The Next Steps for A, B, and C Players

What’s good about CMI’s A, B, C system of ranking employees is that the issues are on the table, and managers can act accordingly.

A Plan for C Players

Once an employee has been identified as a C Player, there can be three resolutions:

1. He/She can be put into a new role, where his/her skill set might allow him/her to become a B Player. For example, the Engineering Manager for a company I worked with was, at best, marginal in his position. He was moved from having direct reports into being part of the sales team. Since then, company sales grew dramatically, and new customers are better cared for. With an open mind and strong knowledge of an employee’s strengths, placing an employee in a new role can greatly improve outcomes.

2. The Manager can take the employee on for development and coach him/her into becoming a B Player. At this point, the employee understands that his/her job is on the line, and the Manager clearly outlines the required behavioral changes. For the next few months, the Manager coaches and supports the employee. Turnarounds can happen.

3. It might be decided that the only alternative is to move on and replace the employee. The decision then is how to proceed in an ethical and honorable manner. A question I ask is: “Does the employee know that his or her job is on the line?” Managers often hem and haw and say they “think so” or that the employee “should know.” The standard I set is higher: “Did you say to the employee that these performance issues need to be addressed and if they are not, he or she will be let go?” If the issues are not on the table with the employee, the first order of business is to put them there. Surprising an employee about performance issues is unethical. After an employee is aware of the gravity of the situation, the Manager should have two months to resolve the issue one way or another. A time constraint is important in order to establish urgency.

Getting Clear
Sometimes a company’s leadership team designates a C Player as a “sacred cow.” There has been a decision to tolerate the employee’s mediocrity. I have seen this phenomenon primarily with older workers who have a long-standing history with the company and who have been real contributors in the past. Now, for whatever reason — sometimes it is technical, sometimes it is age — the employee is not able to contribute at a higher level, but sacred-cow status remains. The employee may be coached, but it is understood that even if the employee remains a C Player, he or she will retain employment with the company. In these rare cases, you do the best you can with the employee on a daily basis. The situation should be moderated and reviewed at least once a year.

Do Not Leave the B Players Alone
B Players are incredibly valuable. They deserve training, development and rewards. Do not take them for granted or assume that they will necessarily remain B’s. Treat them as a real resource. Check in with them regarding their aspirations and what they want to accomplish. Find a way to help them grow in their role.

Take Ralph, a Manufacturing Manager, for example. He was a very loyal and dedicated employee that absolutely contributed to and embodied the culture. He successfully managed his seven productive direct reports. However, he was not going anywhere else in the organization due to education, knowledge, and analytical skill limitations. Ralph preformed his job quite well and was appreciated for his overall contribution to the organization. Ralph was the epitome of a solid B player.

In order to enhance his role in the organization, the leadership group appointed him head of the Safety Committee. While others, mainly the HR Manager and Vice President of Manufacturing needed to support Ralph in this role, it worked. The Safety Committee under Ralph’s leadership, made real progress. The company received a safety award and other companies are emulating their approach. Ralph is quite proud of what the committee accomplished. He has also been asked to coach and be a resource for safety programs in other organizations. Ralph found this role to be an exciting use of his talents. He is a great example of how to take care of and developing your B players

Coming Up Short
Another positive feature of the A, B, and C process is that it can be used to identify A Players. Once an A Player is identified, the manager should consider creating a training and development program to be laid out in a subsequent meeting with this employee. On the other hand, if the ABC process reveals an absence of A Players, that issue must be addressed as well. A common solution is to start intentionally hiring only potential A Players and thus developing some real managerial growth potential within the company.