Don’t ignore the B team
TALENT management is a long-term strategy for ensuring an organization hires and retains the right person in the right job at the right time.
There are a number of different tactics such as general workforce planning as well as replacement and succession planning, targeted recruitment, psychometric assessments, employee development and career management. All of these strategies are aimed at finding and keeping top talent, yet it is well-known this pool of talented candidates and employees probably represents only 10 per cent of your workforce.
The top 10 per cent are known as the A players. They are typically risktakers who are somewhat short of personal patience. They are always looking for the next rung on the career ladder and will jump ship to pursue their dreams and ambitions. They are the over-achievers who often sacrifice family and personal life as they strive to prove themselves capable of increasingly important leadership roles. At the same time, many A players are what you call high maintenance. In other words, they typically have big egos and thus require a lot of personal attention and stroking.
So, what about the other group of employees, often referred to as the B employees? This is the group that makes up 80 per cent of your employee population. They are the steady, capable, loyal and committed performers who significantly influence your organization’s long-term performance. While they may not be as aggressively ambitious as your A players, they are most often the employees who will stay with you for the long term and will continue to make a solid contribution to your organization. They aren’t hard to spot; they are satisfied with their daily work and their accomplishments. They have the least complaints and happily use their unique skills to help keep the organization moving steadily forward.
This B group of employees are often those who specialize in a specific field. They become the go-to person for expertise and advice. They are widely trusted and are known for objective comment. As well, because of their job longevity, they are often seen and act as the corporate historians. They have a strong understanding of just how the informal political system works and can often make things happen when a an internal roadblock gets in the way of project success. Generally, the B group of employees are also more modest and require far less attention than the A players on your workforce.
However, a challenge is looming because research suggests the B group of employees has become disgruntled. They are feeling neglected by management; undervalued and treated like commodities. They are angry because their personal career development and professional recognition is being ignored. This is an important issue, especially since in today’s fast-paced global marketplace organizations cannot afford to lose their B players. So what can you do? The following tips and tactics might hold you in good stead.
Recognize and respect differences: While organizations would like a wider range of A players, keep in mind too many of this personality can upset your equilibrium and take you in a direction that might be too risky. Therefore, it is important to recognize the B-worker group is keeping you on a steady pace. Go beyond accepting that the B group is different than the A group, instead, learn to value and respect their contribution.
Structure job roles effectively: While Atype employees thrive on adrenalin arising from fast-paced challenge and change, B-type employees want well-structured jobs with a balance of work assignments. Yes, they will work overtime for a short period, but they cannot sustain this level of activity and crave life-work balance. When the B type employee is feeling overloaded, pay attention. Listen and ensure job structures are appropriate.
Communication self-awareness: As a manager, do you spend most of your time with A players rather than with B players? It’s easy to be attracted to those high performers, but equal, if not more, time needs to be spent with the rest of your team. Take a hard look, analyze your time and then ensure your communication strategies are directed toward all employees rather than favouring one special group.
Review rewards and recognition: Incentives solely based on financial rewards are no longer as attractive to employees as are intrinsic awards such as job design and employee engagement. Involve your employees in redesigning your reward and recognition system to more closely match today’s employee interests. Be sure your reward and recognition design motivates while at the same time correlating with organizational goals.
Focus on self-management: The industrial age, “leave your brain at the door” is long over. Today’s employees want to be involved in planning, organizing and choosing their work methodology while striving to achieve organizational goals. Focus attention on developing independence and autonomy, teach employees to problem solve, create general guidelines and orient new employees to how your world works.
Build capacity: Along with self-management comes the necessity of understanding and practising a broader range of skills. Provide in-depth training for all employees on topics such as project management, finance for non-financial managers, teamwork, problem solving and decision making. Engage employees in self-assessment and self-awareness so they understand how their behaviour affects team success.
Train managers to coach: The “do as I say” model of leadership is also long gone, but many managers still do not know how to coach their employees. Coaching requires that managers ask powerful questions in order to guide employees and help them determine their own solutions. As well, it requires that clear goals and objectives be set and that solid followup, feedback and guidance be given by managers.
Say thank you: Everyone should know a little “thank you” goes a long way — sometimes further than a formal reward. This gives an employee recognition for his or her contribution. It can be done individually and/ or in a staff meeting. This small gesture helps build trust and respect so employees will not feel undervalued.
I agree that talent management focuses on hiring and retaining the right person in the right job at the right time. However, it is absolutely critical management builds tactics into their system that recognizes, develops and respects all levels of employees and especially the B team.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group
and president of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She can be reached at