How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
A-, B- and C-jobs
The people in an organization are often divided into three categories: A-, B- and C-players, where A-players are the high-achieving stars, the B-players are the solid, good-enough middle team and the C-players are the very limited bottom-end.
An old saying is that 'too many cooks spoil the broth'. Likewise, many companies have strong strategies for A-players, rewarding them well and getting rid of the mediocre ones. 'Successful' companies can thus become top-heavy in A players and wannabe A players, with too few B- and C-players to get the detail of the job done.
However, this puts the horse before the cart, as not all jobs need A-players. Putting an A-player into a B-job in is just gilding the lily, as is putting a B-player into a C job. Putting good people into lower jobs also demeans and bores them and they are less likely to stay there.
HR managers often value people based on skill, but an economist would value them based on the value that the person actually creates for the organization.
A-players are expensive and rare. They take time, money and effort to find and also often to keep, as they are the target of headhunters and often known their own value. B-players are not always that cheap either and need sound management.
Rather than start with seeking A-players all round, it is better to start by finding and defining the A-jobs that need the A-players most. Likewise, B-jobs should be matched to B players and C-jobs to C players.
A-jobs are strategic and difficult, with the person making autonomous decisions. They create value by substantially increasing profit and lose it by missing opportunities that may not be obvious.
These positions are difficult to define in what must be done, and so are more based on required outcomes or outputs and with a great deal of leeway in how these are achieved.
Mistakes here are costly, so put effort into hiring the right person with the right skills. Finding the right person for A-jobs is not easy and typically the services of a head-hunter are required.
Reward the A person by achievement of performance and the actual value that they create, for example in bonuses linked to delivery of challenging goals.
B-jobs require intelligence and knowledge, but do not have the higher risk elements of A-jobs. They are typically well-defined, for example by professional standards and company processes, and may well be in support of strategic A-work.
Mistakes in B-jobs can easily be costly and destroy value. They thus require specific skills and need a reasonable amount of supervision, although a better B-player will seldom make serious mistakes.
Finding B-players is relatively easy, which means if they leave or are fired, replacing them is not difficult and they can typically be sourced through advertising in professional journals, scanning job websites or from specialist agencies.
Reward the B-player with a competitive salary that may be defined by market surveys. Depending on supply and demand, this may be higher or lower. Popular B-jobs, for example in the media, may well be paid substantially lower than less attractive jobs, for example in engineering.
C-jobs still require intelligence and skills, but at a much lower level. The work is likely to be defined by very specific processes and there is very little discretion in the work.
The risk in C-jobs is relatively low and mistakes are easily contained. but they often still need quite close supervision. The supervision task, however, it itself not difficult and can easily
C-players are generally plentiful and easy to hire and fire. Recruit them via adverts in local papers or from local agencies. Pay them the market rate.
Mark A. Huselid, Richard W. Beatty and Brian E. Becker, A-players or A-positions? The strategic logic of workforce management, Harvard Business Review, Dec 2005