Topgrading Profile of an A Player

Do you have difficulty figuring out whether someone in the company, or a candidate for selection, is an A, B, or C Player? If so, you’re in good company, for frankly only the companies with the most sophisticated human resources methods have it “nailed.” But this article should help since it shares the experience of Topgrading professionals who are constantly helping clients put people in the right categories. It’s these distinctions that allow you a measurable way to assess talent and build a winning team. 

In many companies, “A Player” refers to someone highly promotable. Topgrading definitions of A, B, and C are different. “A, B, and C” to Topgraders refer to current ability, not promotability, but then we break down just the A Player category into promotabity levels. Let me explain:

A Player: One who qualifies among the top 10 percent of talent available for a position. An A Player, then, is best of class. Available means willing to accept a job offer:

  • At the given compensation level;
  • With whatever bonus and/or stock comes with it;
  • In that specific company, with a certain organization culture (Family friendly? Having dirty politics? Fast paced? Topgraded and growing?);
  • In that particular industry;
  • In that location;
  • With specific accountabilities and resources; and
  • Reporting to a specific person (positive A Player or negative C Player?)

In other words, if you’re a terrific leader, you’re going to have a lot more candidates “available” to you than a lousy leader.

A Player Potential: Someone who is predicted to achieve A Player status, usually within 6-12 months.

B Player: The next 25%, below the A Player top 10%, of available talent given the same criteria above. These employees are “okay” or “adequate,” but marginal performers who lack the potential to be high performers and are not as good as others available for the same pay. B Players are unable, despite training and coaching, to rise to A Player status. If there is a job in which they can quality for A Player, they should be considered for it.  

C Player: The next 35%, below the A Player 10% and B Player 25%, of talent available for a job. C Players are your chronic underperformers.

The only acceptable categories are A Player and A Potential. We break down A Player into three categories based on promotability:

          A1– Someone promotable two levels
          A2 – Someone promotable one level
          A3 – Someone who is a high performer, but not promotable.

Example: The not-promotable stocker, sales rep, or first-level supervisor who is an A3 — a high performer, an A Player, but just not promotable. They are high performers because they achieve their A Player accountabilities and they are terrific with customers, totally reliable, achieve excellent results, and are highly motivated, super honest, and very resourceful in finding ways to be more effective in driving the company mission. Value all your A Players, including the many who are the heart and soul of your company, the A3s, who are terrific but just not promotable.

How A, B, and C Players differ on key competencies. The following chart is a bit simplistic because not all A Players are that great on all competencies and not all C Players are that bad on all the competencies. And for management jobs, Topgraders look at 50 competencies and the chart has only 8.

Summary of Critical Competencies for Upper Level Manager

























The Best Way to Identify As, Bs, and Cs: Assess employees using Topgrading methods.  You might already know that my first consulting engagement with General Electric was to improve their success picking A Players. They improved from 25% to well over 90% success, using Topgrading methods to assess both candidates for hire and for promotion. The methods are quite the same. Two trained interviewers conduct the tandem Topgrading Interview and if there are internal candidates for promotion, instead of talking with outside references the interviewers talk with bosses, peers, and subordinates in the company.

Look for patterns of success. The “magic” of Topgrading comes from understanding, bottom line, how successful a person was in job 1, job 2, job 3, etc., with the greatest weight given to the most recent jobs.

Summary: Extensive research shows that 75% of the people hired or promoted turn out NOT to be A Players or A Potentials. Topgrading methods regularly achieve 80%+ success. Click here to read 40 case studies in which the average company improved from 26% to 85% A Players hired and promoted.  

Published October 8, 2013




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