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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery

The Top 6 Qualities of A Players

A business populated with A Players (top 10% performers) will crush a competitor populated with B Players (top 20% performers) or C Players (average performers) every time. Estimates of the hidden cost of suboptimal hires and suboptimal team members range from 2-15 times annual salary. The lost opportunity cost alone of what the right person on your team could have contributed to your revenue and happiness is prodigious.

After 25 years of helping leaders choose key employees (with a 90+% success rate), here is my list of the essential qualities we look for in A Players. We're assuming that the person has the basic technical skills required for the role or you wouldn't be talking with them in the first place.

  1. Integrity: never hire someone you can't trust. I don't care how much business they bring in, if a person isn't basically honest you'll have a lot of sleepless nights anticipating the bad event that is guaranteed to happen.

  2. Intelligence: intelligent people get more work done faster. Raw intelligence is the single best predictor of achievement, but it must be augmented by the other qualities on this list.

  3. Passion for the role: folks who love what they do achieve more without you having to ask them to do it. Then you can spend more time leading strategic initiatives and less time managing basic performance.

  4. Team orientation/people skills: they've got to be able to work in a team and generally get along with others. Having an "energy vampire" on your team that irritates and demoralizes others will cost you plenty.

  5. Conscientiousness/results orientation: they take pride in doing good work. No, this isn't the same as passion--a person can have lots of enthusiasm but still turn out sloppy substandard work.

  6. Innovative: oddly enough, many leaders don't like team members who are always trying to change things. While this can be overdone, in general you want folks who are always looking to make things better and contribute to the business. The world outside your business is changing constantly--if you don't change and adapt you will quickly become a dinosaur (and extinct).

Depending on the role, this list may include other specialized skills.

  1. Leadership skills: the ability to think and act strategically and inspire others to follow.

  2. Management skills: the ability to coach and motivate others to fulfill their full potential.

  3. Business development skills: these folks are literally worth their weight in gold, but they must be able to operate in a team environment. Your compensation system has a lot to do with this.

  4. Customer service skills: this is an essential role, and I'm always amazed at how many people I see in customer service roles who don't seem to like people. Note that a person can be good as nurturing customer relationships but not good at developing new business.

  5. Organizational skills/detail orientation: clearly you don't want your CFO guessing at your essential metrics. However, keep in mind that the best business developers often aren't the most organized and detail-oriented folks.

High-Performance Habits

  1. The quality of your team is a huge competitive advantage--if you don't leverage this, your competitors will.

  2. When hiring, take the necessary time to add quality members to your team. Leaders often start out to hire an A Player but get in a hurry and wind up hiring a B or C Player.

  3. Design your performance management system to help your high quality team members actualize their full potential and contribution to the business.

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