What does the term “A” player mean? The term can apply to any role in an organization, and is determined by an individual’s behaviours and productivity.
A players are typically understood to be high performers who fit your culture, and people love working with them. But within that category, four different types have been identified, and there are misperceptions about what an A player is. One size does not fit all.
In this podcast episode, Kevin Lawrence and Brad Giles discuss four types of A-players, and what leaders can do to understand and motivate them.
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Brad Giles 00:13
Hi, and welcome to the Growth Whisperers where everything that we talk about is building enduring great businesses. Today as always, I’m joined by my co host, Kevin Lawrence. Hello, Kevin, how you doing today?
Kevin Lawrence 00:40
Well, awesome, Brad. Looking forward to our discussion. Talking about A players is one of my favorite things.
Brad Giles 00:46
Tell me what’s your word or phrase of the day, Kevin?
Kevin Lawrence 01:02
Today is entrepreneurship. I’m down in the US this week. And everywhere you go, the entrepreneurial juices are flowing in this country. To me, my perception is even more so than Canada. And the things I see happens, like everyone’s an entrepreneur down here, whether it’s their own little chain of coffee shops or something substantial, just love the entrepreneurial spirit in the United States of America. That’s my word of the day entrepreneurship.
Brad Giles 01:32
Well, you’re going to love mine, is someone selling to you? And that was I thought about that before, not on the spot. So if you’re in a meeting, maybe or if you’re dealing with anyone, maybe just stop, pause, think a moment, if someone’s selling to you is this person trying to get you to buy something, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s what makes the world go around. But you know, a tiger is going to act like a tiger, you should not expect a salesperson to be doing an acting in a way that encourages you to buy, and just being conscious of the moment. So if ever there was a stitch up between our two words of the day, it’s entrepreneurialism. So today, we’re talking about the four different types of A players. Some people might know that there is four different types of a players. Because last week, we spoke about A players and the cost of not having A players in your team. But within the A player category, there are four different types that you’ve got to know and understand as you apply it to your team.
Kevin Lawrence 02:55
Yes, so before we get into that, let’s reground people that maybe didn’t listen to the last episode, you can listen to episode 88 for more on the reasons why you need to have A player’s and the cost of not, but we’ve defined a player, that is someone who is an A level fit on your culture, and an A level fit in terms or, or gets a level results consistently. So if you think of you know, a player being the top 90% So just like an A is, you know, in the US and a is 90% and higher as a grade, and we want you know 90% or higher on the performance 90% or higher on the on the fit. A B player is someone who does fit the culture really well. They just don’t consistently get a grades on the on the quality of their of their work, or hitting their deadlines. Whatever’s they’re good. They’re just not great. So A is the ideal B is just a lower performing version of someone who still fits that culture. And then, and then we have something called a C, which is sort of these little four boxes below because they don’t achieve the results as expected, and they don’t fit the culture. And then we got this real special one called a toxic A, that definitely gets awesome results, but they don’t fit the culture and hence their toxicity, because they’re off culture. And they create a lot of stress or drama in the organization because they operate under a different belief system or a different behavior system. And it’s challenging for their coworkers.
Brad Giles 04:30
Most of the people in the organization probably wouldn’t want to sit next to a toxic guy, and they probably wouldn’t want to go to a meeting with a toxic guy.
Kevin Lawrence 04:38
Unless they wanted to watch a little bit of entertainment and see what the toxic he can say today. So the root of it is that A players are high performers who fit the culture and you love, love, love love working with them. But within that a category. There’s different types and there’s misperceptions because some people think and a player is As someone who is super motivated, and promotable and wants to rise up to the ranks and eventually be the CEO, and that’s a misconception that we’ll deal with in a minute. So the four types, and really, there’s three types plus one kicker, and the kicker is that toxic one. So we can deal with that one right away. That toxic A is the high performing jerk, or at least jerk in your company because they’re off culture. And I’ll give an example of one who wasn’t so much a jerk. But this is it was a very nice woman in a company that I worked with. And she was a toxic A. So she was on the support team of the company, and the support team processed all the orders. And in their busiest time, that team would have to stay late at night to catch up because they had one month where they did I think 20% of their business. So this person came from more of a quality union background or labor background. And, you know, they weren’t, they sort of said, well, I did my job, why would I stay late to help you do yours, because they were super productive. So let’s just say each person needed to process 20 orders in a day. Even in the busy time, she would get hers done by four o’clock. Yeah, but the rest were staying till eight. And so it created a lot of tension on the team. And I remember this because I was working with this company. And woman was brilliant, she was outstanding at her job. She may have been smarter than the darn CEO like this woman, she was amazing. But one of the core values of the company was team player. And Team Player means we all chip in and help each other. And if there’s more work to be done, we we all stay together. Or we all leave early together, whatever it happened is, but it was this true togetherness of a team. So long story short, her manager talked to her a couple of times about it. But she wouldn’t she wouldn’t budge, she would not get on board and be a part of the team. She said, Why No, I’m doing my work. That’s not my problem, that they’re slow. So at the end of the day, she had to go because she was although incredibly good at her job. And she wasn’t a jerk about it. She just refused to put in the time that was required to support the team. And they live that core values could so that’s an example versus the arrogant sales person or the you know, all the other stories we know about toxic case. It just wasn’t was off culture and wasn’t willing to be a part of what the company was about. So that’s the talk. Okay, we can take that off the list. There’s tons of them.
Brad Giles 07:36
But they are not salespeople, necessarily. It’s very easy to associate a toxic guy with a salesperson. And there’s some great a player sales people who aren’t toxic. Don’t get me wrong, but just don’t think about toxic as predominantly being a salesperson or in the sales field.
Kevin Lawrence 07:55
I have seen loads of funny job. But I’ve seen I’ve seen toxic a truck drivers, one of my clients had a toxic a truck driver, they delivered stuff from Vancouver through to the rest of Canada back when we had roads, no don’t work. That’s another story. But they would drive and in the dead of winter weather was incredibly tough conditions, he would drive the semi trailer over the mountains in any weather anytime, never damaged the truck. Best maintained truck, cleanest truck. Only a slight problem is that my client has their name on the sides of the trailers and the trucks, they will get two or three calls per week about him and his aggressive driving on the road. So you’re a brand and you’ve got your name on the side, and you’ve got a very aggressive driver who’s the best driver you have. But he’s also very aggressive and you get a lot of complaints. That’s a toxic and he’s amazing. But that’s not what the companies the company has a warm hearted culture.
Brad Giles 08:57
It’s not it’s not a sustainable position. Like you know how long he can’t, he can’t keep doing that forever. Those calls will add up. You can but there’s a cost
Kevin Lawrence 09:06
There’s and also we know what that kind of stuff at some point there likely could be an incident which we don’t wish on anyone else that stuff happens. So but let’s get into the three types of a players and they’re not all wanting to be the CEO. That’s the little clue. So once you’re once you kick us off for the first one of the of the three.
Brad Giles 09:30
Yeah, so we’ve covered off toxic. Now let’s look at the three within a quadrant. In other words, they’re high on core values, and they’re high on productivity. So the first one is what we call an a one and a one. So that means that they’re a great fit, they’re a great fit, and they’re not necessarily promotable, so they’re never going to escalate into other roles, but in that role, the great on the back I’ll use an eighth grade on the productivity. You can, they’re just solid, they’re just, they’re just like the beat in the background, they’re always going to perform, you can rely on them. But when you look at them, they’re not necessarily going to take on another higher role. You can’t really promote them. And you, you want a lot of these people in your business. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get the other ones but but if you can get rid of the bees in the season, the toxic guys to get these people in, then that’s a great way. They’re the dependable.
Kevin Lawrence 10:38
Yeah, and there’s lots and they’re often misunderstood. Because some people think, well, if you don’t want to get promoted, and you don’t want to rise up to the next level, you’re not an A player. It’s not true. And a player someone’s exceptional at the role. And they may or may not want to. So these, these a ones are outstanding. I know tons of them, and they’re wonderful. Now, as the company grows, sometimes they end up if they’re two layers away from the CEO, over time, they might be three, or four, depending on how the company grows. Because they generally don’t grow in their role. They master their role, for example. And my father, when I was growing up was a mechanic, a karmic auto mechanic, he was an A player in that role. He was outstanding, high quality work integrity, got the job done, right took good care of the customers. But he had zero interest in moving through the company, he would stay in that role. Well, he did for his whole career, as long as as long as he worked. And that was the role that he was happy in. I was speaking with a guy on the weekend, who was an aircraft, it was a crew leader, for bowling building airplanes. Yeah. And he led crews there for close to 20 years. And he stayed leading the crews for 20 years, his role didn’t change a whole bunch, he just helped to build a lot of airplanes, and he was happy and they were happy. So outstanding, nothing wrong with them. Only thing you got to watch with these people a sustained make sure their skills stay relevant enough for the role, because they’re not as ambitious, you got to make sure they continue to grow enough just to stay to stay in that a spot.
Brad Giles 12:15
So do you want to take us on to number two, what is the second type?
Kevin Lawrence 12:21
Two is someone who can move up a level, maybe it’s two, but generally, they can move up a bit. They’re not going to go from being you know, a supervisor to the CEO, necessarily, but they can definitely move up a level. And that’s the kind of category that we put them in. So these are people this could be, you know, one of your sales people who has the potential to be that sales manager. And he’s, he or she is one of those rare people that you can see could do that, because that’s a hard bridge to cross or, or maybe they’re running one team. But they might be able to run two teams, or they’re running one location, they might be able to run two locations or so it could go in there responsibly, could go sideways, I eat more breadth, or they could move up a level. And maybe it’s someone who’s a director is your director of finance, that could be your CFO, he could move up or she or he or she it could be your you know, your your VP of sales or your VP of Operations, that could be the CEO. So there’s, there’s, you can see that there’s, there’s another step in them for sure. And it’s a combination of cat capability and ambition that’s that that exists.
Brad Giles 13:35
And not necessarily today, not even perhaps in the next few months or even year. But you can clearly see that if I can invest in this person, this person has the capability to lead a team or to lead a team of teams or whatever it might be, we can push them one level up confidently. And so an AI is a great fit. Apparently, an A one is a great fit, but they’re not necessarily promotable, but then an A to is promotable, perhaps one level.
Kevin Lawrence 14:06
At this point, that’s what you could see. Yeah. And then there’s, there’s, then there’s these ones called a three is, and this would be the kinds of people that, you know, you and I would have been throughout our careers, because we’re super motivated and driven and willing to really, you know, push ahead and do that work for whatever positive or negative reason. And these are people that have high permeability, and it’s at least you know, two levels or more, and you can spot these people coming through organizations. And you can see them when they’re, you know, if you’re talking an organization of a few 100 people, you can you can you see them and you hear about them, you know, they’re two or three or four or five layers down the organization and they just keep, you know, gradually rising up and rising up. And it’s, again, it’s a combination of competence and desire to progress. in their careers, and these are your future leaders, these are your future executives, often sometimes they’re the future candidates to be in that CEO role. Now, some people will call them their high potentials, all kinds of other things.
Brad Giles 15:13
That’s exactly what I was gonna say. Some people call them “hypos”, or high potentials. And maybe they’ve got a program around that. Maybe that captures that a twos promotable one level and that a threes promotable two plus levels.
Kevin Lawrence 15:30
There’s a special flag, I want to call out on these ones that we have to be careful. Because sometimes these people are really keen to grow, and they’re demonstrating all the right things. But we can have a tendency sometimes to overpower them. And over promotion is a challenge because you see this person who’s gone from, you know, an A player, a player, a player, oh, B or B minus, because we promote and sometimes it works. Sometimes you promote people and they grow into it. And sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why we deeply scrutinize promotions before we do them to make sure that people are ready. And we’ll talk about that a little bit more when we talk about how do you assess where they’re at, it’s in our next section here. And let’s get ourselves in trouble.
Brad Giles 16:17
Let’s remember that an A player is in the top 10% of candidates at the pay rate that you offer. So these people aren’t getting paid any more than their co-workers who could be B’s or C’s or even toxic owes. There is a defined role, you could be paying $85,000 for a role. As an example, these people will be getting paid the same amount as their co workers. That’s a really important, we’re not saying you need to pay a lot more. We’re saying within the cohort of people at that pay rate. These people are in the top 10%. And then within that top 10% Are these three sections that we’ve identified. They’re a great fit, but not promotable. They’re promotable one level, and then they promotable two plus levels.
Kevin Lawrence 17:03
Yeah. And so just to clarify, by the way, that’s top 10% of the people outside of your company, you ideally want way more than 10%. In this particular, yeah, in the market, in the market, yes, in this category. So these highly promotable people, these are the people that you know, you want to invest in and help them grow, but just sometimes we’re so enamoured with them, is that we over promote them. And then we create a problem. And it’s very, very hard for all of our egos awesome, myself and yourself included abroad, is that when you get to that higher level, to then go from being the VP to being not being the director, or from being the manager back to being the technician, whatever it happens to be. And, and that would go into our next piece of how do we assess where they’re at, relates into promotions as well. And that’s, you know, the the best technique ever, to one, see where they stand. And also to see if if the promotable type that they’re ready for the next role is give them some projects that are consistent with the next role and see how they do. So I’ll give you an example. We were working on succession for a CEO, I was working with a group in the Middle East. And we had two candidates that were currently had the potential to be the backup plan, and succession plan for the CEO. We had conversations about it, the CEO, we talked about it, the chairman talked about it. And as a result, we went and gave some additional projects with the CEO, I did a little bit of coaching with some minor, just helping them to settle their goals of what they were going to do, including feedback from the CEO, their boss, gave them both projects to help with their growth towards that CEO role. Knowing that could be five or 10 years in the future, but we were still just, you know, laying groundwork for them to get there. And then after a couple of quarters, it was really clear there was only one contender because and you never know who it’s going to be. But they were both given opportunities to grow in their respective roles. One went click click, click and just rose up, moved up, you know, two or three notches in their role in nine months. Yep. The other one actually didn’t move a bit. And there was one key thing that other executive needs to do. He just couldn’t couldn’t make it happen, which is okay. He’s he was thriving in his role. Yeah, but But we knew for sure, at that moment, there was only one contender.
Brad Giles 19:34
Yeah, for sure. And so at every quarterly and annual offset that we facilitate, and hopefully people participate in, one of the outcomes of that is what are the top three to five priorities, or OKRs for each individual in the next 90 days? Yeah. And so that is, that is really what you’re alluding to, I think, is that give them help them to take on priorities, projects within that arena that are going to challenge them, or give them a taste of the next level, see how they perform. And then in a, in a non overt way gives you the opportunity to really try before you buy.
Kevin Lawrence 20:23
Yes. So if if you’ve got an executive, for example, that is, you know, you’re not sure they’re going to do really well in dealing with a lot of conflict when it comes to dealing with your vendors, right, maybe negotiations or conflict, well, get them on the team that doesn’t negotiation, and the next time and give them a roll and see how they do. Yeah, like if in doubt, test it out. And that’s what we should be doing, deeper and use a top rating scorecard, evaluate them against it, and see where they stand on different competencies. That’s the ultimate. But the simple practice is just test it. And in many ways, it’s a test drive for them to try it and see how they like it. Because a lot of people are motivated and want the big title or the big job. But many people aren’t suited for the work. So sometimes we can evaluate that sometimes we just got to give them a chance to show us and or themselves, and see how they like it, for example, or one executive, we’re working with it, you know, the dealing with conflict is something that we haven’t seen a good enough strength on that the person still thinks they can do it. It’s not likely, but we’re gonna put them in situations that have high conflict, and get them to resolve it and see how they do at resolving it. And then see how they enjoy having that being 20% of their job.
Brad Giles 21:46
Yeah, I’ve got another similar situation where there’s a leadership team member. And we really need this leadership team member to step up to the next level. But this individual has problems delegating, so they’re taking it all on, and they haven’t been able to hire below them to give them the bandwidth. And, and so yeah, we’re in a bit of a quandary. Now it’s like, has this person reached their ceiling? And if they have, then we need to deal with it. But where we’re, you know, we’re working on the priorities or the projects that we’re giving them to see, is it a structural issue? Is it an issue where they can’t find the time because of some other reason, we’re giving them every benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, but we’re trying to figure out what’s really going on here.
Kevin Lawrence 22:40
And you unpack all the variables that when I when I told you about the two executives in the Middle East, and one of them was a delegation project? Yes, it handover this part of your role to someone else, so that you can move and focus on this other part. And they weren’t. That is an example.
Kevin Lawrence 23:06
So we’re talking about is the four types A players, right, the first one is a toxic A, that’s the high performing jerk, that is challenging, because they’re off culture. And although they do great results that create a lot of drama. Those aren’t ones we want to keep around. Those are the ones we need to deal with me to give him a chance to step up and fit the culture. But usually they don’t, and they won’t, but still gonna try and if not, you know, find help them find a new home somewhere else where they can be a better fit.
Brad Giles 23:36
Yeah. And so that I too, can move up one level the aid to the promotable, you can look at them in a row, and you think, yeah, I can definitely see them at the next level, not today. But I can see kind of a bit of a path to get them there. But probably not too much further than that, at least in the foreseeable future, I can’t really see that. Whereas the fourth type that I three, you can see they’re just blazing a trail and a trail of success. They are taking something on the executing it amazing. And you can see if they took on the next level, they would nail that. And you can just see they can just keep on stacking on on those wins. At least people are a little bit like a horse with a horn, as I say to my daughter, which she calls a unicorn. But they’re not that rare, but they’re really are quite rare. But knowing that you’ve got one is really, it’s good to know. And it’s good to be able to tailor the work set to them.
Kevin Lawrence 24:44
We skipped over the a one and a one is a great fit for the job as is. They don’t know. They don’t want to or they’re not capable of being promoted to the next level. But they could be excellent at that job for the next decade or two. The key thing we wrapped up with is you just want to test them in, to test them to calibrate to see which category they’re in, whether they say they want to grow, whether they say they want to move up or not. You can give them projects and see how they handle it because they might not know until they actually do it themselves.
So this is the Growth Whisperers – thanks for listening. You know, Brad and I both have newsletters, which you can find on our websites. For the YouTube version, go to youtube.com If you have any requests for the show, you can also send a note to either of us, but to reach Brad and his newsletter evolution partners.com.au and myself Kevin Lawrence at Lawrence and co.com. So there you have it. A player’s four different types, three that really count in a positive sense. Anyways, we wish you well with that. Have an excellent weekend. We’ll see you next week.