Increase the Performance of your Crew by Loading it with A-Players

You can't solve a recruiting problem with a coaching solution.

If you take leadership and the coaching of employees seriously, you have probably spent time trying to turn mediocre performers into A-players.  I want to tell you from experience that this rarely works, and encourage you to take another path. 

Instead of devoting your time to trying to turn mediocre performers into top performers, start developing your own "farm team" of potential new A-Player employees.  You will find that having a pipeline of strong job candidates not only provides you with strong new hires, it also gives you and your staff the confidence that you need to confront poor performance, set clear standards for improvement, and fire people if you have to.

Broadly speaking, you can separate your employees into three categories:

A-players:  These are your star employees.   They execute and get great results.  Typically, these people are also effective leaders.  They are good pacesetters and influence others to do better work. A-players are highly promotable.  They have a future with your business.  You can build your business on the shoulders of these people.

B-players:  These are good performers who often have the potential to be A-players.  They are young and/or inexperienced, but with strong leadership and coaching they have the potential to become big contributors for your business.  Interestingly, one of the keys to tapping into the potential of these people is to have them work with your A-players.  If you have strong employees who are good role models, your B-players will follow them.  Alternatively, without good models your B-players will stagnate or fall into bad habits.  They need great models as well as goals and accountability to become A-players.

B-players can also be "solid citizens;" good employees with more limited abilities.  They have specific roles where they do great, but you cannot promote them into a leadership role, for instance.  Every business has a place for these employees.  As long as you challenge them to excel within their areas of competence, they play an important role for your business

C-players:  C-players are the employees you don't fire because you have not done an effective job of finding, recruiting, and hiring more A-players.  You think their performance is their fault.  It's not.  It's your fault for keeping them around.

As I discuss in my book upcoming book How to Hire A-Players:  Finding the Top People for Your Team - Even if You Don't Have a Recruiting Department (on shelves in April 2010), many executives make the mistake of trying to turn C-players into A-players.  It doesn't work (trust me, I've tried).   

Instead of trying to drag poor employees to be acceptable performers, bite the bullet and spend more time finding and hiring A-players.  Here are some steps you can take to do so:

  • Interview people all the time.  The only way to find more A-players is to build interviewing into your regular schedule.
  • Create a brand that attracts A-players.  The better known your company, the more A-players will seek you out.
  • Get your managers and employees working with you to find the next A-player.  You have to create an A-player mindset within your company.
  • Recruit the team that you need; don't settle for the team you have. 
  • Invest in good leadership practices:  Your commitment to recruiting an A-player team will pay off when you lead that team well.

One of the hidden benefits of finding more A-players is that you have greater confidence to deal with the mediocre or poor performers that you currently employ. Often, executives and managers don't deal with poor performers correctly because they don't have anyone to take their places. They tolerate poor performance because having someone to do the work is better than having no one to do it. 

However, this changes once you have a couple of A-players waiting in the wings for a job at your company.  All of a sudden, you do have people to replace your poor performers.  This gives you and your managers confidence to confront poor performance, provide accountability, and if necessary terminate employees and replace them with more talented people.

If you have a vision for your company and a passion for building a great team, finding and hiring more A-players must be one of your priorities. Get committed to building a team of A-players and work at it every day.  The results after one year will blow you away.  You will have a team of people who learn quickly, take leadership, and have the talent to achieve your vision for your business.

Eric Herrenkohl is the author of the book upcoming book How to Hire A-Players (John Wiley & Sons, April 2010).  He helps small businesses build A-player teams.  To receive his free e-letter subscribe at

Additional Resources that Build on the Topics of this Article
Coaching employees
Developing your own "farm team"
Confront poor performance
Provide accountability