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By Darryl Stewart

How I got my team to 100% A players

When you first start leading you sometimes inherit a high-performance bunch thanks to your predecessor. But, usually you don’t. Usually you inherit a situation that feels something like this:

  • A few high performing individuals doing great work and setting themselves apart. I call them the As.
  • A bunch of people just doing what is asked and not much more. I call them the Bs.
  • A few people who act like they don’t want to be there and actively making things hard for you by sowing discontent, proudly doing substandard work, or flaunting a bad attitude. I call them the Cs.

  • I start with the Cs, but not in the usual way. I start by ignoring them. If it is not egregious, I let it all go. This is counterintuitive since they cause the most trouble, but training and experience allow me to confidently put my time elsewhere rather than starting by trying to change the hardest people.

    On the other hand, I get close with my As. I spend time asking their opinions, share insights into why we are doing things a certain way, and come to understand their strengths. One specific thing I want to know about them is, do they see themselves growing as a leader themselves or as an expert at what they do. Once I know this, and if I agree with them on that vision, I do everything I can to move them down the path they see for themselves. I give the experts more challenging work in their area of interest and involve the leader types in thinking discussions, let them manage projects as much as possible, and generally give them more responsibilities over time.  

    Some people grow in both directions, some people’s vision of themselves changes over time. I stay aware of this and adjust as necessary. And when I see an A needing correction, I do it right away, in detail. But also, when I see an A doing great work, I tell them so, in detail. By taking this path I create super A’s.

    With the Bs I fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Many times all it takes from me is little care to engage them into A territory. Listening to their concerns, their aspirations, and encouraging and supporting them while also providing insight on what I see as potential in them is all it takes to move them to A.  Many have never had a leader show concern for their well-being and provide direct feedback about their performance, good or bad, and when it happens, they engage fully.

    With everyone, I remind them of the importance of teamwork, encourage them to work closely with their peers, tout the importance of good communication, and ask them to value the different strengths of others and respect them.  I publicly praise the team for great work together, however, individual praise is done privately always (this is a different blog).

    You can see with the above that I create an environment where the best on the team gets the most of my attention. Where did the old me spent most of his time?  With the Cs of course. Trying to fix the unfixable did not work out too well for me. Nowadays I set the example of spending my most time and energy on the best. This creates a movement of everyone towards being As; it creates a pull towards great performance and teamwork.  

    But what about those Cs?  You know they won’t buy into this.

    Inside a team culture like mine most Cs quit. They make it easy for you and leave voluntarily.  Sometimes with a caring approach and a performance-based team culture as outlined, Cs become Bs and then As.  But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and you let the person go. However, you do it knowing they had every chance to improve.

    Inside a team culture like this, most Bs become As; they just needed someone to care about and appreciate them.

    Gallup says that your average team is made up of 26% As, 55% Bs, and 19% Cs when left to their own accord. But by following a caring, strengths-based approach, as outlined, my experience is that you can get to near 100% As over time.

    For the first time in my leadership life I am there – the 100%. I currently have a team of 9 people reporting directly to me.  Each one of them is 100% A. Thank you all for showing me that the things I am learning, when applied with a great group of people like you, I can achieve every leader’s dream. And don’t any of you even think of leaving.  😊

    IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

    Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

    This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.