In any organization, there are “A,” “B,” and “C” players. The A players are the ones who regularly exceed performance expectations and often step into leadership roles for change initiatives. They are the rising stars who have inordinate ambition, take risks, and like to push the envelope. The C players are those employees who are not meeting performance expectations. And then there are the B players. These are the employees who are meeting performance expectations, but they act in a supporting role to the rest of the organization. They assume a more “ordinary” and “limited” but critical role within the organization.
Within the middle management ranks, A players are often given most if not all the attention by senior management because they are often similar in drive and impact to those in senior executive positions. Often, these players are the change champions within the organization. In contrast, B players are often ignored and taken for granted while C players are given remedial attention or removed from the organization. Ignoring B players is a mistake since they play such a vital complementary role within a corporation. 1
B players often place a higher value on work–life balance than do A players. B players may have second-rate educational backgrounds or technical skills compared with A players, but they compensate by developing extensive interpersonal skills or organizational memory. And B players often bring a depth of understanding to the organization and the unit in which they operate, since they have not progressed as quickly up the organizational ladder as have A players. 2
Organizations need stars (i.e., A players) and a strong supporting cast (i.e., B players) if they want to be change capable. Senior executives need to recognize the differences between these two groups of employees and respect the differences in ambition, motivation, training, and so on. By understanding these differences, B players will feel more respected and involved and the organization will more likely benefit from their contributions.