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I spend a lot of time thinking about how successful businesses get the most out of their people.  People are capable of amazing things.  When they share a common purpose, are clear on their roles, and have the tools to do their jobs, greatness happens.  The Cleveland Cavaliers are the poster children for this. They worked tirelessly, often painfully, to get all of these components in place, with relentless reinforcement by a unified leadership team.  And the seemingly impossible was achieved: coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors, a team with the best regular season record ever, to win the championship.  LeBron James clearly led the way, but many other players came through and were great in their own ways to create opportunities for LBJ to maximize his talents.  Native Clevelanders, like me, knew from past experience he could not do it alone.  And this time around his supporting cast pushed themselves to greatness to achieve the ultimate win.

“A” Players – The Superstars

Many businesses have star players like Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love on their team, and the really lucky ones have a LeBron James – wow!  You’ve likely got a small core group of “A” players who are natural leaders, innovators and doers that move your business forward.  They are intense, driven, savvy, and get what it takes to accomplish challenging goals.  They’re self-propelled and rarely need to be managed.  Your biggest task is to keep them challenged and rewarded so they don’t get wooed away by your competitors.  

“C” Players – Time to Say Goodbye

You likely have some “C” players too.  They aren’t cutting it and never will.  Maybe they don’t quite have the smarts or the skills to thrive in your company, or they prefer to spend more effort on bringing others down and creating drama than doing their jobs.  Those people need to go.  A “tough love” conversation of, “This isn’t working.  Here’s what needs to change quickly, and if it doesn’t you, unfortunately, won’t have a job here any longer” is in order, pronto.

The Forgotten “B’s”

That brings us to “B” players, the so-called “middle children.”  They aren’t the attention grabbing superstar “A” players and they’re not stirring up trouble along-side the “C” players either, so they’re a bit neglected.  “B” players do work that is decent but not stellar.  Quality – check. Deadline met – check.  They do what is asked but don’t seem to be driven by exceeding expectations or wowing us.  They are pleasant but may lack the driving passion, sense of urgency, and highly competitive nature we enjoy from “A” players.  Some “B” players are just naturally “middle of the road” people, content where they are and not interested in knocking anyone’s socks off and owning the floor, so to speak.  You might get A-level performance from them if they knew their job was at stake, but once the threat was gone, they probably wouldn’t sustain it, preferring to revert back to their comfort zones.  All this seems to justify the “don’t bother” attitude we hold for “B” Players, so on they go, working in slightly above average mediocrity.

Missed Opportunities

So leaders in many organizations throw their efforts into providing “A” players with the right environment, the best opportunities, and the biggest bonuses.  If “A” players are operating at 110%, let’s get them to operate at 120% and they will get our business to where it needs to be.  This works to some degree by removing obstacles for “A” players, allowing them to continue to be great, and recognizing their successes.  I agree there should be some focus on this.  But as we know in Cleveland, and painfully, I might add, an NBA championship isn’t obtained by one superstar alone.  There’s a huge hidden opportunity to achieve goals you never imagined possible by harnessing the latent talents of “B” players.  Failing to realize this could lead your business to a repeated destiny of second place.

As Wayne Gretzky has said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  Neglecting your “B” players is akin to not taking shots and missing opportunities.  Let’s say 60-70% of your workforce is made up of “B” players (assuming the remainder are split between As and Cs), imagine what could happen if you coached and pushed your Bs to aspire to be As – to be a Kyrie Irving and take that 3 point shot?  What if 20% of those “B” players made the shot?  That’s the difference between winning and losing the big game.  For your business, that could translate to getting the primo customer you’ve been after for years, finally working out the kinks in your production line or distribution chain to become a smooth-running machine, or earning public accolades in an industry trade journal or at a conference, essentially giving you free marketing and filling your pipeline with new opportunities.  Whatever your game is, making 20% more shots is the difference between aspiring to accomplish great things and actually accomplishing them.

Ignite the Fire Within

Some have argued that you can’t get A-level performance from B-level players, but I’ve seen it happen. While some “B” players don’t have it in their DNA to perform at an A-level, the majority of people have innate desires and abilities to do great things and be top performers.  They just need help igniting their fire.  It could be that no one has made a compelling enough argument to spark their passion, so they keep it in reserve for hobbies outside of work.  Perhaps they lack insight or awareness into what stellar results in their job really look like and how that contributes to the business results.  Maybe part of them doubts they’re capable of performing at an A-level (they are).  

But, as seen in many great sports achievements, getting maximum performance from your team takes strong coaching, practice, and time.  It’s easier for leaders to focus on “A” players because they don’t need as much guidance or coaching and we know the performance will be there.  The As already get it.  It’s more work to manage “B” players because they need you. They may not cry out for attention, but they want to “get it” too.  They just need help getting there.  As leaders, we need to get “B” players bought into the goal, the common purpose, and be crystal clear on their roles and the behaviors they can contribute to be amazing.  Along the way, they’ll need direction and feedback.  Proactively give it to them. Don’t expect them to ask for it because they likely won’t.

I challenge you to spend 20% more time and effort coaching your “B” players to achieve great things.  You’ll bring out A-level performances you didn’t think were possible, and those B players you invest in will reward you in spades.  They will give you more than you ever expected and be fiercely loyal to boot.  They may even help you win a championship.