In my article, The People Age, I explained the importance of People in differentiating your company and maintaining a “sustainable competitive advantage”.  In order to successfully do this you will need to build an A-TEAM of people.  You must understand what your A-TEAM should look like and begin a relentless plan of attack to achieve it.  Without an A TEAM, you cannot win!

The easiest way to determine what your A-TEAM should look like is to make a list of attributes you would expect an A Player to have.  I have done this many times with management teams and it is surprising how similar the lists are.  The average list ends up being about twenty to forty attributes.  All of these are important and should be used in your evaluations.  But go a step further and identify the Top Ten attributes which are “must haves” for excelling in your company.  As a double-check, compare your list against your Top Performers and ask yourself if this list accurately describes them.  You may notice your list is very different from your company’s Performance Review Forms.  For example, your Top Ten List most likely does not include items like “neat work area” or “punctuality”.  Performance reviews have their place, but they are more about Surviving; what we are talking about is Excelling.

Here is a sample list of attributes describing an A-TEAM:


Once you have your list, you need to begin hiring people who are A-Players.  Your Top Ten “must haves” should set the foundation for a significant part of your interview questions.  This is so important that I encourage you to write out questions and follow-up questions to specifically discuss these attributes.  Work experience is good, but is the person driven?  Can they give you examples of when their drive has attained extraordinary achievement?  Your interviews will begin to take on a completely different approach.  You are no longer looking for someone who can just do the job; you are looking for the A-Players who will make a difference.  As you may know, most people think they are A Players, so you have to dig deep in your questions for verification, check references and even use profile test to help determine if the applicant’s attributes are a match. Hiring A Players is one of your most important jobs.  There are great seminars and books to help you improve this skill.  Take advantage of them.

Before we go further, I would like to make an important distinction.  I refer to “building” A-TEAMS  not “developing” them.  Many managers are taught to believe that it is their job to take C and F-Players and develop them.  This development philosophy usually includes training, motivating, explaining responsibilities and lots of hand holding dealing with old baggage.  This is a complete waste of time!  The idea that you are going to motivate a non-motivated person or create a sense of urgency in a slow-moving person is a futile exercise in the fulfillment of your own ego.  Stop trying to fix people.  This is not your job.  You need to remove people who do not excel and hire A-Players.  It is faster and you will see how the results speak for themselves.  Wouldn’t you rather provide motivation for a motivated person?  Wow! Think about what that might produce!

I was once sitting with one of my toughest mentors, John Smye, explaining to him that I thought I could have a certain manager where he needed to be in the next six months.  He asked, if  I started  looking now  for someone who is already there, how long would it take me.  I replied no more than two months.  He made it clear we did not have four months of time and company money to waste waiting for someone to learn a job they already had.  Not to mention what damage could be done while we waited six months for his group of thirty people to start performing.  He told me to fire the manager and find the right one.  As hard as this sounds, he was right!  Within sixty days I had a fully functioning manager in place who began moving his group forward.  The new manager had no baggage, no agendas.  He just wanted to take our plan and enthusiastically run with it.

Now for the tough part; what do you do with your existing team?  First, show them your list and make it clear you are looking for A-Players.  Next you need to sit down and evaluate them.  By each person’s name, without over-thinking it, write an A, B, C, or F.  Remember, to be an A-Player someone must have “all” of the Top Ten attributes.

You must immediately replace your F-Players. There is most likely some reason they are still there.  Keeping them for any reason (and I have heard some of the best) is just an avoidance of the inevitable and of your duty to the people you work for.  They cost you valuable respect from the rest of your team.  Do it now, within 30 days, and take the short-term pain if you have to.  Six months from now, you will be saying it was the best decision you ever made and wondering what you were so afraid of.

Now let’s talk about the C Players.  C-Players must be gone in 90 days.  If you believe there is anyone on the cusp of being a B-Player this is all the time you have to get them there.  C-Players are killing you; maybe even more than the F-Player.  They absorb most of your time and deliver mediocre results.  Imagine what could be accomplished if you spent that time with the A-Players instead.  Just think how the daily agenda would change from “how do we get people to do what we want?” to “we can do anything, so what should it be?”  The other major issue with C-Players is they lower the bar.  Joe, a C+-Player, sits next to Sally, a C-Player, and has it all figured out.  Since he knows he is a little better than Sally, he is “safe” as long as she is there.  Raise the bar!  Get rid of Sally, get rid of Joe and have Mr. B- looking over his shoulder saying, “I better get with the program or I’m next.”


Your culture will be driven by these decisions.  If you allow C-Players to dominate your team you will have an average (and losing) culture. The reality is you will lose your A-Players in a C-Culture.  If you dominate your culture with A-Players you will find yourself leading a dynamic “Can Do” Culture.  And it is important to remember, the new employees you will be hiring are walking into one of these two cultures.  Imagine the difference in their performance by walking them into an A-TEAM Culture.

Some of you are saying, “I would love to do that, but HR won’t let me.”  Or, I once had a manager try to talk me out of this program by saying, “Not everyone is exceptional.”  I realize there are obstacles and this is not an easy task.  But it is easier than dragging those C-Players around on your back.  You must find a way to make this happen.  Understand what HR needs, get your boss on board, set performance standards, support your A-TEAM (instead of the C-Team) and show the visible undeniable difference between the two groups.  You do not need to make everyone in the world exceptional. Just find the exceptional people you need for your team.  They are out there.

I know; what about the B-Players?  Remember you just raised the bar on them.  The bottom half of them just became your new C-Group.  Give it another six months and go through it again.  In a year, you will have the A-TEAM you and your company deserve.

If I haven’t convinced you yet as to how important this is, consider the following:

  • You became a Manager because you were an A-Player.
  • If you are leading a C-Team and getting mediocre results…
  • You are now a C-Manager.

Need I say more?