A Practical Definition of ‘A Player’​

Written By: Dr. Brad Smart

A Practical Definition of ‘A Player’

Every manager would love to have a team of all A Players and few do. Topgraders really do create those teams and a good starting point is to know the definition of A Player, because there is a lot of confusion on this topic.   In this series Blog 2 will cite how As, Bs, and Cs differ on key competencies, and Blog 3 will highlight the 1 most important competency for an A Player, but let’s start with defining: what is an A Player.

For four decades Topgrading, Inc. has taught managers how to achieve 80%+ hiring success, with success defined as hiring A Players. So we have refined the definition of A Player, and hope this blog helps you sort it out.

In my early books on Topgrading, the ones that highlighted GE as  the company used Topgrading to hire over 80% A Players and became the most valuable company in the world, here was the definition:

A Player: Someone in the top 10% of talent available for any job, at a given salary level.  

Think about that – top 10% at any given salary level. People say, “top marketing people get $300k salary and I have a tiny company and can only afford $75k. This definition says, figure out if someone at $75k is good enough to do a great job for you in that range; if not hire a consultant. If so, use Topgrading to be sure you get someone in the top 10%.

Top 10% at a given salary is a very practical definition for companies hiring dozens or hundreds of people for a job such as Store Manager or data entry clerk or Sales Representative – where lots of employees are doing the same job, and performance is measured quite objectively. It’s like sports – you can judge pole vaulters by the height they jump, right? If you’re selecting pole vaulters for the Olympic team you probably want someone vaulting in the top 1% — 19 feet or whatever.

In those jobs the numeric accountabilities are clearly defined and just on the basis of performance it’s usually clear who are As, Bs, and Cs. Those companies conduct Topgrading Interviews and develop profiles that make it easy to reject candidates who are easily predicted to achieve the measurable results. You’re a pole vaulter and your highest vault has been 15 feet – you’re not an A Player candidate for the Olympic team.

But companies NOT constantly hiring a lot of people for a very common job, and maybe that’s you, need a different definition. You say, “How the heck can I KNOW which candidates are in the top 10% available at the salary range I set if the job is unique??” Good question. So here’s an easier definition:

A Player = High performer.

It could be that simple. Our Topgrading Professionals have asked thousands of candidates about every managerial job they had and specifically, “What percent high performers did you inherit in that job?” Candidates have no hesitation to answer. They can relate to “high performer.” And typically their answer is, 25%.

Do you wonder which on your team are A Players? Just ask yourself, are they a high performer?

For candidates for selection there is a time-tested way to determine if someone has been performing at an A Player level. Here’s the definition:

An A Player is someone whose boss rates their performance Excellent or Very Good, NOT just Good. 

In Topgrading all candidates estimate how every boss would rate their performance on a scale of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. And remember, in Topgrading candidates arrange calls with their bosses, so they are honest in those guesses.   Since probably millions of Topgrading reference calls with bosses have been conducted, clients tell us all the time two things:

1.  Candidates are accurate in predicting how bosses will rate them, and

2.  A Players are rated Excellent and Very Good, not Good.

Suppose a candidate told you, “I’ve had 6 bosses and not one would rate me Excellent and let me think …. hmmmm ….. not one would rate me Very Good either. I guess all 6 bosses would rate me Good!” Would you think that candidate is an A Player, a high performer? NO WAY!

1.   A Players = high performers = candidates who say bosses would rate them Excellent or Very Good (usually 50% Excellent, 50% Very Good. And in fact, that’s how their bosses rate them.

2.   B/C Players = mediocre performers = candidates who say bosses would rate them Good or worse … and that’s how bosses rate them.

In summary, the simplest definition of A Player is High Performer. When hiring, only hire people who say their bosses would rate their performance Excellent or Very Good and make them arrange the calls and confirm their bosses rate them Excellent or Very Good.

And when looking at your team, chances are that a direct report is a high performer if you rate their performance Excellent or Very Good, and anyone whose performance is only Good is probably not an A Player.

Stay tuned —Blog 2 in this 3-blog series will show common competencies of A Players.

In the meantime, download our free eGuide to learn how to recruit, hire, and retain ‘A Players’.

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