performance or lazy in their work ethic.  These are the workers who don’t work.  C Players typically do not achieve enough to satisfy the employer.  They are more likely to be laid off, transferred or fired.  They may not necessarily be terminated right away but they usually don’t last long.  They are the people who are disaffected, unmotivated or somehow turned off by their job.  C Players, therefore, jump from job to job.  Like A Players, their resume might also show that they’ve changed jobs often, but for totally different reasons. C Players change jobs because they had problems getting along or disliked the work.  They are not chasing a better opportunity as much as running from the last bad situation.

The Dynamics among the A, B and C Players

A Players generally don’t understand B Players.  They don’t understand why B Players are not driven by power, status and money the way they are.  A players are irked by B players’ seeming indifference to what matters most to the top brass and unwillingness to sacrifice everything for a job.  A Players, however, don’t work well with other A Players.  They tend to push A Players out.  A Players like to hire and manage B Players so that they shine next to them, but also tend to push B Players hard.

Meanwhile, many B Players are former A Players whose views on how to best manage their lives have changed.  They might have gotten disaffected with how they were treated at a company or realized the need for greater work/life balance.   Sometimes B Players are taken for granted and ignored by a company so much that they become C Players.  Or, they jump ship and go somewhere else before they turn into C Players.

Ostracized by A and B Players, C Players often stick together.  They are drawn to one another and cover for each other.  That usually perpetuates underperformance.  It is better to put an underperforming C Player with A and B Players.  They set a better example and may motivate C Players to set up.

Managing Different Types of Employees

The reality is that most managers have to manage a diverse team that includes A, B and C Players. Here are three tips to help manage such different workers.

  • Embrace Differences – Managers should avoid the temptation to spend all their time running with the A Players and targeting the C Players while undervaluing or ignoring the B players.  Instead, it is better to ask them what they want from their careers and match them with resources to help them get there.
  • Give Recognition – A Players always want and get recognition.  However, B players are promoted relatively infrequently and don’t have a lot of opportunities to shine.  They should be rewarded in other ways. Even handwritten notes of appreciation can make B players feel valued and motivated.  And when C Players are spotted doing something right, that should be recognized.  Sometimes with the right management, a C Player can be become a solid B Player.
  • Don’t Underestimate – Sometimes, all it takes is the right opportunity to turn a C Player into a B Player, or a B Player into an A Player.  Given the right motivation or project or challenge, a solid B Player can shift into overdrive to reveal A-level results.  The same is true of a C Player, given a higher level of responsibility or trust.  Don’t underestimate any one individual to rise to the occasion and exceed expectations.

When recruiting and managing staff, it is important to remember that it is okay to hire both A and B Players.  While employees tend to fit into certain categories, they can surprise and deliver greater results with the right coaching, management and encouragement.  And, for most jobs, it is perfectly fine to have a solid roster of B Players getting things done.

Quote of the Week

“Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”
Anne M. Mulcahy


© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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