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  • How A Players Can Fail

    Brad Smart, How A Players Can Fail

    We were featured as the cover article in an issue of Workforce Management. The article quotes leading executives (including Jack Welch) who say Topgrading methods are the best for picking the top talent available for all jobs. But, you know that! Click here to read the article.

    The article continues to spark questions such as, “Do A Players always succeed?” The answer is no! There are no guarantees that come with embracing Topgrading (other than our money-back guarantee on the accuracy of our “second opinion” assessments of candidates. And no one has ever requested their money back, incidentally). But here are a couple of the most common ways an A Player can fail:

    1. Bad luck. As you know, business involves taking risk. A Players can do all the due diligence in the world to mitigate risk, but they can still fail. There were plenty of A Players at Bear Stearns, UBS, Citi, and Merrill Lynch who got terrible results and were tossed out onto the streets because of the sub-prime crisis. Hey, they all didn’t cause the mess!

    Bad luck comes in the form of new competitors that have deep pockets, economic blips, terrorist acts, some country overprotecting competitors in your industry, Congress withdrawing subsidies, lobbyists getting special advantages for their company (but not yours), Supreme Court vagaries, your coming down with a nasty disease. Hey, ca-ca happens.

    Advice: Hang in there. Of the 6,500 executives I’ve interviewed in depth, the vast majority had at least one big failure. But you know the most important of all competencies is Resourcefulness — that persistence, drive, passion, and determination to figure out how to get over, around, and through barriers to success. So, they were resourceful, and they eventually succeeded.

    There is someone you might have once thought of as an A Player, who said something like, “The glory in mankind is rising from the ashes.” Elliot Spitzer. He was back in the news recently. No A Player status for this guy; he’s going to have to rise a lot to avoid those hot ashes (ahem)!

    2.  Bad Job Description. Topgraders create Job Scorecards, with measurable accountabilities; but unfortunately, when A Players are recruited for a job, all they see is a vague job description with platitudes. Too often they take a job not really knowing what they will be held accountable for, and too often the expectations they learn after they join the company are totally unrealistic. Very often they have a history of being an A Player but … in retrospect, they were a bad match for this job, because their skill set, style, or passions just didn’t match what the job turned out to be.

    Advice: Demand a Job Scorecard!

    3. Bad boss(es). Because I’ve assessed/coached 6,500 executives, each with an average of 10 jobs, and because I’ve asked all the Topgrading questions about all their jobs — how they succeeded/failed/made decisions/etc., I’ve accumulated 65,000 oral case studies. Since a high percentage of executives I interview are A Players, I’ve heard a zillion examples in which really sharp executives were hindered because the boss imposed a futile strategy, refused to listen to good ideas, failed to Topgrade the rest of the team (so peers were C Players), or felt threatened and actively undermined the A Player.

    Advice: If you’re the A Player with a C Player boss, hit the pause button; don’t hastily quit. I’ve seen plenty of C Player bosses who eventually performed as A Players because they Topgraded and assembled a team of A Players whom they could trust. Good for them! Hey, stick around when that boss says, “Pat, I’m putting together an A team and I’ll be relying on you and others to help us all succeed; my job is to Topgrade and empower the team so you all have fun, learn a lot, and achieve huge success.”

    Advice: Perform solid due diligence on bosses before changing jobs. I have a thousand examples in my files of confident A Players NOT checking out the boss enough, and failing because of that boss.

    More Advice:  If you find yourself reporting to a chronic C Player who stifles you and the team, look for an exit strategy, either within the company or with another company. Don’t fail in a bigger job with an excuse that sounds like, and is, an excuse: “I failed because I went to work for the wrong boss.”
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