A few years ago, my company adopted the philosophy espoused by Jack Welch that team members should be identified as “A, B, or C” players annually. Although we never fully engaged that concept due to leadership changes, I would like to know whether you use this tool and what you believe has resulted from Mr. Welch’s approach.
The theory is that on any team approximately 20% of the workers are “A players.” These are the superstars; the linchpins of the organization that others rely upon to carry the organization forward. These team members should be actively re-recruited annually by leadership, because losing them would be a major setback.
The next group is the “B players.” Welch says that this group comprises about 70% of any organization. These team members do the majority of the work in a company. They are competent and valuable. They, too, need to be re-recruited, but some of these will not want to be “B players.” Those B’s need to understand what they could do to become, or be seen as “A players.”
Obviously, that leaves the “C players.” Welch says these are the 10% of the workforce that take up 70% of your time and energy. They need to be managed up to competency, or managed out of the organization. They may even be quite competent, but their attitude could be a poisonous cancer undermining, authority and morale. The rest of the workforce is dying for leaders to deal with these players!
The main thing that has bothered me about this approach is the belief that the 20-70-10 always applies. I am not willing to accept that no matter how good we get at hiring, training, and retaining, we cannot do better than 20% “A players,” and 10% “C players.” Having said that, thinking back over my career, I cannot honestly argue with those percentages. Nevertheless, can we insist each leader identify 10% of the workforce as C-players as Welch demanded?
Regardless of the numbers, I think the value of this approach is clear communication to team members about where they stand with their leader and with the organization. There is value to that, no matter whether you are an “A”, “B”, or “C”. It also forces meek managers to have those difficult conversations with C’s, and also B’s that think their A’s. It lets the A’s, and also the B’s that have no A level aspirations, know the organization will fight for them because they are valued and appreciated.
So why not move forward with this concept?
When this approach is implemented, the culture can turn into a pressure cooker. One can feel as though he is constantly under the gun, being judged and held accountable. If not implemented consistently across the organization, it can come across as arbitrary and capricious. It can even result in gamesmanship and political maneuvering to avoid being identified as a C.
If leadership does not commit to this in earnest, and follow through for a number of years, it can do more harm than good. As a “flavor of the month” program, this can be the biggest disaster, because it calls people out of the shadows and puts them in the spotlight; warts and all. If there is no follow through on what has been exposed, leadership will lose the confidence of the team.
So, to those of you have used this philosophy, what do you say? Is it valuable? Have the results been good or bad? Has it been sustainable? Would you do it all over again if you could turn back time? Let us know.