Going After the "A" Players: Is It the Best Strategy for Every Organization?

The Fortune magazine published a three-page long “Special Advertising Section” in its December 12 2011 issue, where a company offers solutions for other organizations to recruit, develop, and retain A players. I have no doubt that A players can be the best asset and may create great value for an organization. When I think deeper, however, I wonder if it is the best strategy for every company to go after the A players.

According to the Theory of Personality Fit (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005) or the ASA (Attraction-Selection-Attrition) Theory by Schneider et al. (1995), an organization tends to hire those candidates who are the most similar to the organization’s existing members. Those who “fit” in the organization, the job, the group, and the supervisors are likely to stay. On the country, those who do not “fit” will probably end up leaving the organization voluntarily or involuntarily.

If an organization is not among the top performers in the field, chances are this organization hires mostly B, C, or even D players. If this company hires mostly A players, these A players should have already turned this company into an “A” organization or the market leader in the field, right?

Based on the Theory of Personality Fit and the ASA framework, this company probably should not go after the A players at all. At least, it should not do it at this point because (a) it is not cheap to recruit A players and (b) A players may not “fit” with the B or C players in the organization, and definitely will not fit with the D players. If this company wants to hire an A player, it would find it very difficult to attract A candidates. Even if it hires some A players, they will end up leaving the company because they will find out later that they do not “belong to” this organization.

In this case, is it possible for a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company to turn around and transfer itself into a top-tier company that attracts and retains A players? I believe it is possible but will take many small steps. In general, a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company should consider the following:

  • Start from recruiting and selecting the B or C candidates. The company may want to hire some C players, but B players are desirable. D players are not suggested. Remember, a few bad apples can ruin everything!
  • Treat employees “right.” Even though B or C players are not as needed as the A players by the top-tier firms, they are needed by the competitors. No companies want their employees to end up working for the competitors.
  • Training and development become critical. If it is impossible for a company to recruit and retain A players, it needs to invest more in its current asset, namely the B players. Hopefully, with adequate training, a company can turn its B players into A players over time. Also, it is very important to outline a clear career path for the potential A players so that they know they have a future in the company --- otherwise, they may end up leaving the company for better opportunities, and the money spent on training and development will benefit the A players’ new employers, likely the competitors again.
  • It is necessary to hire a strong “A” leader because most of the time, A players are good friends of other A players. An A leader will not only become the center for an organization, s/he may also be able to help attract other A players in her/his network to join the company. 

Over a period of time, it is hoped that this 2nd- or 3rd- tier company will build a team with a strong A leader and a group of A players. When the organization has more A players than C players, the C players will probably find themselves not “fitting” in the organization anymore.

The ultimate goal is to have mostly A players with some B players working in the organization. “An A leader + a group of A players” can pretty much guarantee a green return on any investment.

My point is --- if you are already running a top-tier organization, certainly, you can focus on recruiting A players; if you are not, you may want to forget about the A players for now. Rather, you should focus on the B players (i.e. the potential A players) and consider the suggestions I proposed above. Do you agree to my analysis? If not, what can a 2nd- or 3rd- tier company do to turn itself into a top-tier organization?

References
Kristof-Brown, A.L., Zimmerman, R.D., & Johnson, E.C. (2005). Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person supervisor fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281-342.
Schneider, B., Goldstein, H.W., & Smith, D.B. (1995). The ASA framework: An update. Personnel Psychology, 48, 747-773.
Picture was downloaded from Australia.edu.

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