How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
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.
Many companies, however, put too much emphasis on their star A-players. This leads to battles and dissatisfaction amongst A-players and devalued and dejected B-players, who may leave or give less than they could.
A-players are high delivery but also high maintenance. They often have big egos that need regular massaging and big pockets that need filling with money. If you pay them well and treat them well, they will deliver enormously for you.
On the other hand, B-players are more modest, with less expectations and with a greater need for work-life balance. The do seek advancement, but not at all costs. They are often more flexible than A-players, and will adapt to changes (rather than having to be driving the change).
A good B-player is a solid worker who delivers regularly and steadily. They just quietly get on with things whilst the A-players are getting all the glory. Although they may grumble at this, they do not mind too much and are more concerned with keeping their jobs than earning high bonuses in high risk positions.
DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan (2003) identified four types of B-player:
1. Recovered A-players
A-players sometimes burn out or otherwise down-shift to a lower stress position, for example when they get married, settle down and have children, or when they get older, more financially stable and less driven by the potential of rewards.
Their position as ex-A-players means that they understand the A-player mind and are hence good at working with current A-players. They may still have the mobility of A-players and can be sent to handle distant issues.
Their ex-A-player status means that they have higher expectations than other B-players and may well need to be handled carefully, not the least because they may still have friends in high places and could cause political problems if they so choose.
2. Truth tellers
The 'truth teller' B-player are often experts in their own fields and can be relied upon to provide deep analyses and sound opinions on topics in their own domain.
They may also have strong values and morals in terms of being honest and telling the truth as they see it, and be strongly critical of people who 'bullshit'. They may lack tact and hence might need control in where they are directed.
They are often trusted as much for the fact that they are not ambitious than their expertize. When you know that another person has nothing to gain by saying what they do, then you will value their opinion more highly.
3. Goto people
'Goto people' are those who, guess what, other go to when they have need for particular knowledge and skills. The goto person knows how things work, either through long experience or deep study or a combination of both.
They are often walking encyclopedias and enjoy acting as expert reference points for others in the organization.
Goto people may also be valued by what they can do. Their knowledge may be of how the organization works and their extensive networks means that they can get things done when others might fail.
Limitations that they have may be tolerated in view of their unique abilities, and sometimes they enjoy being different, for example in their dress or speech. Effectively they are saying 'I am so valuable, I don't need to conform'. And they are usually right.
4. Middling people
Finally, the 'middling' people are the solid team players who get on with the job, whatever it might be. You will hear very little from them as they are low maintenance
They are generally risk-averse and will need encouragement to go along with changes and do anything outside of their normal work sphere.
They are not as competent as other B-players, but they are at least highly motivated and very loyal. Treated well, they will deliver sound value year in and year out.
To manage B-players, first accept that they are different from A-players and that they respond better to individual treatment.
A-players thrive on high-stress and high loads of work. B-players can step up to the plate when workloads increase, but they cannot sustain this, so generally design the job to give them the work-life balance they seek.
B-players are people too and like positive attention as much as the next person, so do give them your attention and show that you value what they do. Show them how they fit into the bigger picture and how they are adding much-needed value.
They are often well-qualified professionals and do not need to be treated like children, but do need to be treated like responsible adults. Reward them for their work and otherwise make them feel valued. Give them responsibility and choices.
Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan, Let's hear it for the B players, Harvard Business Review, June 2003
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