Podcast Episode 88 – The Hidden Cost of Not Having a Team of All A-Players

Most organizations care about increasing performance, but they may not have enough people who are high performers to make it happen. In this episode of the Growth Whisperers podcast, Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence dig into understanding clearly what an A-Player is, and the cost of not recruiting, developing and retaining enough A-Players.

Bringing high performers to the team can seem elusive, or too expensive – but instead, it’s actually more expensive NOT to have A-Players. Brad and Kevin discuss five key factors that make up the costs to your business of not filling your team with A-Players.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Welcome to the Growth Whisperers podcast where everything we talk about is building enduring great companies. Because that’s what Brad and I are passionate about. That’s what we spend our days doing. And that’s what we take a lot of pride in being a part of. I’m Kevin Lawrence. I’m here today, as always, with Brad Giles, my wonderful partner down in Australia, Brad, how’s it going?

Brad Giles  00:36

Excellent. Lovely. Today, thank you. Lovely. It’s warming up for summer. And that’s a nice place to be.

Kevin Lawrence  00:42

Well, I’m, I’m warming up for summer-ish, because I’m down in Palm Springs, California for this recording of this episode, even though it’s cold for them. It’s warm for us compared to what it’s like up in Canada. So let’s jump right in Brad, what’s your word of the day?

Brad Giles  00:58

Don’t be afraid to Go Big. The reason being I had a client. And about five years ago, we set a goal. And it was certainly audacious, and it met all of the criteria. And then I will tell you the last two weeks, they made a very large acquisition. And this means that they’re going to achieve their BHAG. And so the CEO emailed me and said, We’re gonna hit our BHAG five years early. So we were delighted. What about yours, Kevin?

Kevin Lawrence  01:37

Mine is everyone has a story. And over the weekend, you know, got to know some sort of extended family of someone I know and, and having the time to sit and ask questions and hear people’s life stories, what they’ve been through what they’ve experienced what they did for their work, their unique insights into the world. Everyone’s got a story, if you’ve got time to sit and with them and the desire to hear it. And it’s just fascinating. I just love hearing people’s stories and experiences.

Kevin Lawrence  02:26

So for today’s show, what are we going to talk about?

Brad Giles  02:35

It’s the hidden cost of not having a team of all A-players. So maybe I’ll start by just saying how this came about. One of the teams that I work with, were approached about a potential acquisition. And we had a discussion about the quality of the leadership team, because the quality of the potential Acquisition was second to none, they were absolutely impressive. And the person who is my client who I work with, they had a look around the room. And they were, you know, in a very different league, let’s just say. And so we had a bit of a frank conversation about the quality of the leadership team and the impact that that is having on them. The impact is serious, and what is their B hag? And are they trying to achieve it? And are they going to be able to achieve it with the people that they’ve got, now that they’ve experienced, been in the room with a team of a players?

Kevin Lawrence  03:54

Yeah, and it’s interesting, I am in Palm Springs. And as of tomorrow morning, I’ll be meeting with one of my clients from the US. And they have a team of almost all A players, and the whole organization, and they’re a solid organization, you know, more than 500 employees. And I’ll find out tomorrow the current stats, but last we checked, it was over 60% of the whole organization was A-players. And the results they’re getting even through COVID are astonishing, spectacular. I think in most organizations have based on the measures we used about 25 to 30% Maximum A-players because most organizations are you know, they care about performance, but they have a lot of people who just aren’t outstanding. And so we’re gonna dig into today is this thing of understanding clearly what a player is, which we’ll define a bit further in a moment. But what is the cost if your team isn’t all A players and we’re talking about your direct team? So for example, in this organization, I’m with this CEO that I meeting with the team His direct team is all a player’s. Yeah, and almost all of the people in that next layer are. But the whole organization is again, well, north of 60% of all the 500 plus people. So let’s, let’s define the difference between an A. and A. And by the way, this is something you know, I know, Brad, yourself and myself, I spend a lot of time on this with all of the companies we work with, because it’s really about getting amazing people into those key roles or their or their was important jobs. Yeah. And obviously, anyone that reports the CEO, or is one layer away from the CEO is a pretty darn critical proof no matter what is going to be a critical role.

Brad Giles  05:40

Yeah, so the word A-player gets bandied around a bit. But really, really simply, we use the method of top grading, and we would advocate imagine a simple 2 x 2  matrix. On the one hand, on the vertical axis, you’ve got core values. And on the horizontal axis, you’ve got productivity or performance in the role. And then in the top right corner, you have a players. So then the people, as you move left to the top left corner, you would have a B player.

Kevin Lawrence  06:24

So fits that fits the culture and core values. Yes, but the results are iffy. There might be not consistent. And they’re pretty good, too good.

Brad Giles  06:37

Yeah. So I want to hang out with them. They’re fun to chat to. But they don’t necessarily always produce the results that the company needs relative to their role, their product, you know, they don’t really, their productivity isn’t as good as it could be less than 50%, let’s say. And then below them, we’ve got what we call the C players. So they are low on culture, and core values. And equally, they’re low on productivity. And then obviously, to the right of that, we’ve got what we would call what some people would call B C’s, but we would call toxic A’s.

Kevin Lawrence  07:21

And those toxic A’s are people who get excellent results, they get outstanding results consistently. They’re just a nightmare for everyone they have to work with, or a lot of people they have to work with, they create a lot of drama, and they create a lot of friction in the business. They’re often the hardest people to remove, because they are so darn productive and very good at what they do. Unfortunately, it just comes with the price for the organization. So when we’re saying those A players in the top right, there are at least an 85 to 90% fit. Brad, you’re good there in a very expressive face. There another has for those of you that are that aren’t watching the video, Brad’s face just opened up like a kid on Christmas morning. It was awesome.

So there was in terms of, of a players were like, We’re someone it’s an eight, like an A student. You know, in Canada, it starts at 85%. I believe in us, it’s 90. But it’s, you know, 85%, or better fit on culture, ideally, 90 again, and in terms of performance, you know, they’re in that top 10% of all of the performers. And they consistently deliver excellent results, and they are a delight to work with. You know, you’ve got someone who’s an A player on your team, when you’re so excited to work with them, you feel honored that they’re on your team, and you would hate the thought of losing them, not just because you have to replace them because they’re so darn good at their job. So that’s the a player. Again, toxic a player is someone that is darn good at their job that is driving me crazy. or and or other people crazy in New York.

Brad Giles  09:03

So within a player’s there’s actually four different types that we’re going to talk about next week. But this week, we’re talking about the cost and again, born of this stark realization for this team that I work with when they actually saw what it’s like to be surrounded by a players. So what are the costs?  Well, first of all, if you aren’t surrounded by a players in your team, he creates more work for you. Yes, more work. They’re unable they are unable to take on tasks they’re unable to, to confidently execute tasks and you can’t really push them to the next layer. You can’t really push them to two execute the things that the company so desperately needs, or the team desperately needs, because you just don’t have that confidence in know that they’re not going to be able to do or they’re going to create mayhem perhaps.

Kevin Lawrence  10:15

So said, another way is you have to manage down, you have to be more involved than you would ideally like to because the, you can’t trust that the job is going to get done as expected, whether it’s that if it’s a toxic A, that they’re going to, you know, frustrate people and you have to stay involved to manage the conflict of the drama, or for the be that they’re going to get it done on time, or on quality, or on budget or on whatever it happens to be somehow, you need to basically it’s like a little bit of babysitting, you got to be involved. Like like it’s a seven year old child, versus if it’s a 28 year old child or 27 year old child, right, yeah, very different amount of time and energy. And it sucks up a lot. In some people. Interestingly, they’re so used to being involved. Sometimes they might do micromanagers themselves, but somehow they’re so used to being involved didn’t even notice it. And when they work with an A player, they’re shocked. Because there’s actually not a lot to do with an A player at all, just a little bit of guidance.

Brad Giles  11:17

And that’s fascinating that you say that, because for this particular client that I’m talking about, one of the biggest problems they’ve got is they are just having to take everything on. And one of the reasons they were willing to talk about acquisition was that they couldn’t see, they couldn’t see, imagine a future where they wouldn’t have to take all of the responsibility.

Kevin Lawrence  11:42

When we talk to entrepreneurs, and they’re fed up and frustrated and wanting to sell their business, most of the time, most of the time is because their team is driving them crazy. Because they don’t have a team that is 100% a player’s for sure. So look at it basically nothing of a team at all, it’s gonna take a lot more energy than doing your real CEO job. And by the way, how do you know if this is true? You’re focused a lot on short term day to day stuff. Yeah. Now, little caveat here. It could be you and your own bad habits of how you’re leading. It could be it might not just be the team. So when we start with companies, we try to unpack that we try to unpack Could it be that the CEO is involved too much? Are the leaders involved too much? And the team maybe has more capability? Or is it you know, the team effectiveness? And the answer often is usually a little bit of both.

Brad Giles  12:44

And you can, you know, there’s a very good chance that you can work through those habits, like this is not something that’s often insurmountable if one is coachable, but you can overcome that, this is a solvable problem is my point.

Kevin Lawrence  12:59

It is yeah, so that’s point number one, it makes notably more work for you. And again, you can take that concept of it’s like having a seven year old child or a 27 year old child, they both take different amounts of energy, notably different second one is is less achievement for the company. Because A-players use less resources to get the job done, period. They’re creative, and they find ways to efficiently get things done. Where others whether it’s toxic a creates a drain on your organization other ways or a B or a C, they just like they get less results, less results per pound, right less results for dollar so your organization can’t achieve is because the team actually isn’t as strong Remember, a player is the top 10% of talent available at the salary you are paying it’s not that they cost more you’ve got someone so here that’s making 85,000 a year who was a bee and he got so and so here this making 85,000 a year who’s in a same compensation but the A and doing a visual on screen and holding my hands up. But the A gets normally better results per dollar or results per pound whatever you want to look at it. Never mind the work you have to do just the net impact or value added into the company is notably different.

Brad Giles  14:24

The visual representation was good, but the words did it justice there was no there was nothing that you missed. So imagine that you are at an off site, annual or quarterly workshop. And what you’re doing is setting the priorities and the strategy for the coming 90 days or a year. And you look around and you just can’t give any big projects to the people who are on the team. You can’t. Let’s say that you’re going to implement a new CRM or a new Counting package, or you’re gonna start in a new geography or something that’s quite chunky? Well, if you look around the team, and you can’t readily hand over big projects to them with absolute confidence, there’ll be only a little bit of guidance on your part, then, you know, this is how it translates into less achievement for the company. Because if everyone can’t take on a big project, if most people can’t take on a big project and confidently execute it, overall, the aggregate is that you take on less big projects.

Kevin Lawrence  15:39

I’ll give an example. You know, one of the companies that I was working with this was back last year. And I’ll generalize a story to protect the nice people that we work with. There was one executive in a company who wasn’t an A player by any stretch that, you know, would have been a low B player. Yeah, like a low performing B. And that was, yeah. They weren’t highly effective. And they weren’t an expert at the project that they were driving. So as a result, the project took way longer, took way more time than it should, because it’s almost like, it’s like getting a three year old to go and paint your house. Yeah, they’re going to use more paint and take more time, and then you’re going to have to still fix it anyways. And that’s what this was like. And again, not for lack of desire, just not they didn’t have capability. And it was so cumbersome, and complicated. And the output was okay, we needed a bit of cleanup, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t great. And but for the amount of energy it consumed, it was almost a crime. Because they just they didn’t know what they were doing. And they just made one three year old paint your house. Yeah, that’s, that’s what it was like, that’s what happens. And as a result, it slows down the whole organization, and it makes it harder, because you just burn more resources to get the same thing.

Brad Giles  17:18

So yeah, you’re gonna achieve less as a company. So let’s move on to the next one. There’s more stress for the whole team, there’s more stress. Why? Because team of a players who are aligned and heading in the same direction, there’s very little points of friction. But when you’ve got a B players who aren’t as productive, C players who both aren’t as productive, and don’t align with the values and toxic A’s who don’t align with the values, and those people are all doing their different kind of thing, all of those little points of misunderstanding, they compound, and they add up. And that creates more stress for the team. So even if you’ve got one C player, I’ve, I’ve seen a team with one C player that was just cataclysmic, like, yeah, it was just terrible. Nobody wanted to talk to this person, or sit next to them. And they would avoid them actively. And this is a leadership team of, I don’t know, $30 million business. And no one wanted to talk to this individual, no one wanted to go near them for, let’s just say several years,

Kevin Lawrence  18:39

We had one in a company that I worked with where there was, we’ll call it a very low B, probably a C player. Yeah. And I remember one of the other it was the executive and some of the senior leaders. So like, 15 people in the room, one of the executives was so frustrated with this person, he’s like, You know what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna put you up there and we’re gonna put you up there in a hot air balloon. And then we’re gonna shoot you down.

Brad Giles  19:06

It’s a bit harsh.

Kevin Lawrence  19:07

It was a bit hard, but it’s some of this guy was such a misfit in the company. It was incredible. And, and the whole team was just had enough of it. And so the best metaphor to think about this is it’s like in a relay race. Right? If you’re, if you’re doing a relay race, and you’ve got one person that can barely run, and definitely cannot pass the baton to somebody else. That creates a lot of stress for the team, because it screws up the whole team. And you’ve got these people who they might not be the fastest in the world, but they can run decently and they can pass the damn baton. But this person can’t do that. Yeah. And as a result, they get frustrated because they don’t when they get frustrated the other person and that’s obviously bad for the person that’s the weak player on the team. Because they don’t feel good about not being able to, you know, grab the baton or hand the baton off. properly. And so the whole team pays a price for that. And it’s, it’s even worse, if you have a toxic A, that’s just assuming a B player who’s trying to do the right things in that in that in that relay race example. But if you’ve got a toxic a, they just bring in all kinds of other junk. I mean, and by the way, you know, you’ve got a toxic a, when people threatened to or talk about or actually quit because of them. Because they’re just such a nightmare. And, you know, a force to be reckoned with. And if they’ve stayed for a long time, they generally have some sort of power, or relationship with the CEO are the right thing that is to be able to stay there. Because if they were, you know, that kind of bad behavior, and so you just, there’s some other quirky, dynamic, or weird dynamic that has that person being able to keep their role as well.

Brad Giles  20:50

But here’s the thing. If you’re listening to this, and you have identified, perhaps in your team, someone who isn’t an A player of whatever flavor, your inaction is preventing them going to be an A player at another organization. So most of the time, it’s the fit, that is the problem. And this person can go to find another job where they’ll be really happy, because most of the time C players or toxic guys aren’t happy, where they’ll be really happy, they’ll be a really good fit, and they will be an A player in that organization. It’s just that this individual can’t be an n a player in your organization.

Kevin Lawrence  21:36

And the other piece of other sounds that came to my mind, Brad, is you’re talking about that? Oh, yeah. And if you keep a B player, or even worse, a toxic a player on the team, you are endorsing them, your culture is not what you say it is the culture is demonstrated through your actions. So if you got a toxic jerk on your team, and you let them stay there, oh, being a toxic jerk is actually okay. Actually, the CEO subconscious, or sometimes, it seemed like the CEO was okay with it or endorses it.

Brad Giles  22:13

Well, people say, Why is this person not taking action? Correct? Why? You know, so in actual fact, you, the toxic, a, may be performing terribly, they may no one want my wants to talk to them. But it actually impacts the leadership much, much worse, because it’s the inaction about that, that undermines the leader, and actually can be so much more detrimental for the leaders because of their inaction. So, yep, we could do a whole episode.

Kevin Lawrence  22:46

Basically, number one more work for you. Number two, less achievement for the company number three more stress for the whole darn team. And on number four, when you don’t have a players, you got to fix a lot more mistakes. A players get the job done, right. So you’re gonna have more mistakes to fix. Now, whether it’s relational issues, service issues, quality issues, and it’s not that a players don’t make mistakes, but when they do, they generally fix them themselves, quite quickly. You don’t have to get involved fixing those. And I’ve, I’ve seen with a couple of toxic gays like toxic jerks, and often, some of these toxic gays are very aggressive. And sometimes it’s because they’re trying to hide stuff. And I’ve seen a number of people who were taking the ripping the company off. Yeah, we had this one guy, and he was the one guy I remember it was, um, I won’t name the country, but I remember having a meeting with him. And, and he was being so rude to some of the people and aggressive. And I just came up to him and I got in his face that hey, we don’t do that here. Now the CEO wasn’t in the meeting, I was running the meeting on the CEOs behalf. CEO wasn’t there. And I like we don’t do that there. i All I know is I started to wash his hands because I thought he might take a swing at me. And although I was ready, I was just gonna, if he hit me, it would have been a bad scene. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But the point of it is, is we found out I was on this guy because he was arrogant. He was all kinds of things the company wasn’t. In the end, we found out that he was embezzling or doing some funky transactions in a way that millions of dollars went a direction that they shouldn’t have. And, you know, it’s not shocking. I’m not saying a players are crooks. I’m just saying that sometimes there’s these people that are up to all kinds of weird stuff. And nice people can do it too. So I’m not saying that’s always the case. But the point of it is, is that there’s a lot of mistakes and messes from either their relationship issues if they’re toxic or their incompetence or mediocrity.

Brad Giles  24:57

Well it’s quite possible that what you’re saying as a leader, and the team is the the top of the iceberg, that then under the surface, there’s a lot more mistakes and problems that you’re just not aware of, because of a whole range of reasons. So, yeah, there are definitely more mistakes. And ultimately, they’re coming back to you in some form or another to sort out. So that’s definitely a cost. But then we’ve got a bonus one. There’s a bonus. So if this is our four, okay, more work for you less achievement for the company, more stress for the whole team, and then more mistakes for you to resolve. But then the bonus is that if you’ve got bees in your team, or even C’s, and if they’ve got anything to do with hiring these higher, low B’s, and C’s, right, so you’re not going to have a B player on the team who’s going to hire an A player. So your maintenance, you’re maintaining a team that has people who aren’t a player’s actually compounds downward in a negative loop. Like, the more b’s you get, the more low B’s and C’s you get, and it just continues to spiral downwards.

Kevin Lawrence  26:21

And people genuinely weak, not so good people generally hire weak not so good people who generally hire weak not so good, right? Yeah, it’s it takes a confident person to hire someone more capable than them. Yep. And a lot of these B players are smart, they know that they’re not, they’re not performing at a spectacular level. And so many of them are intimidated by people who would be because make them look bad. And I don’t fail, I don’t blame them for that. There’s an element of self preservation that people have, and that’s understandable.

Brad Giles  26:49

But if you drop an A player into a team of B’s, and C’s, there’s two things that’s going to happen, they’re either going to drop down to the level of the B’s, and C’s, or they’re going to be out of there quickly, because they’re going to look around and say, I’m not at the same caliber of these people, right? I’m in a different level, I’m out of here, like, I want to be in a winning team.

Kevin Lawrence  27:12

Or they’re gonna come and tell you, this is not good, and they’re gonna be frustrated with their teammates. And if you don’t fix it, then they probably at some point, I have no choice but to leave. Yeah. You know, people, high performers want to work with high performers. So you had to summarize that up, is that there’s, you know, lower be performers or be performers hire people like them or less, they don’t generally hire people better. You know, and if someone is performing at a 78% level, they’re less likely to hire someone who’s going to perform at 110% level. Yeah, it’s just it’s and there’s always exceptions. So let’s kind of summarize these. So number one is, you know, top five reasons why he gotta have a team for a players because if not, it creates more work for you. There will be less results or achievement for the company, because resources are getting wasted and squandered. It just takes more energy to get stuff done. More stress for the whole team, because they’re on a team with people who aren’t all really strong at their roles. More mistakes for you to resolve. And then the kicker of the bonus one, and I love that. One is that those B players can tend to hire lower B’s, or C’s. And even if they want to subconsciously they they have, they’re less likely to be hiring ace.

Brad Giles  28:27

And that’s a cost that you might not have factored in to your inaction around people who aren’t performing. Awesome. What a good chat, something that, you know, certainly we’re passionate about, because we’ve seen it played out so many times over time. So interesting, quick point. This was about the hidden cost of not having a team of a player’s and then next week, we’re going to be talking about the four different types of a player’s so be sure to look out for that episode, Episode 89 Next week. And as another quick note, Kevin, and I both produce a newsletter each week. So you can go to our websites to subscribe for that. And there’s various updates and blogs and stuff that’s in there. So Kevin, you can find at Lawrence and co.com and myself, you can find it evolution partners.com.au good chat today care. And thanks for listening everyone. This has been the Growth Whisperers Podcast. I’m Brad and Kevin is my partner in crime here. For the video vision, you can go to YouTube as well and find us talking on there. So good to chat. Have yourselves a great week. Look forward to chatting with you again.