Build an A-team from (presumably) B-players

Exceeding the expected used to be exceptional; now it seems commonplace. Do the job well and, at some companies, the annual performance review could rate the individual as “exceeds expectations.”

Perhaps expectations are too low, or do you simply not have enough A-players in your department? They are not difficult to find, but do you have the courage to experiment?

Three thoughts.

    1. Choose the unlikely. Assume that just about anyone on your staff is an undiscovered A-player. The next time you have an job opening in your department, pick someone in your group who might not meet the required experience but who thinks differently and seems a bit bored. That’s your first courageous act. The second is teaching yourself how to manage unpredictability that just might produce amazing results in unusual ways.
    2. Be a “half-sentence” manager. What I call a “full-sentence manager” is a department head who starts a meeting, for instance, with her ideas and ends with instructions for implementation, such as, “We need to implement a social media strategy, and here’s how we can pull it off.”
      By contrast, “half-sentence managers” start with possibilities and let the staff decide on implementation. For example, she might start a meeting with, “Does anyone agree with me that implementing a social media strategy for our type of company could be dumb?” B-players will jump in immediately with pros and cons and recommend benchmarking. Be patient and wait until the understated A-player emerges – though you may have to do some prompting -- and says, “It’s dumb if we clone another company’s program and even dumber if we don’t know for whom and why we’re even launching a social media program.”

      And here is where you get very courageous. Tell that person he’s in charge of coming up with the answers and he can pick two people to help – and they can do it any way they want. That’s right, “anyway they want.”

    3. Decrease headcount. Choosing the unlikely and letting them go will create a work environment of possibilities and efficiencies. Consequently, you will eventually need fewer people. Your A-players will set a standard and style that converts ordinary to extraordinary and encourages the true B-players to select themselves out.

Finally, here are five tip-offs for recognizing an A-player.

  1. The word “ingenious” regularly pops into your head when you hear about something she has done.
  2. You learn that recruiters are contacting that staff member.
  3. HR questions your decision about promoting a seemingly unqualified individual.
  4. You talk so much about him that other department heads want to meet him.
  5. The individual gets you thinking about whether your long-held assumptions about managing people are effective.

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