The A+ Employee: No, You Just Don’t Go Out and Create Them


I know a ton of HR/Talent Pros are sick of hearing employees broken down into A, B and C players. It seems played out and dated.

But I like it. I’m simple and the A-B-C player scenario is easy for me to describe, in very quick manner, how someone is performing.

I’ll give you this, though — there are problems. Once you have your “A” players, how do you tell which is the best one? Can’t a “C” player be close to moving up to “B,” but another “C” may be close to getting terminated?

The problem is, A-B-C doesn’t accurately describe individuals, it just describes groups of employees – a range of performance at any given snapshot in time.

I was having a conversation about this the other day with a peer and was describing a person’s performance who worked for me –- an “A” player. As I was describing this person, I said, “but you know what, they are better than an ‘A’ player – they’re an ‘A+’ player”!

Oh, boy, here we go. What the heck is an “A+” player?

Traits of your “A+” players

All the talent and performance of your traditional “A” player, but with this:

  • They work like they’re a “B” player hungry to get to “A” status;
  • They lack the ego some “A” players tend to get upon gaining “A” status;
  • They don’t believe they’ve reached “A” status, even when they have.

Yes, “A+” players are special. As soon as you read the traits, you probably had an individual come immediately to mind.

It’s that person who is a great performer, but also someone you wish all of your employees would emulate. A person who is a joy to work with and gets things done. Maybe they’re not the best at any single task, but they are the person you want to do every task.

You hire talent capable of being an “A” player

“A+ “players aren’t culture changers, they are the culture. Not everyone has an “A+” player, and I don’t believe you can create one. You usually have to hire them – and they ascend to the “A+” level very quickly.

When people tell me they only hire “A” players I tend to judge them as not having any idea about HR/Recruiting/Life. You don’t hire “A” players. You hire talent you believe is capable of becoming an “A” player within your organization.

Just because they were an “A” player at another organization has very little impact on their performance level within your organization – unless you somehow magically cloned their previous environment, leadership and resources and put them back into that same place. It’s true that past performance is predictive of future performance, but only when you put that talent into a very similar circumstance.

That’s why it’s really hard to find “A+” players, because you don’t even know when you hire someone if they will reach that level. You might have a feeling, like “oh boy, we’ve got someone special coming in,” but you don’t know until you know.

All I really know is this: when you have one, do what you have to keep them around, because you’ll never know if you’ll get another one.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.