By Dennis J. Kain, FACHE, President

Reach him at or +1 610 558 6100.

There is a book by Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D. titled, Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People, in which the author discusses three different types of workers that he labels A, B and C players. How does this concept apply to organizations, and why is re-deployment of C players so important?

This book is remarkable, and I often “re-read” it on my drive to the office as it is available in audio form. I recommend it to those who haven’t read it. According to Dr. Smart’s research, there are precious few A players in the workforce. He asserts that 10 to 15 percent of the people in a certain job at a particular salary level are A players; B players represent another 10 to 15 percent of this group, and the rest are C players. Employing this model, Jack Welch, the retired CEO of General Electric (GE), used to worry that a few C players would somehow end up in the same department (or by the water cooler) at the same time; creating the potential for severely damaging the company. This is why GE implemented a forced-rating performance evaluation system during Mr. Welch’s tenure. In this system, managers are evaluated each quarter, and a certain percent of each department’s managers have to be scored in the bottom right quadrant when compared to the others in the same department. Managers who landed in this quadrant for two consecutive quarters were determined to be the C players and were often redeployed.

A more draconian example involved a large car dealership in the Philadelphia region that routinely fired the sales person with the lowest numbers each month. (Of course, these systems as well as any other system of identifying and dealing with C players, brings a certain level of anxiety to the workplace.)

I have been taken by Dr. Smart’s use of the word, “redeploy.” In managing others, it is important to remember that C players don’t realize that they are C players. They think they are A players. I am also taken by the fact that a C player can become an A player in another role in the same organization — something that better fits that person’s skills. Relative to firing someone, moving them to a role they are better suited for is a preferable method of redeploying a C player — it is better for them and the organization. If during his/her career, a manager has a history of identifying and redeploying C players, and thereby focuses on hiring only A players, it would appear that this candidate could indeed be an A player. I look for things like this when I’m interviewing a managerial candidate. I also like to ask about his/her direct reports and how many have been C players. More important, my next question is, “What did you do with the C players?” If a manager has a career trend of enduring C players, then this may signify that the candidate might not be the A player that our client has hired us to find.

I also agree with the phrase, “A players hire A players, while B players hire only C players.” If your organization is allowing B players to hire C players, the business will slowly strangle itself. If you are in a leadership role and you have any C players reporting to you, I strongly suggest that you immediately work with Human Resources to develop a plan that will result in redeployment.

If you simply tolerate a situation where you continually retain C players, it may drag your career down as well.

Read more about redeployment on Dennis' blog and his answer about Topgrading in "Ask a Consultant" from Extras in Tyler's Tidbits, Winter 2008 issue.