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Managing the “A” Player

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Reading Harvard Business Review’s “How to Keep A Players Productive” ((Berglas, Steven. Setpember 2006. “How to Keep A Players Productive.” Harvard Business Review, September 2006.)) I was intrigued by their description of the what an “A” player is. The normal stuff we all know intuitively. “They have the natural self-confidence and brilliance to stay at the top of their game with elegance and grace. Of course, these are your most prized employees, and they pose their own challenges and risks.” ((Ibid))

What I found interesting was when Berglas went on to describe these top performers psyches and the reasons these individuals developed in that direction. Often it seems, these “A” players are almost compulsively insecure. Their development through life often creates the over-achiever, outwardly self confident individual we typically identify with the label. But this same development often scars them as well.

Picture the child who is constantly trying to fulfill his/her parents wishes by getting the best grades, achieving success in soccer, violin and paining. They are usually teacher’s pets, and they are often used to high praise. Their confidence is often not tied to the achievement, but to the praise.

In later years, when great work does not translate to exuberant admiration as it did when the subject was 8 years old, these insecurities can surface. They don’t surface however, in fits of tears and stomping feet, but in attrition, lessened performance, or decreased engagement.

Berglas gives 4 strategies for managing the “A” players:

  • Let them triumph
  • Praise personally, praise often
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Make them play nice. ((Ibid))

Since I’m not in the business of repeating HBR’s work, you’ll just have to go there to read the detail of what the above 4 bullets mean.

My point though, is that the “A” players may not be as perfect as we’ve always thought. They may be delicate even though their outward demeanor exudes confidence. Regardless of this “weakness” they are still your top performers and deserve to be given every chance to succeed and contribute to their own growth as well as the growth of your organization.

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