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Managing A-players


Disciplines > Human Resources > Performance Management > Managing A-players

Praise well | Pay them well | Don't steal credit | Stay in charge | Set clear boundaries | Challenge over-work | Help them work with others | See also


Managing A-players is not an easy task as they can easily go off course - and at the speed they travel it can take them a long way from where they should be.

Praise well

When A-players succeed, as they will with monotonous regularity, give them full credit. Praise personally and praise often. As with all praise, do not be false. With A-players, this should not be a problem as they do much that is praise-worthy.

They do have difficulty internalizing the good things they hear, so be specific about what is good. To do this well, you will have to spend more time watching them to do this.

It can be useful to ask them how they'd like to be rewarded for the work they do. This can range from introducing them to senior players to being given career-developing work to going on training courses and so on.

Beware of getting so used to them doing well that you subconsciously raise the bar for them, praising them only occasionally or when they surprise you more than usual.

Pay them well

A-players often use their salary as an indicator of their worth. If they are paid the same as others then they assume that is how you perceive them. If you are bound by pay schemes, find ways to boost this, for example with special bonuses and stock options.

A good pay and especially lock-in options also helps keep them with you. Despite the problems of managing them, A-player by definition add huge value.

Don't steal credit

It's easy to to grab some of the limelight they cast and it can make you look good. This is reasonable when you are get recognition for your department, but do beware of assuming it is all because you have motivated them to excel or that you have done what they have actually done.

If you take more credit than you deserve, then others will eventually find out, including the A-players who will not thank you for stealing their kudos.

Stay in charge

The A-player may well be judging you as well as others and may start to treat you as inferior too.

Remember that you are the manager. They work for you, not the other way around. Don't let them ride roughshod over you.

Set clear boundaries

The A-player seldom knows when to stop so be very clear about boundaries beyond which their extra work will deliver less than optimum value. When they cross these lines, which they will by a long way, explain that, although you appreciate their work, they could add even more value by spending the time in named work.

When they realize that more value can be added elsewhere (and hence they will get more recognition), they will head that way at great speed. Keep an eye on them here as well, as they will still exceed boundaries.

Do not, however, paint them into a small court where they are frustrated by their inability to excel. Give them a big playpen in which they can add real value within recognized boundaries.

One way of doing this (and also avoiding them taking charge) is to get them to help you with management tasks such as building work groups, structuring projects and developing plans.

Challenge over-work

When they over-work, ask them 'Who asked you to do that much?' They may say 'You did', but of course you did not. Often it's a voice in their head that comes from a distant past.

Help them work with others

A-players can be a problem when they separate themselves from others in ways that decrease team performance. Structure work so they have to cooperate with other people. Put them in teams where they are dependent on others, but do not expect them to immediately become brilliant team players. Coach them on how to interact.

If working with others continues to be a problem, an alternative approach is just to find work that they can do on their own. As long as they get due recognition, A-players may be happier working in a way where they are not held up by less talented people.

Get them to mentor and coach other people. Divert some of their energy into being the 'go to' person that people seek out when they have problems.

See also

.A-player problems


Berglas, Steven (2006), How to Keep A Players Productive. Harvard Business Review, September 2006, pp.104-112

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