Managing Employees

Field a Team of 'A' Players at Your Startup

Field a Team of 'A' Players at Your Startup
Image credit: John Cooper | Flickr
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The best leaders seek out A players for every area of their business. This is not a problem for the most successful and profitable businesses. But your company, especially if it's a startup, might not have the financial ability to hire A players for every position. So what can you do?

I am always in favor of having on my team a strategic thinker -- someone who sees past the daily details and can grasp the big picture. Such an employee can be mentored and developed to grow with my business and make a solid contribution to its overall success -- and even guided into becoming an A player. But, in my experience, the raw material must be there from the beginning.

Finding an employee with the right attitude and resilience to become a key player on your team can take a lot of time and effort at the beginning but can save you untold grief, such as when a poor performer drags down other employees.

Related: 9 Ways to Manage Underperforming Employees

Removing a chronic C player is a difficult task, but you and your business deserve engaged, proactive employees. Studies have shown that being exposed to unhappy, low-performing employees can bring down an entire team’s productivity -- and potentially the business.

So to keep your good employees happy -- and to offer a positive, collaborative business culture that will attract and retain potential A players -- assess your team and make changes when needed.

If you have employees who aren’t pulling their weight, be quick to let them go so as to make room for top talent to succeed. Letting a low performer linger is one of the worst mistakes to make.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is known for his strong belief in the vitality curve system. This system ranks employees, placing them in three groups: the top 20 percent, 70 percent in the middle and the bottom 10 percent. Welch believes in rewarding the top employees and coaching the midrange employees. And the bottom 10 percent? “There’s no sugar-coating this,” as Welch was quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “They have to go.”

Related: Could GE's Winning 4-Point People Strategy Work for Your Venture?

Do you have chronic low performers on your team? Here are a few traits to watch out for: 

1. Doing just enough.

A chronic C player gets by. This employee does just enough to cross an item off list of tasks and that's it. This employee most likely watches the clock and procrastinates. He or she lacks ambition and rarely contributes ideas that affect profitability.

2. Saying what the boss wants to hear. 

A chronic C player may seem well put-together on the surface. This employee will say, “I’ll take care of that today,” but the project isn't completed without consistent reminders.

3. Being high maintenance.

This kind of employee requires extra guidance in how to perform tasks and additional time for a manager to check and correct the work completed. 

The time you spend maintaining a chronic C player on your team could be better spent developing and mentoring a rock star in the group.

Related: Effective Managers Elevate Team Morale to a Fever Pitch and Score Results

4. Failing to understand the big picture.

Low-performing employees may see only what's right in front of them. This is in contrast to the employee who comprehends the big picture and who is proactive about completing tasks and staying one step ahead of the game for clients and customers.

5. Not being a team player.

A solid team supports business functions, the quality of the work and the quantity of the output. When an employee refuses to act as a team player or sabotages the work of another team member, all these areas are affected.

I always share with employees this quote from basketball coach John Wooden and it’s mentioned as part of my company’s core values: “A player that makes the team great is better than a great player.”

Sometimes, it's easy to focus on the cost of replacing a bad employee but what about the costs of keeping one? Removing an ineffective or low-performing employee will save the company time and money in the long run.

This step may hurt at first, but it will also send a solid message to the employees at the company about its culture: You value professional development and a positive work environment and you're committed to building a team of A players. 

Related: No C Players in Leadership Positions, Please