by Jim Gibson, President, Gibson Consultants

(This article originally appeared in Healthcare Musings in March 2010)

November 2018 – A few years ago, when my children were in the lower grades of elementary school, the Superintendent of Schools delivered what instantly became one of my favorite lines. Compassionately breaking the news to the parents that our little darlings were not geniuses, he shared a simple yet profound truth: “The world is full of average people.”

And yet, there have always been high performing organizations, those that consistently outperform their competition. Over the years, much has been written about what makes these organizations work so well, what’s their formula for success.

As someone who gets paid to find the cream of the crop, the “A Players,” I don’t think it’s necessarily because they hire the best people. It certainly helps to hire top talent, but that’s only part of the formula.

Ironic as this may sound coming from a search consultant, I believe a common mistake is relying too heavily on hiring A Players. Too many executives seem to believe that if they just hire top talent, all else will be fine. Everything will work as planned, and success will surely follow.

And then they can’t seem to fathom why they have employee turnover, and why they can attract good people but fail to keep them. The worst reaction to this frustration is the executive that digs the heels in and says, “If he can’t get the job done, we’ll get someone who can.”

Too often this over-reliance on the magic of A Players blinds the executive to organizational realities and business fundamentals.

Even if you could build an organization by hiring people from only the extreme end of the bell curve, it can’t last. It simply doesn’t scale. As the organization achieves success and grows, it becomes impractical to try to hire only the outliers.

This is not an argument for hiring mediocrity. Although you don’t need to always hire superstars, you also don’t need to hire from the center of the bell curve. For many positions, you want to hire good people, above average people – the B Players. But then you need to give them the chance to excel. THAT is the key. Create an environment where the B Players feel equipped, challenged, and appreciated. Never mind the adage that B Players hire C Players. It’s spoken as gospel yet often an excuse for poorly functioning organizations.

This is especially true below the executive ranks, in the trenches, so to speak – the people who do the day-to-day work. That’s really where the organization’s destiny lies. Those that are successful year after year have figured out how to get the most out of these people, the troops. Regardless of size, these organizations have created environments where their employees:

  • Know the vision
  • Understand their roles and the impact of their contributions
  • Have been trained effectively
  • Feel truly empowered to make decisions as appropriate
  • Are not afraid to offer candor, nor to take calculated risks
  • Receive continual feedback, guidance, and mentoring

It’s a long-term commitment, but success is a long-term game. The enlightened executive has the discipline to continually recognize the value of doing the important rather than the urgent. And few things are more important than creating and nurturing the right environment. The executive that routinely yields to the urgent, in the heat of the frenetic pace, inevitably ends up feeling frustrated with employee turnover.

The really bad news is that this will not improve by itself. Even if not obvious right now, the labor market will be tightening up dramatically over the next few years. It’s already started in certain areas of health IT. In the future, having a good source for talent acquisition may not be enough. The greater impact will be in how the troops are developed and treated.

Otherwise you might be voicing the refrain we hear all too often, “Why is it so hard to find good talent?”

About the Author

Jim Gibson founded Gibson Consultants in 2002 after careers in healthcare IT and group health insurance. At Dictaphone Healthcare he was responsible for sales of speech recognition solutions to providers in the northeast. Working with the product management group, he also helped position Dictaphone’s automated coding, NLP, and handheld charge capture solutions. As vice president of sales for HSS (now part of Ingenix), Jim was responsible for nationwide direct and third party sales of coding, case mix classification, and prospective payment system (PPS) software to hospitals and payers. Before HSS, Jim sold the DIAMOND payer administration system for Health System Design and clinical guidelines and administrative services for Health Risk Management. Prior to his healthcare IT career, he spent nine years with Prudential Healthcare in sales, sales management, and hospital contracting.

One Response to “The Myth of the “A Player””

  1. Alan Eisman

    Jim, excellent article. I’ve hired a lot of people over the years. When I was with A companies all levels of people could be successful if place in the right roles. Companies that churn sales people often have poor leaders and weak value propositions. In today’s market with very savvy buyers even A players will be unsuccessful.


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