In my most recent post, I have talked about how to deal with the "C" players, or the low performers, on your team. But today, let's shift to an even more important and fun topic: how you can keep and develop your high performers or your organization's "A" players.

The fact is that "A" players are tough to find. There might be just 10-15% of the workforce who can do a job as well as they can at the price you are paying. That's why it's crucial to invest in keeping and motivating your existing star players while also creating an environment that is attractive to other "A" players.

Sometimes No Promotion is the Best Promotion

First off, it's important to recognize that promoting an "A" player is not always the best method of developing or rewarding them. There are times when some "A" players are best left in a position as strong individual contributors: think top sales people or great engineers or software programmers. These are folks who excel at what they do and really have no interest in getting promoted. Smart leaders understand what their "A" players want and where they can excel. After all, a worst-case outcome for your business would be to promote an "A" caliber sales person and receive only a "B or C" sales manager in the exchange. Instead, you can find ways to offer more complex work and/or more money as a way to motivate those performers.

When it comes to the rest of your top performers, the ones you do want to promote into leadership slots that will help drive your organization forward--call them your next generation of leaders--how do you get them ready for their next role?

You have four options to consider:

Educate Them: Sometimes the only thing holding back an "A" player is a gap in their knowledge. This becomes an opportunity for you to help close that gap by, say, paying for an MBA, an advanced engineering course, or even a program focused on managerial skills. Talk to your star performers and find out what drives them and where they want to grow before moving to address any holes that might exist keeping them from reaching those goals.

Increase Their Scope: Make your "A" player's job bigger by expanding the scope or depth of their job (which, incidentally, is the opposite of what you do with a "C" player). If you have someone you think can become a top leader in time, double or even triple their responsibility within their function in a way that grows their capacity as a leader. For a sales leader, you might expand the size of their region, say, or increase the number of their direct reports from 5 to 15 or 20. A project manager might move from one to three or four projects.

Increase Their Breadth: Whereas depth is digging more deeply into a job function, expanding the breadth means you challenge your "A" player by cutting across many functions in the organization. If you have a star engineer, for instance, ask them to lead a project that also includes marketing, finance and personnel. It's a great way to grow their knowledge base and their understanding of the business as a whole while also giving them the chance to work with different kinds of people across the organization. Perhaps you have a new joint venture that needs a leader--this can be a great development opportunity for a coming leader.

Mentor Them: A fourth technique to inspire and teach your "A" players is to pair them up with a more senior person on the team in "conscious mentoring", contrasted with the random mentoring that might or might not happen. That senior person can even be the CEO. The goal is to expose your more junior "A" players to people in positions you eventually want them to grow into. The process itself could be as simple as having lunch every few weeks as a way to help build that relationship and begin to open doors in the organization for your rising star. These meetings can also be very valuable for senior leaders, especially CEOs, because it gives you the chance to assess the talent in your organization up close and personally.

So, when developing your next generation of leaders--think, Educate, Depth, Breadth and Mentoring.

Published on: Oct 9, 2014
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