Especially in times of recession, it is the company’s B Players who deserve executive attention. These supporting actors of the corporate world determine your company’s future performance far more than A players—volatile stars who may score the biggest revenues or clients, but who’re also the most likely to commit missteps. B players, by contrast, prize stability in their work and home lives. They seldom strive for advancement or attention—caring more about their companies’ well-being. As infrequent job changers, they accumulate deep knowledge about company processes and history. They thus provide ballast during transitions, steadily boosting organizational resilience and performance.
Yet many executives ignore B players, beguiled by stars’ brilliance. The danger? If neglected, these dependable contributors may leave, taking the firm’s backbone with them. How to keep your B players? Recognize their value—and nurture them.
Who are your most valuable B players?
- Former A players. These highly skilled, focused professionals often jump off the fast track to balance work and family. They continue accomplishing A work—but on their own terms. Seasoned and sharp, they step up during crises.
- Truth tellers. Zealously honest in interactions with superiors, they pose challenging questions. Colleagues, recognizing their lack of ambition, highly value their opinions.
- Go-to managers. These power brokers compensate for second-rate functional skills with profound understanding of company processes and norms. They amass such extensive networks that everyone consults them when pushing initiatives through politically challenging terrain.
During turbulent times, B players provide stability by:
- Accumulating organizational memory. B players remember how their company survived earlier crises—providing indispensable perspective during tough times
- Adapting to inevitable change. Less threatened by restructuring, B performers adapt to change and have the credibility to dispense vital information. They mentor younger people through the trauma of change, cultivating a reassuring sense of emotional and psychological safety.
- Staying focused during management shakeups. Unlikely to be promoted or fired when a new CEO arrives, B players are usually the most secure people in any company. They ignore political infighting and get back to business, quietly completing projects while A players jockey for new positions.
How to avoid loosing valuable B Players:
- Accept differences. We’re all tougher on people who differ from us. If you’re an A player, avoid the temptation to undervalue B performers. Ask what they want from their careers, then match them with mentors who’ll help them get it.
- Give the gift of time. Track your communication patterns to ensure you’re not ignoring—and thus alienating—solid performers.
- Hand out the prizes. Since B players are promoted relatively infrequently, reward them in others ways. Even handwritten notes of appreciation can make them feel valued and motivated.
- Give choices to B players. Rather than grooming star players exclusively, allocate scarce resources—compensation, coaching, promotions—to high-potential B players. Promoting sideways can provide appealing career alternatives. (In sports, when you develop an entire team, it is called developing bench strength.)