Finding Value In Every Employee

In these seemingly dark economic times, tough decisions are being made in executive offices across the country: with less revenue this year than last, who gets to stay and who gets let go?

These are tough questions with no easy decisions (well, maybe a few easy decisions). The obvious answer is to keep the highest performing employees, who bring in big bucks and big clients. The folks over at Harvard Business Review, however, disagree with this approach.

Who’s most critical to your company’s success, especially during a weak economy? Who supplies the stability, knowledge, and long-term view your firm needs to survive? B players—competent, steady performers far from the limelight.

These supporting actors of the corporate world determine your company’s future performance far more than A players—volatile stars who may score the biggest revenues or clients, but who’re also the most likely to commit missteps. B players, by contrast, prize stability in their work and home lives. They seldom strive for advancement or attention—caring more about their companies‘ well-being. Infrequent job changers, they accumulate deep knowledge about company processes and history. They thus provide ballast during transitions, steadily boosting organizational resilience and performance.

Yet many executives ignore B players, beguiled by stars’ brilliance. The danger? If neglected, these dependable contributors may leave, taking the firm’s backbone with them. How to keep your B players? Recognize their value—and nurture them.

While these so-called “A players” are dreaming up the next big idea that will rocket the company to super stardom or wining and dining a major client whose business will take the company into a higher tax bracket, the B players are working diligently in their cubicles putting together presentations, managing client relationships and keeping the company running each and every day.

By sheer dollar measure, B players don’t appear to bring in as much value as an A player, but in terms of long-term value to a company, B players are the ones holding the key to the company vault so to speak. Though B players may lack the motivation or dazzle of more ambitious A players for a variety of reasons, they still provide vital production, intelligence and project management skills that if measured in hard dollars, would far surpass those of their more prominent A counterparts.

In my own experience, I’ve seen examples of B players being devalued and even let go–to the detriment of their respective employers. One solid B player, well beloved and respected by both those in his department and those outside of it, was unceremoniously fired one day for requesting that he get paid what he was worth. Apparently, management decided to value their bottom line over a quality employee with a history of good performance and working 10-hour days (with no overtime).

Another B player I know, who fits Harvard’s description to a T, is seriously job hunting after his manager refused several times to promote him citing his “lack of motivation” to take on new projects—even though this B player has the heaviest workload and manages the highest number of projects of any member of his department. Instead this player’s manager chose to commit the biggest mistake of any manager: promoting what I like to call the “F Player.”

An F (for “fake”) player is one who masquerades as an A player but in reality produces little to no value to the company. They get ahead by capitalizing on their generally excellent public speaking and persuasion skills, pulling the wool over management’s eyes as to their actual contributions. B players can always ferret out an F player, another reason why they are so valuable to have around.

During any hiring or firing deliberations, it’s important for management to remember that every company needs “worker bees.” Companies made up solely of idea men will be great at coming up with hot new products, but crippled by their inability to execute on them if they do not retain enough B players to build their products.

Michael Scott, Steve Carrell’s character on the hit show, The Office, once recited a great quote about the role of managers:

“Good managers don’t fire people. They hire people and inspire people.”

Although Michael Scott’s character is the poster-child for bad management, his message still rings true.

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3 responses »

  1. I love the notion of the “F” player.

    I wonder what to call someone who does their job diligently and quickly. They have new ideas, but are unable to convince management about any of them. They get their regular work done quickly and spend the rest of the time innovating for the company, but the innovation never seems to see the light of day.

    Or the upper management takes their ideas and does not give credit. They still work along, doing the best they can until they get dumped for someone younger.

    At the same time, they realize that they will never be an “A” player, never be an “F” player, and never even be a “B” player.

    I would call this the “.” player. The “.” because they are too small of a demographic to matter so they “don’t matter.”

  2. Pingback: Managing In Economic Tough Times « A Bottom’s Up View From a Pai Mei (白眉) Guy

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing and enjoyed it so much, I referenced it in my own blog.

    Sympathetic to the folks who toil in the corporate trenches without proper appreciation and recognition – we’ve all been there (and done that). Something to consider on this topic is that it sometimes isn’t the organization, but it’s the quality of managers. It’s often stated that people who leave companies do so because of the manager, not the company, or salary etc. I believe that’s mostly true. People find themselves putting up with a lot so long as the people they work with, and the person they report to, give satisfaction and support. In other words, a lot of little things, the so-called “soft skills” that really make a difference to employee retention and development.

    That’s not to slight HR and the OD work they try to do, but it’s not always about HR policies and programs. Simple common sense about people and what makes them tick goes a long way to making an employee feel valuable (and create a pleasant working environment).


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