Don’t ig­nore the B team

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

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


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