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Coaching People To A-Player Status

Being a manager is like being the coach of a sports team. Your players need to deliver the required results in their position on the field, but they also need to exhibit the right behaviors in order to build a cohesive team that plays well together so you can win the game. 

One of your primary functions is to recruit, coach, and develop a team full of A-Players. I define an A-Player as a person who consistently achieves the agreed standard for RESULTS in their role, and who consistently demonstrates BEHAVIORS aligned to your Core Values - they are a role model for your culture.

In essence, there are 2 dimensions to an employee’s performance. RESULTS + BEHAVIORS. Both requirements must be met consistently to be considered an A-Player. 

So obviously, we need to give our people clarity about what good results look like for their role, and what the right behaviors look like. A Role Scorecard is helpful for making these expectations explicit to every person in every role.

Once performance expectations are clearly communicated and agreed, it is important for managers to meet frequently with every team member to discuss their performance, praise and acknowledge them for what is going well, and/or provide coaching and support wherever performance shortfalls are identified. I strongly recommend a recurring weekly 1 on 1 meeting for this purpose.

Grading Your Team

Once per year at a minimum (better yet, once per quarter) I recommend grading the performance of your team members to create a coaching plan for each person.

You do this privately with the assistance of your managers. It's not a "performance review" to share with the employee. It's your management plan of action.

To help clients do this, I created the 2 by 2 matrix below to visualize the difference between A, B, and C-Players. The matrix also suggests which actions the manager should take in order to field a team of A-Players in every role:

Red Quadrant - Bottom Left

Not much needs to be said here. A hiring error has been made. You owe it to the person and to the rest of your team to remove them from your organization as soon as possible. Help them move on to another organization where they may be a better fit. Do this asap in accordance with the labor laws of your country. Be decent and caring, and allow them to leave with dignity.

Orange Quadrant - Top Left

This team member rates highly on delivering results, but poorly on exhibiting one or more of your Core Values. But  since Core Values are "musts," not "nice-to-haves,” even though their Metrics and Projects might be “in the green”, their behaviors are undermining the team spirit you are trying to create.  This person may become toxic to your culture.

Start by discussing the problem using constructive, corrective feedback. Stick to the facts. Share concrete examples of observed behaviors, and point out how they could have behaved differently in each scenario. Provide them with the opportunity to modify their behaviors and provide coaching and support on a weekly basis as part of your 1 on 1 meetings.

However, if they are unable to make the agreed behavioral changes within an agreed timeframe (3 months, max) they should be asked to leave your organization.

These are tough decisions to make, especially when someone is a top producer. But if you don’t make a stand to demonstrate the importance of your Core Values, your team won’t take them seriously.

Yellow Quadrant - Bottom Right

This team member is great at demonstrating your Core Values behaviors, but they struggle to achieve the results required in their role. Perhaps their Metrics or Projects are “in the red”, or their Tasks are frequently overdue, or the quality of their work is below standard. This person is nice to work with, but their results are holding the team back. 

As yourself the following questions:

  • Do they have the potential to deliver A-Player level of results in their role?
  • What is stopping them from achieving these results currently?
  • Do they have the tools they need?
  • Have they received the proper training, mentoring and support? (If not, focus your efforts here.)
  • Are they putting in an honest week’s work or the bare minimum of effort?
  • Did they deliver A-Player results in the past but seem to be struggling now?

Don’t put your head in the sand, hoping that performance will fix itself. It won’t. Instead, provide constructive coaching and support on a weekly basis as part of your 1 on 1 meetings. If the person makes the necessary improvements, praise and recognize their progress and make them feel like the winner you've helped them become. 

If however, their results continue to fall short, and they can’t make the necessary improvements within an agreed time frame (again, 3 months max), then you either need to find them a new position where they can meet the standard, or you owe it to the rest of the team to remove them from the field.

Green Quadrant - Top Right

These people are your A-Players. The people you want to recognize, develop, and retain for the long-term. A-Players can exist in any role, and your goal is to fill every role with an A-Player.

To motivate, engage and retain your A-Players, offer them one or more of the following:

  • Develop their skills with new challenges, projects, and responsibilities
  • Involve them in decision making or grant them increased decision-making authority 
  • Sign them up for educational courses and training programs
  • Give them reading assignments, and discuss what they have learned at your 1 on 1 meetings
  • Offer personal development coaching and mentoring
  • Give them the opportunity to attend industry conferences
  • Invite them to participate in employee share schemes, or other long-term financial incentives that are based on the performance of the overall group

Grading objectively

Don’t rely on your memory of a person’s performance. Using RESULTS is the best way to keep track. Are their metrics “in the green” most of the time? Are their projects on schedule? Do they get tasks done on time, or do they frequently have overdue tasks? Does their work meet the agreed standard?

Also, review all the specific instances where they were observed living your Core Values or specific instances where their behaviors fell short.

Grading people is not about how much you personally like a person. You need to put company interests ahead of your personal feelings when you go through the grading process and try to be as objective as possible. 

Be aware of the common biases that managers have. As a manager you will tend to rate employees higher when:

  • You personally hired the employee in the first place
  • The employee is similar to you in appearance and behavior
  • The Employee is on “your team” (because their performance is a reflection of the manager’s ability to coach and develop their people) 

To reduce bias, it's best if this is done by a small group. Typically it is the leadership team, but it could also be people from different functional areas who have regular interactions with the people being graded.

I use a scoring process with clients to help them assign each employee a score from zero to ten on behaviors, and a score from zero to ten on results. Then you can plot each team member on the matrix. A coaching plan is discussed and agreed for each employee, and action items assigned to the managers who will implement the decisions made.

A fair, clear, organized approach like this makes it easy for people to align themselves with business goals and to understand why your Core Values are so critical. It's coaching that creates A-Players throughout your organization.