Creating Your Own “A” Players by Giving an “A”

Everybody wants them. Every business leader, talent manager and HR executive tries to recruit and hire them. They are the “A” players, the best of the best, the folks who make your company, your department, your division successful and profitable. They are the reason that your shareholders love you. They can save your job.

But what is an “A” player? Most would answer that an “A” player is the best of the best, the cream of the crop, at the top of their game, pretty much an expert in their given field. If that were the case then “A” players would be compensated far differently than others in their field. Most companies could not afford to pay “A” players what they are worth, and most if not all “A” players would be extremely selective with regards to what companies, positions and opportunities they would consider.

The truth is that in any given profession, industry, market, position there are only a handful of “A” players as described above, and many of them either run their own companies or hire themselves out as consultants to their respective industries and markets.

Business unit managers, talent managers and HR leaders would generally agree that being an “A” player has more to do with attitude and aptitude than expertise and experience. Those responsible for hiring and managing employees want candidates who are passionate about what they do, have a strong work ethic, a thirst for learning and improving and an ability to quickly produce the results that the company desires.

In a book that I have referenced in earlier blogs, The Art of Possibility, the authors, Ben and Rosamund Zander introduce the concept of Giving an A. Ben Zander taught music at the New England Conservatory in Boston and told his class of highly talented and competitive music students that they would all be getting an A in his two semester course. But to get this A they were required to write a letter to Zander dated May of the following year telling him what that A meant to them, how they felt about receiving the A, what they learned that year and what they did to deserve such a grade.

Needless to say, after the shock of receiving a grade at the beginning of the semester wore off, every student came away from that two semester course with a deeper appreciation for what they learned, how they performed and how much time and effort they had to put in to deserve the A.

Zander knew that he was teaching a class of overachieving, competitive individuals who possessed the right attitude and aptitude. He knew that none of his students would decide not to show up for class and not put in the effort it would take to deserve the A. Giving the A up front allowed each student to concentrate on becoming better musicians without worrying and obsessing over their grades.

Think about applying this concept within your company, department or division. When you bring someone new into your company, assuming that you are only hiring candidates with the right attitude and aptitude, you would certainly want to spell out expectations, goals and milestones especially over the first 90 days. But instead of just discussing expectations, goals and milestones you would tell the new hire that you were giving them an A, an excellent rating up front and that they needed to write you a letter dated 90 days out telling you what that rating meant to them, how they felt about getting such a superior rating, what they learned in that 90 day period and what they did to deserve the rating. The few who may decide not to work and meet expectations to deserve the rating already given should be let go. They will never be you’re “A” players. The majority will become your “A” players and it will then be your job to promote and retain them.

For current employees, the concept could be introduced at the time of annual or semi-annual review. Some managers do a much better job of reviewing past performance and setting realistic goals for the next 6 to 12 months. For many though the employee review is seen more as an EEOC requirement to avoid the possibility of potential legal action rather than an opportunity to promote, retain and reward talent that you have.

You could tell the employee that you are giving them an A, an excellent rating for their 6 or 12 month review. They only need to write you a letter dated either 6 or 12 months out telling you what that rating meant to them, what they learned and accomplished in that period to deserve the rating. Few will disappoint you and you will have begun to create your own “A” players.

Could this work? For business leaders, talent managers and HR executives it would seem that applying this concept to your talent acquisition and retention process would present you with a number of possibilities and free you from the endless search for that elusive “A” player by allowing you to create your own.

Let me know what you think. I just wish that this concept had been used in my 2nd year quantum physics class. I could be working at NASA right now.

 

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