SIW Insider Intelligence: How to Nurture Your A-Players with Brooke Erickson

September 11, 2023

In SIW, PSA Director of Learning and Development Brooke Erickson shares how investing in high-performing individuals not only boosts performance and innovation but also mitigates turnover and creates a positive work culture.

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Nurturing A-Players: A Cornerstone of Organizational Success

In the dynamic landscape of modern business, an organization's success hinges not only on its products, services, and strategies but also on the caliber of its employees. Among these employees, A-players shine as beacons of excellence and innovation. These high-performing individuals possess an unparalleled drive, exceptional skills, and a strong commitment to their work. Recognizing and investing in these exceptional talents is not just a competitive advantage but a necessity for the sustained growth and prosperity of any organization.

The Power of A-Players

A-players, often referred to as top performers, are the driving force behind an organization's ability to outpace its competitors. Their dedication, passion, and ability to consistently deliver exceptional results elevate the overall performance of the company. A-players tend to exhibit qualities that set them apart:

  1. Excellence in Execution: A-players consistently exceed expectations and produce high-quality work. Their attention to detail and commitment to achieving excellence inspires others to raise their own standards!
  2. Innovative Thinking: These individuals thrive on creative problem-solving and continuously seek innovative solutions. Their ideas often lead to breakthroughs that propel the organization forward.
  3. Leadership Qualities: A-players naturally assume leadership roles, whether formal or informal. Their positive influence and ability to inspire others foster a culture of collaboration and growth.
  4. Resilience and Adaptability: A-players embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and navigate uncertainties contributes to the organization's agility.
  5. Strong Work Ethic: These individuals are driven by a strong sense of purpose and take ownership of their responsibilities. Their dedication motivates their peers and contributes to a more productive work environment.
Investing in A-Players: The Benefits

Prioritizing investment in A-players is a strategic move that yields numerous advantages:

  1. Enhanced Organizational Performance: A-players elevate the overall performance of the organization by consistently producing outstanding results. Their impact resonates across departments and projects, inspiring others to perform at their best.
  2. Reduced Turnover: By recognizing and nurturing A-players, organizations can reduce turnover rates. A-players thrive when their skills are acknowledged and utilized effectively, leading to higher job satisfaction and increased loyalty.
  3. Catalyst for Innovation: A-players often challenge conventional thinking and drive innovation. Their unique perspectives and willingness to explore new avenues can lead to groundbreaking ideas that keep the organization ahead of the curve.
  4. Positive Work Culture: When A-players feel valued and supported, it creates a positive work culture that attracts and retains top talent. This environment encourages collaboration, open communication, and a shared commitment to excellence.
  5. Leadership Pipeline: Nurturing A-players not only benefits the present but also prepares a strong leadership pipeline for the future. These individuals are prime candidates for leadership roles, ensuring a smooth transition and continuity in organizational leadership.
The Pitfalls of Neglecting A-Players

While investing in A-players yields substantial benefits, neglecting them can lead to adverse consequences. For example, if organizations don’t hold poor performers accountable, this will lead to peer resentment and will negatively impact the culture of the organization. Too often leaders will give A-players the task poor performers cannot complete, stretching them beyond capacity, instead of taking the time to correct the poor performance. They allow the poor performance to continue as they rely heavily on their A-players to pick up the slack. This leads to burn out and employee turnover. Usually this occurs if leaders are facing the “Tyranny of the Urgent,” where they struggle with what is urgent vs. what is important. In this scenario, the task the leader hands off to the A player is considered “urgent.” However, what is “important” is to coach the poor performer on how to execute properly, which takes time. Leaders must prioritize and create time to invest in their people’s development in order to avoid the “Tyranny of the Urgent.” Furthermore, recognizing poor performers as you would top performers sends a disheartening message to the top performers, which can also lead to employee turnover.  This disparity in recognition and support can result in several detrimental effects:

  1. Demotivation and Disengagement: A-players who consistently deliver exceptional results without adequate recognition might become demotivated or disengaged. When their efforts go unnoticed, they may question their value to the organization and seek opportunities elsewhere.
  2. Erosion of Trust: A lack of recognition for A-players erodes trust in leadership and the organization's commitment to rewarding excellence. This can create a rift between top performers and management, fostering a culture of skepticism.
  3. Negative Impact on Performance: When A-players observe that their efforts are not proportionately rewarded, they might reduce their level of engagement and effort. This drop in performance could ripple across teams and negatively affect overall productivity.
  4. Attrition of Talent: Neglected A-players are prime candidates for attrition. Their departure can lead to a loss of critical skills, knowledge, and institutional memory, disrupting projects and teams.
  5. Impact on Company Reputation: Word spreads quickly in professional networks. If A-players feel undervalued and share their experiences, it can tarnish the company's reputation and hinder its ability to attract top talent.
Fostering a Culture of Recognition and Growth

To harness the potential of A-players and safeguard against the negative consequences of overlooking them, organizations must adopt a culture of recognition, appreciation, and growth. This involves:

  1. Regular Feedback: Providing constructive feedback helps A-players understand their contributions and areas for improvement. Regular performance discussions enable them to align their goals with the organization's objectives.
  2. Tailored Development Plans: Crafting individualized development plans demonstrates the organization's commitment to A-players' growth. This not only enhances their skills but also communicates that their progress is valued.
  3. Equitable Recognition: Ensuring that recognition is distributed equitably reinforces a sense of fairness. Celebrating the achievements of A-players alongside other team members fosters unity and shared success.
  4. Opportunities for Impact: Offering A-players opportunities to take on challenging projects, mentor others, or participate in strategic initiatives showcases their value and demonstrates trust in their abilities.
  5. Leadership Support: Leaders play a pivotal role in recognizing and advocating for A-players. When senior management actively supports and mentors top performers, it reinforces the significance of their contributions.

A-players are the cornerstone of organizational success. Investing in these high-performing individuals not only boosts performance and innovation but also mitigates turnover and creates a positive work culture. Conversely, neglecting A-players in favor of recognizing poor performers can lead to demotivation, attrition, and a damaged reputation. Striving for equity in recognition, providing growth opportunities, and fostering a culture of appreciation are crucial steps in harnessing the potential of A-players and ensuring their long-term commitment to the organization's success.