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February 25, 2015

Managing ‘A’ Players

One thing which keeps Business Leaders and HR Leaders awake at night, across industries and geographies, is managing star players. How to retain and keep them motivated? Organisations might be adapting or experimenting with performance management systems but nothing takes away identification of Stars and challenges of managing them.

Here is some perspective which gets lost most of the time. These are the elephants in room nobody talks about.

While it’s important that your best talent is rewarded and appreciated; it is also important not to lose sight of using various resources effectively. Your compensation and benefits strategy has to look beyond salary hikes, bonuses and incentives.

Commonly, executive compensation strategy and planning gets done and executed in isolation, focusing on monetary rewards, i.e., hikes, bonuses, stock options and incentives. Lion’s share is given to top performers and rightly so.  

Subsequently, managers and HR continue to follow same packing order in almost every decision. Same set of people keep getting nominated for all important training programs, leadership connect, face time with top leadership and so on.  People forget that Stars have too much exposure leading to burn out. They carry burden of huge expectations and stress of living up to them. Too much time and effort is spent on ‘A’ players instead of giving them freedom and allowing them to lead.

We end up creating sense of entitlement. Stars have huge incentive to kiss up and kick down; very little incentive to allow and support other people to grow.

Key to effective differentiation is how and what. Having rewarded Stars handsomely it is important for leadership to leverage other opportunities in supporting and nurturing wider talent base. It creates healthy talent pipeline, in turn relieving pressure from your top talent.

Really exceptional people are outliers constituting low single digit percentage of employees in an organisation, just like non performers. Any business driven by meritocracy should differentiate such people on basis of their special skills, ability to use their skills and make significant business impact or producing exceptional results in given context. The entire idea of 10-30% people rewarded highly and 80-40% of organisation treated good/average is mockery of differentiation.

At GE one key discussion during talent review is always about releasing your top talent for opportunities across businesses and verticals. All organisations don’t have breadth and depth of businesses and opportunities like GE. However seldom leaders and HR explore outplacement as part of strategy to manage Top talent. By definition your talent growth has to be better than your need for talent. Instead of being caught by surprise of attrition, objectively evaluate possibility of out placing talent with customers and suppliers to build lasting relationships.

‘A’ players by definition are good at identifying and seizing the Opportunity. It is hard to accept but fact remains that ‘A’ players end up hiring or creating screens to hire B players. Because, of their influence on organisation decisions. Decisions are made by those who show up. Hence either way buck for quality and effectiveness of workforce stops at ‘A’ players. They are responsible if showed up and are still responsible if didn’t.

If you are hiring A/A+ players, your bottom most people are better or equal to best available talent and deserve best compensation, support and inputs. They need best in class eco system to support them.

Effective Talent plan and strategy targets 90% of employee base as ‘A’ players. Too much focus on few means, higher attrition of remaining talent, wider and more negative influence on employer of choice drivers.

It is important to retaining leadership, not only people in leadership roles. (Challenges in Retaining Leadership). Mostly, brilliant people end up rattling the cage, they are opinionated and yes as managers (HR or line) you may feel very uncomfortable. (Tips on Talent Management / Acquisition).

Warm Regards,

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