We do an exercise with all of our coaching clients enabling them to look at their staff (we also do the same or similar with them about themselves – a bit of self reflection that goes a long way).

Most businesses with staff have a mix of high performers and less high performers but they rarely take time to reflect on how those people are actually performing and how they fit in with the company culture.

This exercise takes about 10 minutes and raises a lot of important questions.

Simply fill in this matrix, putting all of your staff in the relevant box:

You assess your staff on two criteria

  1.  How well do they understand and share the values of your company?
  2. What is their functional ability – how good are they at the actual job you are paying them to do?

A Players are both good at their job and understand and share the values of your company.

B players are good at their job, but do not share or understand the values of your company.

C players share and understand the values but need to improve at their job.

D players are neither good at their job, nor do they share the values of your company. In fact, they don’t understand what those values are.

You might for example, have a salesperson who is really really good at sales, but, for example, doesn’t share your values of ethical business practice. They just want to sell no matter what they have to do to close the deal.

Or, you might have a member of staff who is totally committed to the company, really supports your values and objectives, but is not very good at their job.

This inevitably  gives rise to a whole series of questions

  1. What are the values of my business? So often we talk to people who have no idea what their values are. If they don’t, they can’t expect their staff to, So, we have to go through a process of determining the values of the company.
  2. What do we do about staff once we have asessed them? Some people say you should just bin your D players. This may well make business sense because they’re not good at their jobs, they don’t share your values, and they are almost certainly dragging your overall performance down. But we think that as a business owner you do have some duty towards your staff, so before you work out ways to remove them, ask yourself:
    1. Do they know what our values are? Have we told them and are they clear?
    2. Are they in the right job or have they for example been over or under promoted? Does the job match their skill set?
    3. What have you done to help them improve? Your main goal as a business owner is to surround yourself wtih people who are better than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. So, have you helped them, worked with them, given them support to get better at their job?
    4. What is behind their behaviour, is there something you can do to improve their working environment so that they can work better, and match your values better?

Sounds like a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but that’s the job.

As an example, I used to work for a major motor manufacturer. Every two years or so they would make all of the field team (about 60 people ) redundant, assess performance, put them through a series of tests and make them apply for a series of jobs, which were very similar to their current role but not similar enough to cause any HR issues.

As a result, the high performers got promoted, the average usually stayed in place, or perhaps given a role to which they were more suited.

The lower performers were removed. Got rid of.

Then they would recruit in the assumption that they would recruit only A players, that they had cleared out the poor performers and would replace them with better.

Sounds sensible? Sounds like a way to improve your staff? Well almost.

There were a couple of issues:

  1. Recuitment – the recruitment was like all recruitment run by most big companies: flawed. The D players were replaced with a standard mix of A B C D players. It sounds about right – remove the Ds and replace with A B C Ds for an overall improvement. But this doesn’t take into acount the loss of knowledge and experience. Some of the D players they removed were simply in the wrong post, bored, or mismanaged. Some were highly experienced and knowledgeable, just in the wrong place.
  2. The D players themselves – inevitably some really good people were lost. I watched as a regional director walked off the premises. He was a nice guy, loads of experience a great manager and his region was definitely high performing. But either his face didn’t fit, his new boss didn’t like him,or he was on the receiving end of bias and poor asessment techiniques. If your D players are so poor, how come many of them get high performing jobs with your competition? If they are so poor, how come no one has noticed up till now? I’m not saying they are all ‘not poor’ but try to be honest with your assessment and motivations.
  3. The effect on everyone else.  There is nothing as demotivational as watching collegues and teamates fighting for their own jobs. When peple say, “It’s just business, it’s not personal”  remember that getting rid of your D players, without working to improve them, is always personal. Inevitably, what happens next is that the A B and C players sit there and plan their escape. Some of them are demotivated by the whole experience and take their skills and committment elsewhere.

So as a result, after thousands of pounds of recruitment, confusion, and disorder, you tend to have a group of people who you still classify as A B C and D players (which might be why they had to reorganise every couple of years).

Always ask yourself whether you’re better off working with them to improve your team and whether you could try to get them in the right jobs with the right skills.

After all that if they don’t or won’t do the job or match your values, then look to move them on in a professional, supportive, and empathetic way.

You want team members that stop you being the smartest person in the room, so that your competitors are keen to hire them. You should develop them so they are able to get better, higher paid, more responsible jobs, and take pride in them.