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Going After the "A" Players: Is It the Best Strategy for Every Organization?

The Fortune magazine published a three-page long “Special Advertising Section” in its December 12 2011 issue, where a company offers solutions for other organizations to recruit, develop, and retain A players. I have no doubt that A players can be the best asset and may create great value for an organization. When I think deeper, however, I wonder if it is the best strategy for every company to go after the A players.

According to the Theory of Personality Fit (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005) or the ASA (Attraction-Selection-Attrition) Theory by Schneider et al. (1995), an organization tends to hire those candidates who are the most similar to the organization’s existing members. Those who “fit” in the organization, the job, the group, and the supervisors are likely to stay. On the country, those who do not “fit” will probably end up leaving the organization voluntarily or involuntarily.

If an organization is not among the top performers in the field, chances are this organization hires mostly B, C, or even D players. If this company hires mostly A players, these A players should have already turned this company into an “A” organization or the market leader in the field, right?

Based on the Theory of Personality Fit and the ASA framework, this company probably should not go after the A players at all. At least, it should not do it at this point because (a) it is not cheap to recruit A players and (b) A players may not “fit” with the B or C players in the organization, and definitely will not fit with the D players. If this company wants to hire an A player, it would find it very difficult to attract A candidates. Even if it hires some A players, they will end up leaving the company because they will find out later that they do not “belong to” this organization.

In this case, is it possible for a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company to turn around and transfer itself into a top-tier company that attracts and retains A players? I believe it is possible but will take many small steps. In general, a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company should consider the following:

  • Start from recruiting and selecting the B or C candidates. The company may want to hire some C players, but B players are desirable. D players are not suggested. Remember, a few bad apples can ruin everything!
  • Treat employees “right.” Even though B or C players are not as needed as the A players by the top-tier firms, they are needed by the competitors. No companies want their employees to end up working for the competitors.
  • Training and development become critical. If it is impossible for a company to recruit and retain A players, it needs to invest more in its current asset, namely the B players. Hopefully, with adequate training, a company can turn its B players into A players over time. Also, it is very important to outline a clear career path for the potential A players so that they know they have a future in the company --- otherwise, they may end up leaving the company for better opportunities, and the money spent on training and development will benefit the A players’ new employers, likely the competitors again.
  • It is necessary to hire a strong “A” leader because most of the time, A players are good friends of other A players. An A leader will not only become the center for an organization, s/he may also be able to help attract other A players in her/his network to join the company. 

Over a period of time, it is hoped that this 2nd- or 3rd- tier company will build a team with a strong A leader and a group of A players. When the organization has more A players than C players, the C players will probably find themselves not “fitting” in the organization anymore.

The ultimate goal is to have mostly A players with some B players working in the organization. “An A leader + a group of A players” can pretty much guarantee a green return on any investment.

My point is --- if you are already running a top-tier organization, certainly, you can focus on recruiting A players; if you are not, you may want to forget about the A players for now. Rather, you should focus on the B players (i.e. the potential A players) and consider the suggestions I proposed above. Do you agree to my analysis? If not, what can a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company do to turn itself into a top-tier organization?

References
Kristof-Brown, A.L., Zimmerman, R.D., & Johnson, E.C. (2005). Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person supervisor fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281-342.
Schneider, B., Goldstein, H.W., & Smith, D.B. (1995). The ASA framework: An update. Personnel Psychology, 48, 747-773.
Picture was downloaded from Australia.edu.

Comments

  1. I think that this article has a very good point. Why not attract younger less qualified applicants when it looks like they have huge potential in the future? They require less money and could do just as much if not more work than the proven possibly over-qualified players. They also can have room to develop in a company that is fitting for them rather than going to a C or D company as a B player. It also makes sense that if you are an A company to hire A players though as they are the proven workers that will definitely get you somewhere if they find themselves fitting with the company.

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  2. I think that it's important to note that college may not always be the tell-tale sign of how an employee will work with a company. There are different personalities and they respond to things in different ways. I think that a company can have the capacity to turn someone into an A player for their company. There are those people that are outstanding in every aspect but that is no testament to how they will perform at your company. What matters is taking the people that have potential and helping them reach it. That's how you create a loyal employee. That's how you know that the "top talent" you've recruited isn't going to drop you because they've been recruited by another company. If the whole reason an employee reaches their full potential is due to a company's vested time, effort and interest - they are more likely to want to stay and grow within a company than shop elsewhere.

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  3. Very good comments! When I said "A players," I also meant the "top talent" --- "A" might or might not associated with the academic performance of a candidate (student).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that the organization needs to focus on hiring emplyees that will fit into the current environment that it has. I know when people do not feel that they fit into the work environment it is hard for them to want to keep working there. I believe that everyone has the potential to be an A player, you just have to give them the right training and the right motivations to become an A player. If your company does not move people up through the organization it can be hard to be motivated as an employee because you may feel that even if you are an A player you will still have the same job.

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  5. As much as I think it would be important for a company to hire all A players I think it'd be beneficial for companies to hire managers and supervisors as A players in order to help improve the skills of those below them. Sometimes it can be difficult for companies to wait for an A player candidate to apply for an open position, time that the company may not have, so they may need to hire B or C type applicants. These people may have potential that hasn't been brought out of them yet. I think it's great if the company can get those A players, but if not, those B and C players can be benefactors for the company as well. As a start-up company, it would be best to start off with the most top talent possible and continue to hire those people as the company progresses but for those companies who are already up and running and need to fill positions, I think it's more important to fill managerial positions with A players and try to improve B and C players with their manager's performance level.

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