Saturday, February 2, 2008

Leadership Development for B Players

It’s easy to recognize the employees in your organization who bring in the biggest revenues or win awards, or the A players. But there are others that are also important: those who consistently meet expectations but are not standout performers. While these B players may not seek the limelight, it’s still critical for managers to recognize, value, and grow these employees.

These steady, reliable performers are your corporate backbone; they keep your organization going, day by day. These employees are valuable to your organization because they often:

- Have a deep understanding of an organization’s history and processes. They have strong institutional memory of what has worked—and what hasn’t. These people are frequently comfortable in their jobs and are likely to want to stay in them.
- Adapt to large-scale organizational change more easily than many A players because they are less threatened by it. They can help other people through the trauma of change by providing focus and reassurance.
- Were former superstars who left the fast track for a variety of reasons, such as establishing more work/life balance. Therefore, they may have the skills needed to take on more responsibility during crises.

To retain these core contributors, it’s important to develop them in ways that best match their competencies, potential, and desires.


Developing B Players

To develop these employees, begin the same way you would with your stars: seek to understand their most passionate business interests, deepest work values, and strongest skills. Find out what direction they’d like their career to take.

Don’t be surprised if members of this group are not eager—or able—to advance in the organization. Don’t push them, but allow them the freedom to stay where they are. Periodically check in with these employees to find out if they are interested in career advancement. You might also “test” individuals in this group to find out if greater accomplishment is possible. You may find that some of these B players may be capable of becoming stars if given the right developmental opportunities and encouragement.

Identify the employees that have growth potential and provide them with:

- “Stretch” assignments. The best assignments are those that offer employees challenges that encourage them to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. Match employees to these assignments carefully to ensure that they are not overwhelmed.
- Coaching. By entering into coaching partnerships, you share your knowledge and experience as a manager to help maximize employees’ potential and help them achieve agreed-upon goals. This ongoing, two-way process relies on collaboration and requires a positive emotional bond between coach and coachee.
- Training. Encourage employees to enhance specific job or life skills through training. Learning can take many forms, including: sessions provided by internal human resources staff, seminars by experts in a particular field, college or university courses, as well as online or distance-learning classes.

B players are also good candidates for lateral movements. Giving these employees new experiences, through job rotations or “sideways promotions,” can help keep them energized and productive.

Provide frequent affirmation

Make a deliberate effort to let these “supporting actors” of the corporate world know that they are important and that their contributions are recognized. For example:

- Tell them they are valued. Show that you have a genuine interest in them by letting them know how important they are to your organization.
- Listen to their ideas. When they have a suggestion, listen carefully. Take the time to respond thoughtfully and respectfully. If you act on a suggestion, be sure to give them credit.
- Praise their accomplishments. Be conscious of the aspects of their jobs that they are particularly good at. Tell them—and others—how much you appreciate their unique talents.
- Trust them. Show them that they have your confidence by allowing them to take actions and make decisions that are appropriate for their skill level.

Above all, accept them for who they are: solid performers upon whom your organization relies.

Make a point of discovering who among them has the motivation and capability to grow to positions with greater responsibility. Groom these people as you would A players by allocating them developmental resources and opportunities. But also respect those B players who are content where they are.

Excerpted from the Harvard ManageMentor® online program "Developing Employees";
http://corporatelearning.hbsp.org/home/prod_harvardManageMentorTen.html

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