‘A-players’ make business happen

Lisa Edwards
Clark College

Business gurus have long espoused that a great workforce is comprised of great people. According to the Harvard Business Review, 80 percent of a business’s profits are generated by 20 percent of its workers. That 20 percent represents the superstars – or A-players. Leading companies devote a significant amount of time and money to identifying, developing and retaining their A players. Attracting and keeping these talented and highly skilled individuals is a necessity for any organization and a challenge for many.

Business gurus have long espoused that a great workforce is comprised of great people. According to the Harvard Business Review, 80 percent of a business’s profits are generated by 20 percent of its workers. That 20 percent represents the superstars – or A-players. Leading companies devote a significant amount of time and money to identifying, developing and retaining their A players. Attracting and keeping these talented and highly skilled individuals is a necessity for any organization and a challenge for many.

A-players tend to have common attributes. Human resource professionals describe them as overachievers, who consistently perform in excess of job duties to distinguish themselves apart from their peers. A-players are self-motivated, effective communicators, and are creative problem solvers even under the most challenging circumstances. They can clearly articulate the problem and devise out of the box solutions. They are smart and competitive and they look for companies that support and encourage their character traits.

What attracts A-players to a company? Advancement opportunities hold great appeal as A-players tend to have a career advancement plan to become a CEO. Annually adjusted compensation packages are appealing as well as seniority incentives. A-players also expect to be recognized for their accomplishments. Corporate recognition awards and perks are valued by these employees and they will look for them when they are considering a job.

How do you hire A-players? The Association for Supervision, Training and Development recommends that companies use screening assessments that measure a candidate’s behavioral predisposition, aptitude for strategic thinking, work style inventories, career aspirations and emotional intelligence. The results of these assessments will reveal the A-players among the applicant pool. The more common strategy is to use a headhunter to identify these individuals working in similar positions at competitor companies.

Since these employees are often stolen away by competitors and frequently scouted, companies have to work hard to retain them. So, how do you keep A-players? Provide professional development opportunities that will help them advance their career. The common tuition reimbursement program will not be sufficient. They will be seeking high level leadership training from CEOs who can act as their mentors and funding for graduate degrees as well. Give them assignments where they can showcase their skills, control the project and achieve phenomenal results. Give them special projects that allow them to learn all aspects of the company and require them to work with a variety of staff throughout the organization. These experiences will aid in preparing them for assuming greater responsibility within the organization.

Look around your company and identify your A-players. How are you going to keep these individuals? If you don’t have any A-players, develop a plan for scouting and recruiting them. Study the workforce of your competition. If they have an advantage over you, how are you going to overcome it? A-players may be your strategy.

Dr. Lisa Edwards is the Executive Dean of Workforce Development & Continuing Education at Clark College. Dr. Edwards actively works with the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and numerous businesses to be responsive to their needs.

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