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By Darryl Stewart
Man worried and stressed whilst on his desk

Why is my “A” player under-performing?

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and their workplace. I like to call this type of employee an “A” player.

What do you do when a proven “A” player on your team is not doing “A”-level work in a specific area? This is the situation that faced a leader with whom I recently consulted.

First off, we needed to make sure that it was not a family, health, or personal issue that was causing the problem. We all know that issues at home or personal issues with health or addiction can cause an otherwise great employee’s performance to slip. These types of problems can be very difficult to address as they typically fall outside the purview of an employer. In this case, this was not the issue. The employee told their boss that all was well in their life. The “A” player was simply under performing in one part of their job.

In this type of situation, I usually find that the problem lies in one of three areas:

  1. Expectations are not clearly agreed on with the leader so the employee is chasing a moving target.
  2. The proper tools, resources, training, time, or budget is not being provided to get the job done properly.
  3. The individual is not skilled in this area of work and/or has no interest in it.

Because they perform exceptionally well at many things, “A” players can lull us into thinking they are capable of anything. We can also be tempted to take shortcuts in how we communicate expectations, the amount of communication we do with them, and on the resources we provide to them, since they seem to do well at every task they undertake.

In this particular case, it was a question of expectations. A whole new area of responsibility had been assigned to the person. It was a new area for the organization and the person’s boss thought the “A” player could just figure it out as they went. This was not the way this person was used to working and the tension was compounded by the boss’ high level of interest in the new area. Basically, the person was being put in a brand-new situation, not provided with clear expectations, was being criticized by the boss, and, as a result, was not performing at their usual level.

The lesson here? Don’t make the mistake of thinking your “A” players are superheroes. Just because someone is a star in one area, does not mean they will be a star in another. Since “A” players are so hard to come by, we need to make sure that we work carefully with them when we are changing the rules of the game. Otherwise we could turn an “A” player into a “B” player or, worse, lose them altogether.

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.