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Nov. 21 2006 02:53 PM

Often overlooked, this group of employees is your key to success



It was Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, who popularized the notion of A, B and C. Were not talking algebra theorems here were talking the three types of performers in organizations; Welch called them A players, B players and C players. A players have the highest potential as performers, whereas C Players seem to have little or no potential. But what about the B players?


B players are those successful employees who consistently meet expectations. They are managers and leaders but dont aspire to be the CEO. As a group, they are one of the biggest factors in getting the job done.


A recent study, co-sponsored by Stanford University and European Institute for Business Administration (INSEAD), gathered data from over 600 global companies across 24 industries. The results demonstrated significantly that the financial performance of companies was directly aligned with the effectiveness of the supply chain and logistics operations. The study further noted that companies embarking on efforts to improve the effectiveness of logistics and supply chain processes face unique management challenges, particularly with regard to human performance issues.


Why? Because logistics leaders must influence across the entire supply chain. They must simultaneously forge strong external relationships while motivating their own teams to excellence.


Why Support Your B Players?

In the operational world, these challenges call for leaders to be more business-minded and capable of facilitating continuous change. In the words of Charles Darwin, It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. Harnessing and supporting the talents of B Players is an important part of meeting the challenge. A good example can be found within the world of professional sports.


In 2004, a little-known National Football League expansion team called the Carolina Panthers went to Super Bowl XXXVIII to compete against the New England Patriots. While the media paid a lot of attention to the Janet Jackson halftime show wardrobe malfunction, what was really notable was that the Panthers found themselves in a championship game with what was essentially a team of B players. In 2004, the Carolina Panthers did not have any stand-out stars like a Jerry Rice, Ray Lewis, Joe Montana or Tom Brady. They were, in fact, a group of B players who, through the nurturing and development of Coach John Fox, came to understand the true meaning of teamwork and the critical role that each of them had in moving their team to championship status.


Many logistics organizations in todays competitive business world are focused on the performance of superstars and fail to nurture and coach their B players, which typically make up two-thirds of the workforce. For example, some companies function on a so-called Rank and Yank process where performers are ranked, and those towards the bottom are yanked. A players are encouraged, mentored and rewarded with bonuses and promotions. C players are simply told to seek other employment. But B players are neglected.


The Backbone of the Company

According to Harvard Business School Professor Thomas J. DeLong, B players are the heart and soul of every company and to ignore them can be perilous to the long-term success of the business. DeLong

co-authored with organizational strategy consultant Vineeta Vijayaraghavan of Katzenbach Partners an article in the June 2003 issue of Harvard Business Review

called Let's Hear It for B Players and often lectures on the advantage of building a business around B players.


Employers should nurture and develop the top tier of the workforce, but not at the expense of the rest of it. A Gallup research poll based on surveys of over three million employees in the United States found that up to $350 billion worth of potential revenue is lost per year due to neglected and disengaged employees.


The imperative for change and optimization of capabilities from the executive office to the warehouse floor is clear. It is more important than ever that supply chain and logistics leaders become creative innovators to find areas for improvement to evolve their businesses. Mobilizing B players can produce outstanding results.


Satisfying Your B Players

How can you ensure that your B players stay engaged? First, it is important to understand them. Gratifying work is often more important to this group than promotions or pay raises. They tend to be loyal unless they feel abused, in which case they will quickly take their skills elsewhere. B players often provide the ballast for the organization, and because of their loyalty, they tend to be the keepers of organizational memory. While they may need some initial direction from others, they dont need constant attention or their hands to be held. They are not driven by power, status and money, but they do tend to ensure that ideas dont fall through the cracks. These employees often derive satisfaction from executing the grand ideas from the top.


One way to take full advantage of the talents of your B players is to encourage them to learn and grow through self-directed learning programs. Provide access to these programs and reward employees who attend them. Another strategy is to occasionally assign special tasks to B players. Determine both their strengths and their desires, and assign them to jobs that capitalize on those positive attributes.


One international express delivery company found the key to unlocking innovative ideas from their B players by helping them to build skills to generate, plan, communicate and execute business improvement ideas. Many of the ideas generated by B players were implemented with positive results.


Most of all, you must be there for them. Provide constant mentoring. Coach your employees continuously. Show them that you want them to succeed and that you respect and appreciate their efforts to do so. Ask them what they really want to do in this job, and help them to play to their strengths.


Owen Davis is Managing Director of U.S. Operations of TrainingFolks, which specializes in performance consulting, leadership development and designing and executing employee-based development systems. He can be reached at 704-998-5530 or