The credit for this month’s article goes to Don VanWinkle. Don is a management savant, master of small business finance, and generally brilliant man. I have been honored to know him as a friend, mentor and banker for more than a decade.

Don and I were having lunch a few weeks ago and one of my favorite subjects came up – Leadership. He began to tell me the story of a CEO who shared that most of his time was spent managing people. Don inquired about his method for keeping top performers, and this is his approach:

Every year (sometimes more often) I take inventory of my team. I have A Players, B Players and C Players. My job as CEO is to make sure that the A Players stay on board and are happy.

1. A Players – These are the people on your team who are leaders. They come in and are productive, smart, and have a great attitude about their work and the company. These people always have a number of career options. They are the folks who are getting recruiter calls regularly, and your competitors would pay them a bunch of cash to come on over. You can always count on them to get the job done and done well – especially when you aren’t watching. They are loyal, quick, always pushing themselves and their team to do better.
2. B Players – These are your future leaders. They are smart but have lower skill levels than your A Players. This might just be a matter of experience or number of years under their belt. They either have an outgoing, can-do positive attitude, or they might be quietly strong, a bit shy but always willing to try. These folks are loyal, eager to learn, and are the people who will stay late, take extra training courses, and bug their managers for more.
3. C Players – These are not bad people. They are good people in the wrong position or working in the wrong company. These are the folks who seem disinterested, bored, and simply can’t get the work done. No matter how you coax them, they just can’t stretch, learn, or step up. You know who I’m talking about.

Imagine a “magic quadrant.” The axes are skill and attitude. Place each of your team members into a quadrant based on their skill and attitude. In the upper right quadrant are your A Players – those people who have both a lot of talent and skill, as well as the right attitude. The upper left and lower right have B Players in them – those people who almost have it all, but need a little growth in one area. The lower left quadrant are your C Players – those people who aren’t meeting the cut in either attitude or skill based on their current position. In my experience C Players won’t become A Players in the current team, or in the current company. Your job is to move them out. You have a responsibility to continue to mentor your A Players and develop your B Players. You also are accountable for your A Players coaching and mentoring your B Players to grow them into A Players. Get your C Players off the playing field as quickly and respectfully as possible to make room for the type of players you are looking for.

The bottom line – Your A Players, although fiercely loyal, will become impatient if you let C Players stay, and may choose to leave themselves. Your B Players rely on you and your A Players to learn from and grow. Your C Players deserve the opportunity to find a company where they can become A Players.

See? Simple, sophisticated and BRILLIANT!

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