What to Do with A, B, and C-Players, Customers, and Vendors

Differentiation offers specific information enabling some decisions on how to reward, coach, or let some people go. A great system makes it easy to see the information you need to make those decisions and allows others to see the same data. The latter transparency enables an entire team (or an individual with influence) to intervene and correct behaviors that would leave them short of the goal if left unchecked.

Conventional wisdom regarding C-level players says, “Let them go.” After all, they’re not often meeting expectations, are they? Relying on unreliable people seems silly. Why keep them around? We say, “Not so fast.”

What Do We Measure? (please see diagram)

Measurement is all about meeting, missing, and exceeding expectations. In your system, make sure the expectations are reasonable to everyone involved—you want a fair and just system. We recommend leadership driven, cascading goals along with bottom-up, free-will, buy-in because that’s consistent with ethical values.

A-Players Consistently Hit or Exceed

A-players meet or exceed expectations most of the time. An A-player’s job skills and emotional intelligence are almost always excellent. They’re highly engaged, self-motivated, unselfish, extremely resourceful, and very hard to replace. You can measure all that. A-players tend to attract more A-players, and often turn B-players into A-players. A-players crave feedback and consistently improve most of what they touch. Resources spent on A-players consistently pay dividends.

B-Players Usually Hit, Sometimes Exceed

B-players meet expectations most of the time and exceed expectations occasionally. Their work and behavior is almost always good, and sometimes excellent. They stay reasonably engaged and are reasonably resourceful. Spend time and energy on the ones who want to endure the pain of becoming A-players. Keep and coach the ones who maintain their B status—they are still growing your company. B-players attract B- and C-players and are cautious around feedback. They also rarely remain B-players, but tend to move up or down. Some admire A-players as role models and imitate their behaviors—in which case they often become A-players over time.

C-Players Usually Miss

C-players often miss expectations. They may barely meet expectations year after year, but almost never exceed expectations.

Caution on Metrics

Choosing the best way to measure people is much more difficult than a quick glance might indicate. In sales, for example, revenue is the standard measurement, but what if the sales person receives bad leads? What if the product is consistently late or otherwise fails to meet customer expectations? You may have an A-player in sales with C-players in production. Measure what matters, which is how well they attain specific goals while championing your mission, vision, and values.

Above all, remember that these are people with lives and dependents—measure them with reverence and care. Some metrics give false readings (360* annual reviews are notoriously unreliable, for instance).

Take your time, experiment, get input from fresh eyes. Customers and front line workers know the problems that good metrics can solve. Ask them and build your ranking system off their answers.

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We recommend leadership driven, cascading goals along with bottom-up, free-will, buy-in because that’s consistent with ethical values.
— Dynamic Coaching

What to Do with C-Players

Do not fire C-players unless they demand it. First, coach them up. If coaching fails and the job is just too big or they lack the emotional intelligence demanded by their position, offer reassignment to a place where they can at least begin as a B-player, and coach them to grow. On the other hand, if they respond to feedback with resentment and fail to accept responsibility for their actions, then they’re pulling you away from your goal: let them go.

The same is true with customers and vendors who demand more than you can reasonably provide. Businesses succeed with relationships where all parties win. Your business cannot succeed if your customers or vendors win while you lose. Tell them what you need, and let them choose whether you’ll continue to work together or not.  

What to Do with B-Players

There’s no need to threaten B-players (many organizations do). Merely an offer to help them become A-players. If they respond, your investment will pay dividends for many years.

If they dig in or blame others, simply explain that their behavior is more like a C-player than an A-player and you’re interested in helping them make an A. That may seem like a threat, and you could certainly present it as such. You could also present it as a way up toward greater rewards and see how they respond. A perceived threat demotivates while a perceived personal benefit motivates people.

B-players may not win all the trophies, but they do help your organization meet goals. B-players don’t propel you forward as fast as A-players, but slow and steady still wins many races.

Bottom line: reward your B-players. Shower them with praise and cash. Perhaps not at the level that you shower your star performers, but certainly enough that your B-players stick around.

B-level customers and vendors can also become A-players in your organization. Use the same process of telling them what you need and letting them respond. You may give them the big idea that makes them an industry leader. You may also find that they have no intention of doing what it takes to help you meet your goals.

What to Do with A-Players

A-players are hard to find, hard to develop, and harder to replace. Make it easier on your entire organization by keeping them around. Reward them well. Let them in on decision-making and strategy sessions. Let them feel like they matter.

The only exception comes if they grow arrogant. Ego undermines success in many (all?) of us. Development programs for A-players smartly include a session or two on how to stay humble.

A-level customers and vendors should get more of your time. You can learn from them.

If you want to consistently win, surround yourself with A-players that drive to the goal, and B-and C-players who will endure the pain to get to the next level. 


The last month of the year is an excellent time to evaluate your differentiation system.

We’re happy to help.