TMBA 305: Building Teams of A Players

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This week we are talking about hiring. If you have a business that has less than 15 employees, every single employee has to be an A Player. You can’t afford to have B and C level players working for you. This is specifically aimed at everyone out there who should be hiring, or has hired employees. This episode is full of 301 and 401 level material, and you absolutely need to pass this class if you are going to have a successful business. We’ll be talking all about how to hire A players and how to purge B and C players from your business.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • The definition of an A Player and why they are so important to your business.
  • How we have been able to recognize A Players in the past and how we found them.
  • Why you should write job descriptions that looks like sales ads, and focus on attitude instead of skills.
  • Why it might take 6-12 months of working with someone to determine if their skill level.
  • The things that can deceive you into thinking that someone is an A Player.
  • How to get B and C Players out of your business.

People on this episode:

Mentioned in the episode:

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.


Dan & Ian

Published on 08.28.15
  • Good episode but I wonder if the search for A Players that every company is so keen about, is only possible because of the situation that Taylor Pearson describes in his book “The End of Jobs”. Back in the days the hunt for A Players was pretty much the realm of the highest ranks but now every company wants just A Players for every of their openings including the very lowest of jobs. Some of them like Netflix are very vocal about their culture of hiring only people that “fit” the company and firing the rest. I understand that it is important for a company to find fitting people for their organisation but there is the dilemma that A Players are rarer than the B’s, C’s and D’s and not every position could be filled with top achievers in the past. But now that the percentage of jobs is shrinking this picture changes and maybe a lot of companies will be able to achieve thei hiring goals and the fight for the jobs gets fiercer and the requirements skyrocket. But this leaves a very important question for policy makers all over the world. What should happen with all these B or C players that nobody wanna have in their organisations? What should they do to earn a living if they cannot find jobs? Maybe there are alternatives in the form of starting out with their own businesses (producticed services or what) but giving that they are B or C Players this will likely not be succcessful. What is your take on this situation?

  • Awesome episode guys, that was gold! When I first started listening to this episode, I was like meh this topic is innate. Nope, you shared some solid advice.

  • Just what we needed!

  • Jeff Pecaro

    I lost it at “I’M upset”

  • Great episode! BTW, check out this section from Netflix’s company culture slide deck – talks about high performers, chaos/complexity, and freedom/responsibility given to high performing employees:

  • What makes an A player in one company does not mean they are an A player elsewhere. Much of it comes down to fit.

  • Adam at The Green Microgym

    This is an important topic. I hope you guys do a lot more on it. A couple questions:

    1. After the first 15 “A” players, are you saying that you can now start hiring B and C players? And if so, what needs to happen to make sure your company can handle B and C players and still be profitable?

    2. How does any of this overlap with your recent sale of your company? Did you ever consider any of your “A” players seriously as someone you could hand the reigns over to (Not as a CEO, but as an owner)? If not, why not?

  • My guess is they did not have the available capital.

  • Thanks Bernd appreciate it!

    First I don’t think it’s the case that most companies are seeking A players, at least as we’re describing them. A players can tend break/create rules and generally cause problems for larger, process driven companies. They move fast and can upset incumbent staff / screw up incentive structures and generally make life a pain in the ass for the C’s who are burning time at the water cooler.

    It’s worth noting in the Netflix case and other similar companies that ‘high achievers’ aren’t necessary the “A’s” we’re talking about here, as many tech firms now hire in much the same way that banks or law firms did before them (from the highly credentialed).

    I’d say it’s also too that most small (sub 15 employee) lifestyle businesses also largely higher role players, rather that role definers for similar reasons.

    I’m not sure I see the problem you are outlining, but my hope is that entrepreneurs will see it as an opportunity :)

  • that’s accurate. technically speaking, I could have seen these players taking small equity stakes, running the company successfully, and paying us offer over a looooong time, this was discussed and we felt it was not a great opportunity for either party. giving an employee a small equity share in a small business can often just be symbolic (or manipulative), and from our perspective the business was worth too much and attractive the marketplace. I’ve seen folks make this deal when they had businesses that they couldn’t sell for one reason or another.

  • hey Adam, might be worth checking out this article about company life-cycles:

    Honestly I think it’s okay to hire B and C players whenever you want, it’s important to understand your goals, what you want to invest in etc. That said, yeah probably when your head count gets 10+ you are going to have some pressure to start hiring solid role players.

    Verne Harnish’s work is insightful on this topic:

  • true dat

  • thanks cool gonna check that out!

  • teehee

  • thanks! :)

  • awesome, the old bossman bait and switch! :)

  • I listened to this episode as a bit of a cheater–I’m someone who wants my working life to be the A-Player you describe. I’m definitely a role player who gets very involved in the business, can see big picture, understands my ROI and the ROI of projects I spearhead. (I’m still an A-, though. No track record and sometimes I do accept B-player projects.)

    Here’s what’s crucial… You have to actually want an A-Player. In theory, a lot of people may want someone like me who leans across their working area to your working area because I see an improvement I can make outside of my given tasks. In practice… I’ve been shot down so many times in my (albeit short, I’m only 18) working life.

    Even if you, the CEO, think an idea or improvement this A-Player is suggesting is just absurdly dumb from first glance, you have to give your employee the resources to run with it and test it. A-Players are spearheaders, you need to let them do that even if it fails sometimes. You have to let that A-Player run free, not just give them an $800 chair to sit in.

    I’ve been pretty adamant about wanting to be a generalist-esque A-Player for a while, and after having a really difficult time with these repetitive, uncreative B-Player jobs, I thought my only options were to start a real business (not just consulting or productized services) or become a yesman specialist. (It didn’t matter to me if it was at a cool, hip company–I need to be treated as an A-Player who is making an impact on the company, even if the company’s overall impact is small.)

    I asked Taylor about this while he was writing The End of Jobs–Is there room for someone who’s good at business but doesn’t want to do business? As Gary V calls it, the entre-employee? He said right now, there’s a bit of a gap because of the transition in businesses, but we’ll be seeing more and more positions like the one I want crop up in the next 5-10 years.

    Luckily, I found a position (first hire) where I get to basically be the first mate to the captain. I can basically do everything the captain does, but I don’t actually have to deal with being the captain (being the face of the company, cash flow, that 1-2 years of slogging to get enough traction to hire). That’s perfect for the lifestyle I want, and I’m sure there are others like me out there who more and more companies (hopefully) start to see the value of soon.

  • congrats on the position Radhika, you’re absolutely right and they can be hard to find, they are probably more often ‘created’ especially in very small businesses, than applied for

  • Adam at The Green Microgym

    That first link was a joke, right (that’s what she said)?

  • actually not but it certainly can be read that way! i highly recommend reading the entire Gervais Principle ebook:

  • Adam at The Green Microgym

    Thanks Dan, I’ll check it out

  • Another great one. Motivation to me in terms of hiring and training (recognizing the difference between feeling like I’m on the catwalk as opposed to constantly sucked into minutiae), motivation to be an A player in my own right in some of the brief forays I’m making into consulting, and finally to select “A” clients, i.e. those who will appreciate initiative-taking, understand value creation and ROI, etc. Always good food-for-thought.

  • Tim Connaughton

    First off, the podcast has become a primary coping technique while I grind out every day in a dreary local government job and build my exit at night. So thank you for giving me little postcards from the outside with all of your episodes.

    Ahhh – to work with A’s! The episode mostly bummed me out because I have been dying to have that interview from the applicant side for forever. I’m usually the one steering the conversation into high level stuff while responding to questions like “Do you have any experience with email?”…..

    I realize that it isn’t the point of the episode, but everything you said can be true of the one doing the hiring, too. The track record, watching out for the lure of charisma, the people hiring knowing their business, etc. are good warnings for people who are looking to join bootstrapped businesses. It is easy to get caught up in all the possibilities that might exist when looking to take a job with a bootstrapped business, but if they aren’t producing, forget it. This kind of a theme with you guys that I can’t get enough of: “Sniff out BS and move on.”

    Thanks for the show! The bingeing keeps me building.

  • Hey guys: thanks for answering my morning routine question. It came up as I was at a mastermind recently where we were joking around about a certain morning routine “guru” who’s recently become fairly well known thanks to his brilliant “discovery” that mornings are a fantastic time to get things done ;)

    Here is my morning routine, for the record: wake up, coffee, work. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to a podcast, but generally speaking I’m stoked to get into my work. Keep up the good work and see you in BKK!

  • thanks Nate glad you dug it. Yep this stuff certainly applies for clients too, for example often A level clients can not only bring a lot to the table for your business but can become business partners as well.

  • thanks Tim so glad you enjoy it

  • First off, thanks for answering my morning routine question. I had an inkling you weren’t strict miracle morning practitioners ;) But it was still useful to hear you talk about it.

    As for the meat and potatoes: we’re in the midst of an intense hiring process, and the idea of discerning between turning point and inflection point has been incredibly helpful in distinguishing between brilliant people looking for a new opportunity, and brilliant people already on the path and looking to step it up a notch.

    Thank you for another great episode!

  • Munly Leong

    Thanks for doing this. I was one of the ones that didn’t make the cut for the producer gig and at least this is far better than the usual answer you try to get as to why you didn’t get the tap lol. Maybe with those sterling publishing house veteran applications you mentioned, others didn’t have a chance? Anyway If I had to guess I probably emphasised too much culture fit and not enough on what I could actually bring to the role.

    I did want to ask though, even for guys such as yourselves would someone who is still prioritising being an entrepreneur vs being an employee be a detriment? Despite the lure of SF salaries and other potential distractions I’m pretty adamant that I’m only looking for part time or short contract availability only (hence something like this).

    By the way for anyone else reading, I posted this on reddit a few months back,

    I’m still available for any remote/location independent role just to cover basic expenses while I bootstrap.

  • cheers thanks for calling in Andres :D

  • Cheers yeah I guess it depends on the role / company etc but unless somebody has a really specific / technical skillset I’d generally speaking want a longer term mindset to the job

  • It sucks to not get a job you want, and takes guts to own it like you are, congrats.

    I would say that your last line might be a part of the problem though:

    “I’m still available for any remote/location independent role just to cover basic expenses while I bootstrap.”

    What you are actually telling a possible employer is this: “Hey I’m happy to take some money from you punching the clock while I put my real energy and focus into my stuff”

    What company (even a bootstrapped one) would want that kind of effort? Would you want someone to come into your business with that approach?

    Focus on what you bring to the table, not what you get out of it.

    Good luck.

  • Munly Leong

    Thanks for the reply. Actually it was as much of an experiment to see if I could be honest with guys like these who are very pro entrepreneurship vs having to pretend to be of the employee mindset. After all, one of their podcasts is titled “why you probably have to become an entrepreneur” or something to that effect.

    Personally back when I did have my own shop, if someone came to me in a similar situation and I only had part time available or temp work, that would be a win-win and building that person up could result in some kind of partnership or investment opportunity later. Also employees who have also been founders and owners are priceless, they can see things from that perspective, understand the big picture and aren’t always just looking to take and can have a true growth/sales mindset vs someone who’s just punched a clock their whole lives.

    That being said, still a bit disappointed that ultimately from the sounds of the podcast they still err more towards employee mindsets with their people but I guess it also can’t be helped. An army is nothing if it’s just the generals and NCO’s.

  • Karen Amundson

    Do you have suggestions on where to recruit people who want location-independent jobs or freelance positions? I’m trying to grow my team of experienced, location-independent digital marketers, particularly those with an SEM background. (

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