Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s”

I can still hear it like it was yesterday. “If you only hire people more talented than yourself, then your job as the leader is to remove barriers and get out of the way,” said Ron. It was part of a discussion we were having about my concern that I was doing work I thought was higher level than others in my pay grade.

He suggested I watch the way some of his peers spend their time. He was far calmer and seemed to have his act together. Besides he said, “I have no problem with you achieving or even going beyond my current leadership level.” Ron told me that by hiring the best people, he was able to focus on other priorities for the organization. He also provided the insight that many managers are not comfortable with this concept because they think there is some mysterious competition. Simply put, A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.

I have found over my career that not only is this a great yardstick for recruiting, but it turns out to be a valuable time management guide. When you just hire people more talented than yourself, the only thing you find yourself repeating is the recruiting and hiring process as you help these people spread their wings and take off. As the leader, you can focus on longer term strategy, diversity, talent development and customers/suppliers.

Have you had the opportunity to work for a leader that only hires A’s? Did it raise your performance?


Sunil Kanojia said...

Awesome topic in this economy where weeding out should happen to improve American productivity.

Agreed and I can give 100% credit of my entire professional growth, success and learning to ‘most of my previous bosses (and great leaders) I work under during my 25 years of work-life.

The thing which set these great humans apart (“A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s”) from rest of mediocre self-serving corporate parasites is that they value organization growth and well being more than their own bonuses or pay rises.

These great managers create pie bigger (Evangelist) and do that without any insecurities of their own, because they have none!

In one of my previous global employer, I saw both types of managers, one (less in numbers) who always hired more talented folks then they themselves were ((“A’s hire A’s"). And other, who hired more incompetent duffers then they were under them so that these duffers build multi-layers of buffer (or clay layers) to protect their incompetency and indecisiveness to do anything in life ("D’s hire F’s”)!

Beauty is that we all can actually see this very clearly by observing the kinds of deputies any manager has and using their deputies IQ level anyone can decide and distinguish the difference with Ace and Duffers in any organization, anywhere in the world.

Duffers hide and don’t make any decisions while Ace make every day decisions and always stay in the open.

Yes, I am fortunate to have worked under several Aces and they always hire A’s and help improve every one’s performance and brighten up the entire environment.

Deepak Sharma said...

Very well, paraphrased!

Shows your own clarity of thought, John,

Anonymous said...

Hi John;
This (subject line) is something I will remember through out my life. Outstanding observation and very true globally irrespective of geographic location. Thanks for sharing.


Hans Danielsen said...

The discussion has brought forward a couple of different questions. 1) If an A hires an A, will this new A take his job? 2) If an A hires an A, will this A be better ? 3) If an A hires an A, will this A just fly away for a new job after short time ?
One of the problems is that people tend to hire new staff that "looks like" them self. It is comportable to have a new staff, that has the same qualifications and background as yourself - then you can communicate, and you "know what you get". But what you and the company need is a diversified staff, that has different skills, different ways of approaching tasks, new ways of opening locked situations. The manager must overcome the difficulties of understanding different skills and approaches and spend time on holding the different people together focused on a common goal.
Many managers are acting this way:
They divide in 4 groups of staff - 1) the good people, that you like, 2) the bad people that you like, 3) the good people that you don't like, 4) the bad people that you don't like.
Group 2) will manipulate you if possible, and either has to be changed into good people or removed or at least given much less attendance.
Group 3) is your hidden gold of the company. Give them a chance to grow, and they will be the most loyal staff.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. The best manager I've ever known was brilliant about hiring strong, smart, people who challenged him on everything. He did it mindfully and consistently. The only two directions he gave the work force were, "is this the best we can make it?" and "are we doing the right thing?". It was a pure pleasure to be part of that team.

Anonymous said...

This is just like John Maxwell's Law of the Lid just applied to hiring people. See here too:

Ralph A.D.F. Pastor said...

Definitely seen that trend during my career as well John. I think people typically tend to act out in life in general, and in this economic climate where so many are worried about the security of their jobs, there is probably that added paranoia that if they do bring strong talent aboard it will highlight their weaknesses even further. I fill a sales role so traditionally I am only as good as my numbers, but with other organizational positions such as management and executive leadership I can definitely see how your suggested hiring trend plays out.

James Kontilis said...

Actually, the phrase I was always familiar with was, "A's teach B's how to work for C's"

It's been my experience that a lot of C's are incorrectly tasked A's and B's.

a C and proud of it :)

Paula Mossaides said...

I worked for an A that only hired As and it was one of the best working experienced I have had. It definitely made all of us reach higher and learn from each other.

Mike Roughton said...

Not exactly on point, but I couldn't resist. . . my first hiring manager (out of college) put it this way, "A students go to grad school and the B students go to work for the C students".

Chuck Doerrler said...

Having been a hiring manager, I always wanted skilled players that could gel into the team dynamic. If they could provide a knowledge base that I or the team didn't possess, then get them on board! I wanted to drive a culture of knowledge sharing and growth.

The stronger the people on your team, the stronger you become. In business or sports, you step up your game when playing with higher caliber players.

Ken Thomas said...

Amen! When leaders understand that their success is predicated on the success of those who work for them, they will make sure that they develop and nuture talent, giving freedom to act and accountability.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Your insight is absolutely correct. In the recruiting world there a large void between "A" Hiring Managers and "B" Hiring Managers with the simple difference being that the "A"s look for people to fill voids in the future due to the evolution of the organization, customers, markets etc...


Albert McGovern said...


My first job out of college was for a (then) division of UTC, Norden Systems, and I definitely worked for an A+ person who wasn't afraid to include the right people on his team, regardless of their stature, and who also did everything he could to mentor and promote those in his team that were capable and inclined to do so. I've since learned to ascribe to John Maxwell's theory, that real leaders build new leaders.

I've also heard of the different nuances to the "A, B, C" persons, with one working for the other in different versions. I get your point, which is to bring on the best people, put aside your own ego, and then do everything you can to lead and build a strong team. That produces results often captured in the adage, "A rising tide lifts all boats", as everyone in and around the team that produces the results derives benefits of some kind.

Best Regards,

Al McGovern

Paul Turzio - Ideas & Solutions said...

This philosophy only works if it is supported from the top.
The boss likes this, some of the staff may not and not every company is as forward thinking as this thread would like to represent.

While some may rise to the occasion, if an A happens to be working in a B or C environment, (s)he's only as strong as the weakest link, and oftentimes represents a threat to the lower community. ("Office politics", or "over-qualified").

With an exception to the rule, hiring another A, especially in a down market, can represent their own replacement. This is why many hire beneath their level. It creates a false sense of security at the company expense.

The cycle begins. Do I hire above my level to make the company and myself better, or do I "secure" my position by being better than who is here?

In a forward thinking environment the answer is always to be better.
Then reality takes hold. Survival of the fittest.

Josep Segura said...

Good and right John, same opinion, at least somebody getting on the reasonable way....if you have better peers than yourself, you became double reach. still learnig and growing and with a delegation and empowerment flow to concentrating on the important and basic for the biz.

Anonymous said...

Well said John. Absolutely true.

Joe Oliver said...

I think it depends entirely on the personalities of the A's, B's, and C's and what one would consider an A. I have found myself on both ends of situation; working with those more talented than myself and the other way around. I usually find myself better off working with those more talented than I because of the shared knowledge and experiences that can be acheived in such a situation...they do great work and, generally speaking, they make YOU as their manager look good. You hit the other key benefits in your original post. However, I believe there is still a burden on the manager responsible for the A employee to establish an environment that is set up so that their star talent is working with the rest of your supply chain in a way that is beneficial to everyone in the team and thus the department and the company as a whole. There are smart, talented A's out there that look great to superiors because of the work they do and the knowledge they possess, but some are looking out more for themselves than the team. I strongly believe that supply chain is a team environment and I personally would rather take a smart, motivated, willing-to-learn B that's a team player than a super star A that is mostly concerned with their own performance.

Talent development that you mention is key where I came from and believe that it is more created by the leadership you most closely work with. To me, a sign of a good leader is one that can mold their employees from C's to B's or B's to A's. The A employees you create are potentially worth more to you than the A's that you hire.

Jill Hohwald said...

I couldn't agree more.

What's even more amazing is that I have clients who pay me to find them the BEST talent out there - and then shy off of hiring the BEST because they don't want to ruffle the feathers of their Executive Team.

Many would rather hire someone a supervisor will be comfortable delegating to...i.e. less qualified, less persistent, and less likely to make a strong contribution to the bottom line.

Those clients that demand the best talent and hire the best talent, are the ones I do repeat business with - because they are the ones who are still in business!

Arnie Kennedy said...


I'm not sure I have heard your message put quite like you did here but I agree 100% with the concept. It has been my experience that hiring a 'C' or even a 'B' employee requires much more work in both the short and long term. It is sometimes difficult to make the distinction but worth the trouble. In virtually every case where I have hired someone my direction has always been get some who can help me not someone I need to help. Once that is done, like you also said, the Boss's job is to just clear the way for these excellent employees to get the work done.

Unfortunately I have found in my career that many people are intimidated by an 'A' person and thus shy away from your suggested approach. Its unfortunate, when you have a great boss everything just seems to get done. Work can be fun and you reduce the daily stress tremendously. I am grateful for having had the experience and I hope follow it in my work activities.

Thanks for your comments

Robert Ryan said...

I couldn't agree more with the ideals behind this. However, in many situations we are not hired into a position, we migrate or our original leader moves away and you find yourself in a situation where you are an A working for a B who wants you to be a C. This tends to lead to confrontation and the inevitable wing clipping of the A.

This is a very frustrating and stressful situation to be in, any comments or suggestions would be much appreciated.

Bilal Abujaleel said...

t's totally right.
When A's people work with people much talented than them. they get excited and energized. but when A's work with traditional poor talented, they -sometimes- not giving their 110% efforts.

Tulla Jackson said...

I've had several opportunities to build what I would perceive as "A" teams. Output, quality, and customer satisfaction were always high. However, every "A" player at some point in time is perceived to be a "B" or "C" player by someone. People are what you make of them.

Mandi Schlenker said...

I like the commentary. I have found however that there is definitive truth in A's hiring A's and B's hiring C's. My personal experience has taught me that most A's find themselves being A performers through hard work and perserverence. In doing so, they are not threatened by peers who are like-minded or who may even out-perform them in certain areas. In fact, they see the value in each other's strengths and use those strengths to their advantages. That is why they are more inclined to hire A performers and help them to excel, even beyond their own leadership levels.

On the contrary, B's tend to hire C's because they need the sense of empowerment. You've heard the term "you can lead a dog to water, but you can't force him to drink." Typically, a B or a C performer is not molded to an A unless it was in his passion and heart to be an A from the beginning. My personal observation is that there is an underlying "threat" that the hiring of one's "equal", or especially one that out performs (this being an A performer) will make a B performer look bad, whereas on the contrary a C performer will maintain the B performer's job security, so to speak (for lack of a better way of putting it)

Any good leader will make sure that no matter which category you fall under that he/she empowers you to excel to your fullest potential of success, helps you realize your goals and works with you to achieve those goals

Kit Armstrong said...

This is a very insightful observation. Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work for several A's that only hire A's. It definitely did bump up my game. It also sensitized me to the fact that there is perhaps no decision more important than staffing. It is not only critical to delivering on strategic intent and performance, but for succession planning as well as an overall step up in the "company team's" performance. When you bring in a few key A players, it raises the performance of the entire team.

The idea of B's hiring C's is something I'd not thought of before. Looking back and thinking about some of the B's I've known, I support this notion.

I've worked for a few B's in the past. It didn't take me long to look for other opportunities. The mix of skill/will leadership issues was stifling. Having had the experience, it provides an additional perspective when considering career moves... look for an A boss!

The idea of B's hiring C's is something I'd not thought of before. Looking back and thinking about some of the B's I've known, I support this notion.

What are your thoughts on the ability of B leaders/managers becoming A leaders/managers? What do you believe could be the critical success factors or critical barriers?

Deb Dreyer said...

My take is no different than those above. I have the opportunity to live in both settings. Learning from either situation was well worth the time spent with these folks. I will say that I have learned more from the substandard managers/directors/executives in my career about how NOT to run an organization.

I have always believed, as a leader, to surround yourself with folks that are more intelligent than myself. I have seen several complex professional situations tackled in this type of high end setting.

Its the best way to get to the more desired orginazational goals and the most efficient.

Cheers on the timely topic.

Denise Soots said...

John, I have seen this scenario over and over again. The Book 'Good To Great" really stresses this theory. I took a sebatical out of my industry for about a year and lived and breathed this theory and the art of headhunting only "A Players". Though I didn't like the job, I love what I learned. We sought out only "A Players" for companies we had contracts for. It was amazing the reaction you got when you placed an "A Player" into the company even after the first interview. Most clients commented that the candidates "seemed too good to be true" and then as they settled in after the first month of employment, people were blown away with what they could accomplish in such a short time. There is one danger though - for many managers who truly experience an "A Player" they soon discover that those around this "A Player" grow dimmer and dimmer. That manager then has to evaluate the preformance of those B & c Players and decide what they are going to do with these players. What happens most times is the other "A Players" on this previous team that have been held down by the B and C Players now start rising to the top and the B & C Players them stick out like a sore thumb. Wow! Have you seen the result of a team of "A Players" All you have to do is tell them the direction and they are 50 miles down that road before you walk out that door. I myself am an "A Player" and love to surround myself with other "A Players" Being employed by someone who then appreciates what an "A Player" can do is just icing on the cake. "A Players" always go above and beyond what is expected because they wouldn't have it any other way - it is just a personal stand they have for themselves. Learning and growing on a continual basis are what keep us challenged and why an "A Player" continues to drive the success of any company!

Casey Johnson said...

please define As and Bs... I am thinking social style here A's are your drivers; B's are your extroverts/influencers and C's your analyticals??

Christopher (Kit) Armstrong said...

This is a very insightful observation. Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work for several A's that only hire A's. It definitely did bump up my game. It also sensitized me to the fact that there is perhaps no decision more important than staffing. It is not only critical to delivering on strategic intent and performance, but for succession planning as well as an overall step up in the "company team's" performance. When you bring in a few key A players, it raises the performance of the entire team.

The idea of B's hiring C's is something I'd not thought of before. Looking back and thinking about some of the B's I've known, I support this notion.

I've worked for a few B's in the past. It didn't take me long to look for other opportunities. The mix of skill/will leadership issues was stifling. Having had the experience, it provides an additional perspective when considering career moves... look for an A boss!

The idea of B's hiring C's is something I'd not thought of before. Looking back and thinking about some of the B's I've known, I support this notion.

What are your thoughts on the ability of B leaders/managers becoming A leaders/managers? What do you believe could be the critical success factors or critical barriers?

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I worked in many parts of the IT industry in the past 25 years and served under 31 different 'leaders'. Your discussion prompted me to list and rate them as A's, B's and C's. Luckily I can rate 45% of them as A's, the rest as B's and only 2 C's. I definitely worked better with the A types - they empowered me, held me accountable, supported me when needed and guided me when necessary.

My career progressed more under these types than any other. Their style of management matched my own and working for them reinforced my belief as an A type to hire more A's. I am delighted to say many of my hires progressed to become my peers or successors and I consider these people some of my greatest business achievements. They brought success to themselves, to me, to my business units and my company - a win-win-win-win result !!!

Career advice to any A's unlucky enough to be accidentally hired by B's is get out quick - some of my worst memories of waste and frustration were when I inherited B Type managers in organisation reshuffles.

I had the good fortune to work for two excellent A Types who both reached VP level through their A Type hiring policy - for true A Types competition is never a worry, just a way of keeping sharp and progressing.


Lance Ross said...

A great friend of mine - a highly respected leader in our Canadian Armed Forces - once strongly suggested to me that a great leader appreciates the importance of the statement: "You Gotta Love Your People!"

He then went on to note that training and focus help take care of the rest while ateam is only as strong as its weakest link. He didn't say anything about A's, B's or C's - only that everyone needs to do their part to the best of their ability wherever they are on any given day.... without fear.

Just a thought....

Michael Stuart said...

Hello John,
I read you posting regarding "A" caliber leaders hiring "A" caliber employees and "B"s hiring "C's. I completely agree with your observation. I myself have had the privilage of working for a couple of "A' caliber leaders. From my experience, when you are hired by an "A' and have the opportunity to work closely with that "A", as well as, other "A"s, your habits, work ethic, drive, ambition, energy, confidence and overall performance soar. Also, the "A"s that I have worked for have exposed me to different aspects of business such as financial reporting and strategic planning. "B" caliber leaders tend to keep their employees skill levels well underneath their own and rarely expose subordinates to new aspects of the business. The old saying that we are products of our environment is definitly true. I had such positive experiences working for "A"s.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Sarah said...

Ah, Robert - not only have I seen this occur, I have had the dubious honor of experiencing it myself.
As a hard driving 'A' whose consulting background promoted that 'A'-ness I was flummoxed when I found myself working for a 'B'/'C'.
And now, looking back on it - I was also in denial for quite some time, after denial - there was lots of anger fueled by blame. After settling through all those emotions (and months and months later) I remembered the tenet of consulting:
You give the customer what the customer wants. You get chances along the way to sell your product (sometimes this is the 'true solution' not many customers want/need or can afford this) just don't get too attached to 'your product' because ... you give the customer what the customer wants.

In this case - I was the product and what this customer wanted was a very watered down version. After realizing this, I went to work implementing it - more painful for me than I can even explain.
The upshot is that management is less of an issue, I invested my energies in new training/education and other interest groups that I would not have the time for if I was working for an 'A'.

I found that 'B's do have a purpose - they allow me to reinvest in myself. Would I have chosen this had I known? No. Am I happy with the way it worked out now that I got myself realigned? Yes!

I wish you much strength on this journey!


Ed Cowsar said...

Absolutely - on several occasions, and it did! Previous mentors and managers hired some of the most productive individuals in my industry that I have ever worked with. It was an honor to be on their teams - multiple times! Nearly all on those teams have gone on to do great things in one way or another. Hire right and train well; you cannot just recruit and hire in these changing times, but you should keep the new products, and processes in front of your team, with a measurable plan for productivity and not just knoweldge transfer. You will get the new people onboard quicker with a good understanding of what makes those productive team members perform at the top of their game. Agreed, that if you hire right then you are most of the way there - but that plan for ongoing productivity sets your team apart, even when you hire right.

Paul Symonds said...

Agree 100%, there is nothing more challenging and fullfilling than working in a team which cuts above its weight and working for great leaders.... I have been fortunate in my career to date to work for inspirational leaders, being part of and leading great teams, and working for companies which lived and breathed succession management and personal development.
As a leader it is also great to mentor and coach new talent, bring them in and see them thrive in the organisation and their careers.
The yardstick I measure everyone against is.... if it was my company and my money, would I hire them.

John Weiss said...

Great analogy. It does take a team and not everyone can be an A, nor can we afford all A's, but I have definitely seen the paradigm exist both within my firm and within my clients.

Joe Oliver said...

Mandi and John, you make some good points. It takes a certain personality type to understand the larger picture at hand where-as an A hiring an A would understand the benefits to not only the one doing the hiring, but of course the department and organization as a whole; which is the bottom line. My view was not only looking at the one-on-one relationship of an A hiring an A or a B hiring a C, but the larger picture of everyone that your new hire interacts with to function within the team.

The other point (or question) I was driving at is what does a company do to develop its employees into A's in the first place? To expand on both John and Mandi's points: Other than hiring an A, where do A's come from?

Mandi, your last sentence sums it up nicely. It is something not seen in some groups and organizations as much as it should and without that type of leadership it ends up hurting the company in the long run.

John Bishop said...

Thank you for the insights and experiences shared. The best part of publishing on web 2.0 is when someone provides an insight or perspecive I had never even considered before. This happened a couple of times in the comments above. Fantastic.


Unknown said...

Threatened A's hire B's.
I leave a company when "The A's have left the building"

Sapphire Solutions said...

A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s

Very interesting post...

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Iqra technology said...
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Iqra technology said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iqra technology said...

Very useful & interesting post,,

Iqra Technology
keep sharing..

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