Why you should be trying to build a team of A Players


When you’re building any team – be it a football team or a company department – of course you want to fill it with the best individuals you can find. On the field or in the office, you want a group of people that can consistently perform at the highest level. The reality is that most executives live with something rather different. It’s more likely that they’re working with a mix made up of 25% high performers (A Players), 50% good performers (B Players), and 25% poor performers (C Players). But wouldn’t it be great if you could create a team where 90% of your staff were A Players? Given the right hiring processes that’s a totally achievable goal.

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” 
— Steve Jobs, Chairman, CEO and co-founder of Apple

An A Player is someone in the top 10% of talent available for any job, at a given salary level. Create a team of A Players and your business is more likely to succeed; keep a lot of B and C Players on board and you’re more likely to fail. It’s as simple as that. 

A Players bring with them resourcefulness, energy, passion, analytical skills and persistence in abundance – all skills that can help them overcome hurdles in order to seek out success. According to Topgrading, A Players tend to be:

  • Smart, intellectual and business-savvy

  • Passionate and driven to succeed

  • Trustworthy

  • Consistently high performers

  • Adaptable and able to adjust to working with many different personalities

  • Prone to surrounding themselves with other high performers

  • Very hard workers

  • Resourceful and able to overcome obstacles

  • Effective leaders

  • Down-to-earth, well-grounded, self-aware and humble

While A Players are out there performing for your business, B and C Players often need to be closely managed, which can be an unwanted distraction from your main focus. There may be times when you consider hiring B and C Players just to fill a role, but this can actually cause more problems in the long term. Yes, they may make some progress with the job, but if they don’t do it well, you’ve actually created another problem to fix. By investing in only hiring A Players, you can save time on micromanaging and fixing the problems of B and C Players, and put all your efforts into achieving greater success with your team of A Players. On top of this, you’re likely to see other benefits:

  • Your mis-hire rate will dramatically decrease (see also my mis-hire article). After implementing new hiring processes geared to hiring only A Players, General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch dramatically improved GE’s batting average for hiring A Players, with his mis-hire rate going from 60% to a game-changing 20%.

  • A Players tend to attract other A Players. To some degree it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re a small and growing company that’s able to attract a small critical mass of A Players, you can start a favourable chain reaction and build a strong company. Both Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates did this, and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them.

It doesn’t matter whether there are 10 people in your firm or you’re managing a 10,000-person company – either way, your success will depend on putting the right hiring processes in place. But how are you going to hire only A Players, the top 10% of candidates in your business area? Well, it all starts with having access to them…

Contact us to discuss how we can help ensure your recruitment processes result in hiring only A Players.

About the author. Shawn Rutter is the Founder of Excelsior Search, a market-leading, niche search company, specializing in international executive search and recruitment solutions for financial technology (fintech), data, and research providers to the global capital markets and investment industry. With experience delivering search assignments across the Americas, EMEA and APAC, he founded Excelsior in 1999, having previously worked as an Army Officer and for the international search firm MRI.  Shawn invites you to connect on LinkedIn.