Taking a good hard look at your team

If you have listened to the IT Provider Network for any amount of time, and thank you for doing that, you will know that I am a big fan of outside coaches.   Mostly to help me do better at things that I am not good at, like taking a good hard look at my team and helping my find A Players.

Oh before I forget,  one of my favorite coaching teams is Chris Brogan and Rob Hatch.  I am a member of their Owner Insiders group and I just received notice that the pricing is going up.   If you listened to this podcast you know that by using this link RIGHT AWAY you might be able to still get the old pricing and save yourself about a grand a year.  Either way, it is a great value but signup now to get the grandfathered pricing that I have.

Owner Insider Group Signup

In this episode of the IT Provider Network podcast, I am going to share with you some of the strategies we have implemented when looking at the number one resource in our company; our team members.

Q1 is almost over – Is Time Flying or Standing Still

Here we are almost two months into the new year and two third through the first quarter. Time really flies when you’re having fun.   It also crawls when you’re not.   Dealing with personnel issues is when time stands still for me. I despise it.

The Land of Misfit Toys

I can’t comment on your business but sometimes in mine, it seems like the land of misfit toys. If I am being honest we have some great people but we have some less than great people too. I haven’t always been the best at hiring, and sometimes my hiring choices were based on an immediate need, not a well thought out process.   You know what I’m talking about when your ONLY engineer quits and you are forced to do all the work. Those kinds of hires. Been there done that.

But I digress.

I’ve grown since then and thankfully so has our company.  I have built resilience in my team, processes, and documentation so that our company is not so reliant on one person Rest assured,  that wasn’t always the case. Even though this episode is not about hiring I will tell you that you need to strive to remove as much of the emotion from your hiring process, be as objective as possible and think carefully about your hires. Look for A Players to fill every role.   Chances are you will be living with your decisions for a long time.

It’s in the way we communicate

I have a new thought and it is my mantra for 2018. What separates us from the competition is NOT our team but the way we communicate with our clients. Every company in the world brags that they have the best people, or the best team and most of them really believe that they do but the truth of the matter is that we all can’t have the best people.   We just can’t.   Even though we all can’t have the best team we can do everything possible to make ours better.

So what can you do to continually improve your team and leverage the most expensive, most important resource in your company?  What can you do to improve your team?   What can you do to continually raise the performance bar of your company so that you can achieve WORLD DOMINATION?


Well in the next two episodes of the IT Provider Network I am going to present two techniques that we have implemented in our company. In this episode, I am going to talk about ABC Rankings and in Episode 29 I’ll be telling you how we use ESP’s or Employee Success Plans.   Using these techniques together I think go a long way to build excellent teams.

ABC Ranking –  Not your grandfathers forced ranking

First, let’s talk about ABC ranking. This is the process of ranking your team into A players, B players and C players.   It’s highly controversial mostly from what is referred to as “forced ranking” or “stacked ranking”. The difference of between ABC ranking and forced ranking is that in forced ranking everyone fits in one place on the bell curve. The top 20% is are the A players and the middle 70% are the B players and finally, the bottom 10% are the C players. In this model, each year, the bottom 10% usually gets the axe. Made famous by Jack Welch of GE in the 80’s forced ranking has some fans but also some problems.

Maybe someone in the bottom 10% could easily have been coached up to be in the middle 70% and you wouldn’t need to be hiring and starting from zero. Replacing the bottom 10% can also be costly to the company, it costs money to keep turning people in and out of your company. And finally forced ranking causes some weird tension in a company. Nobody wants to be in the bottom 10% so there can be some tattle-tailing and infighting.

That’s why we don’t do it.   We don’t do forced ranking but we do use ABC ranking.

In ABC ranking you could have a team of all A players or a team of A and B players or finally a team of A B and C players, no one has to be “forced” into a rank.

The Process

Here is how we do it and how you can as well.

We use a simple method. Around once a year we have each manager rank his or her direct reports as an A, B, or C employee.   To rank them they look at two primary areas.

The Buckets

  1. Productivity – How well does the employee do his or her job.   It’s important for the manager to be totally honest and give a fair ranking.   You can’t rank your direct reports based on some pie in the sky notion of what you think they should be doing but only on how well they are doing their job based on the requirements THEY know about and have been tasked to do. Ideally, this is what’s in their job description or even better their ESP, Employee Success Plan, which we will be going over in Episode 29 of the IT Provider Network.   Measuring productivity should be pretty objective.   You should have metrics to support this measurement.   Things like sales activities, first appointments attended, tickets closed, calls answered, bugs fixed, net admin visits and so on.
  2. Culture and Fit – How well does the employee fit into the company, department, and team.   Cultural fit in our company is the measure of how well a team member will reflect the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up our organization.   You should be looking at your core values, how well the team member works with his peers and with you.   You should also look at the quote normal things like dependability, reliability, promptness, neatness, and a general give a shit attitude. ABC Talent Matrix

The Pow Wow

After each manager has done the ABC analysis in private we get the management team together for a confidential meeting. During this meeting, each manager presents his team members rankings and the reasoning and justification for the rank.   If any of the other managers have direct experiences with this employee they are invited to offer an opinion and even try to sway the manager to change the ranking.

This is helpful to uncover shortcomings in the manager or perhaps even a personality conflict between the employee and the manager. It also tends to dig deeper into the surface issues presented by the ranking manager.

After the ranking of an employee is presented the team decided on an action plan for that employee.   We have some guidelines for that as well although each case is different. Before I talk about some of the actions lets define the different players.

What is an A, B and C Player?

Let’s start at the bottom.

The C Players

We have a simple test for whether or not an employee is a C player. The test is this:
Would you hire that person again?
If the answer is no then the person is most likely a C player.


The B Players

B Players are the best employees. B Players truly care about the company and our clients. They’re the ones that show up to work every day and work like machines. They rarely call out and when they do it is because they really need to call out.   They are productive and usually well liked.


The A Players

“Who” the book by Geoff Smart & Randy Street defines an A player as an employee who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.

A Players have all the great characteristics of a B player but they are also talented and ambitious enough to be promoted time and time again.   A Players are great but in our industry, they often don’t stay around long unless you pay a lot of attention to them.   Think about promoting A players to the management team or client facing roles if they have the right skills.

The Action Plan

Now that we know who they are and what their classification looks like, what are we going to do with them?

Again let’s start with the C players. We have three possible action plans for C players and only these three.

  1. Move Them – Place them in a different role where they could become more successful and become a B or A player. Sometimes this is a home run but if I am being honest, in my experience, his almost always ends up as a stop-gap measure. If the employee will be moving to a new manager with the new role then the new manager needs to fully commit to coach the employee for success. What we don’t want to do is just toss around an employee instead of making the hard decisions.
  2. Coach Them – Sometimes a manager will believe that a C player is that because the manager or some circumstances outside of the employees’ control has been the reason for the ranking.   If this is the case then the manager that ranked him might elect to continue developing the employee with coaching and training.   As in the Move Them case, the manager needs to fully own this.
  3. Invite them to Move On – The third case is the least pleasant for all involved. That is to invite them to be successful in another company.   Again in my experience, this is often the outcome even after trying to coach or move them.   This is especially true if the bulk of the problems with the employee reside on the culture and fit side of the measurement.   It’s really difficult to change a person, they almost always revert back to their former self.

It should never be a surprise

Whichever action is decided on, it is always handled in such a way so the employee is not surprised about a performance problem.   All along you need to be communicating with your direct reports and tracking them against their ESP which we will get into in a minute.

B players are your most important asset. Don’t neglect them. Provide training plans, career ladders and recognition to them. Even if you have a relatively flat organization find a way to help them grow within your company.

If you have a B player that you think could move up to an A player, we call these B+ players because they are high on the culture fit measurement but lacking some on the productivity measurement, then really strive to move them up.

The same thing for A players, if you are lucky to have some, then make sure you are taking the time to nurture them and feed their ego. They will most often have an ego that you will need to stroke.

Fill your team with A Players

If you’re light on A players then start working on your hiring process and look to only hire A players.   As you are replacing those C players that you have invited to move on you build your bench with top-notch candidates.   This is key if you really want your company to grow.

In some of the earlier podcasts, I did three episodes on hiring.   I have put links below along with a link to a 40+ page Hiring Guide that I wrote.   Pick them up, you should be able to get some good nuggets out of them to help you with your hiring process.

Hiring – Process and Tools to find great talent – ITPN – EP009


Hiring – Testing and Interviewing for great hires – ITPN -EP010

Hiring – Onboarding – the first 90 days – ITPN -EP011

IT Provider Network Resources

That’s it for Episode 28 of the IT Provider Network. As always, I thank you wholeheartedly for the comments and emails, the ITunes reviews and the support you’ve given me. If you see something posted about the Podcast please share it.   It’s because of you that the word gets around and we can help our community grow.

I would love to hear from you, I am always looking for topics that you feel would be helpful to you to build, grow and scale your business.   So drop me a line at feedback at itprovidernetwork.com and we can talk about it.

Until then, make it a great day and remember We Are IT!

Further Reading


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