My definition of an “A” player in your company is someone who has serious talent and cares enough to put in the necessary time to win. That’s it. That’s my definition. A large organization can survive with several non-A players and some do pretty well with very few A-players. In the startup world, with limited resources and limited time, you can ill-afford to not have A-players. The entrepreneurs that survive surround themselves with A-players. How stacked is your team?
I believe that people are born with talent – some with numbers, some with sales, some with creativity, etc. Every individual is unique and gifted in some way. The goal of the entrepreneur is to put people in the right roles. In the right roles, a seriously talented person will thrive. Sometimes that means the rockstar developer stays a developer and does not become a manager even though they really want to. Sometimes that means telling your salesperson that they probably aren’t cut out to be a salesperson and perhaps they should look into becoming an HR manger. I’ve hired the wrong folks before thinking that they would thrive in a startup environment and they couldn’t do it – they couldn’t handle the ambiguity, they couldn’t handle the stress, they couldn’t handle the crazy goals, they couldn’t handle the extra hours. That’s ok, you need to put people in a position that they can succeed.
Now, even if you do place them in a position where they can succeed – for example, a great salesperson – they can still turn out to be a non-A player or even a below average player. These are the first round draft picks in the NFL that are filled with talent and promise, but totally flame out. Why?
I’ve had salespeople that are satisfied with reaching their quota. Once they reached their quota, they take a deep breath and hit the beach even though there are substantial rewards if they strive higher. They don’t care about winning because their thirst was quenched and they thirst no more. A well-paid developer can react the same way, extremely talented, but does the minimum to get their paycheck. A great customer service person who assumes that the call at 4.55pm on Friday can wait until Monday may lead to a very important customer feeling frustrated until Monday. These talented employees do little to challenge themselves, compete, and push the company to new levels. They lack desire, direction, urgency, motivation, and most of all they pass this culture to other folks which can be extremely dangerous for startups. These are the B and C players that you cannot have permeate your startup. Sure you can’t have all A players, but too many of these B and C players you’ll find your A players suddenly playing B and C ball.
Here’s an A player. They are always stretching goals that you set and they hate to lose. They take personal responsibility for everything. They push the people around them to set higher bars, to compete, to put in the necessary time. Startups are not for the faint of heart and they are definitely not for the clock-watching employee. The A-players thrive on startup energy, they love how fast things can get done, they hate bureaucracy, they expect excellence, and they want to make a real difference. Ultimately, they care. How many A-players do you have? How are you investing more time and resources into them? How are you finding them?