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Caring About Your Team's B-Players as Much as Your All-Stars

Caring About Your Team's B-Players as Much as Your All-Stars

by Adam Hickman

LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer to join the Los Angeles Lakers. I'm a native Ohioan and, like many of my neighbors, I have opinions about LeBron's decision. Unlike some of them, mine are printable. And chief among my opinions is this: LeBron's new managers need to care about their B-players as much as their star.

This is true for all managers of all teams -- though it may sound counterproductive. After all, decades of Gallup research prove that the highly talented outperform the less talented in every metric, including productivity, profitability, retention, well-being -- and even safety and shrinkage. Managers get more ROI on time spent with their best performers than with others.

That's why Gallup analytics and advice always say that hiring for talent is essential. Companies that select the top 20% of candidates have realized 30% higher profitability and 10% higher productivity -- and we'd never advise ignoring that.

But … LeBron can't take on another team all by himself. Someone has to pass him the ball and get out of the way. Likewise, someone has to set up star salespeople, nurses, executives or teachers for success. Success in any endeavor depends on a group of people working together. So no matter how super the superstar, a team's B-players need to do their part and do it well.

It's easy for managers to overlook B-players, though. They don't make it rain like the highly talented, and they don't cause as much trouble as the less talented. Your B-players may make so little noise that you forget they need anything from you at all.They do -- but their needs differ from your all-stars' needs.

Commit to Communicate

All-stars can operate well without much direction. They may not even want your attention -- because they're so driven by innate talent, they do best with managers who individualize and advocate, not control and constrict.

Your B-players do good work. Their abilities are crucial for the team's success, but because their talents aren't attention-grabbing, managers can forget those talents need direction too. If that happens, B-players can feel unrecognized and undeveloped. Eventually, they can start to feel disengaged, and their effectiveness and productivity will falter.

That's bad for the worker, for the team and, yes, for the top talent too. All-stars can't work at excellence unless their team is also working at excellence -- LeBron insinuated that he decamped for L.A. because the Lakers are a more talented team, which is both deeply offensive in Ohio and something many agree with.

To keep that from happening to your team, commit to more and better communication with everyone, especially your B team. Prioritize quick-connects to let them know you're aware of their contributions and care about them as people. Set up clear, rigorous expectations and glide paths.

But more than anything, don't judge positions and players on the same scale. Keep in mind that all talents contribute to success -- but in a variety of ways. People with a talent for reducing conflict, for example, keep teams productive, and people with organizational skills prevent mistakes. But unless you recognize those talents for what they are -- as CliftonStrengths does -- some talents are almost invisible. So making apples-to-oranges comparisons undervalues the talents of the people doing essential work.

Your all-stars' talent is jet fuel and will push them where it wants to go. The best you can do with talent like that is to keep developing it, so the all-star stays excited (and stays on your team). But some talents don't provide the same inherent, implacable propulsion that aligns so easily with your well-defined goals.

And if you just can't find a way to align their talents with your goals, find a team that needs those strengths. It's better by far for a B-player to get traded than to stay and feel inferior. Just be sure the fault is a matter of strengths misalignment, not poor coaching. All of your people need to know where you want them to go as well as how to get there, and to receive confirmation that they're on the right track with the talents and strengths they have.

The right amount of attention and clear expectations help managers spot -- or remember to look for -- the quieter talents that get things done and assign recognition where it's deserved, which is important for workplace engagement and team cohesion. Attention and expectations also remind you that all talents need development to become strengths -- especially those that are not as prominent or visible.

Overlooked and Undervalued

Is that what happened in Cleveland?

Did the Cavaliers' managers neglect to develop the talents of the whole team? Did they presume that having LeBron was enough? Well, that's a matter of opinion. Seriously, ask anyone in Ohio and you'll get an earful.

My view is this: Maybe. I've seen it before. Managers often undervalue talents that lack obvious alignment to goals. A salesperson with exceptional, say, Competition talents can overshadow someone who rarely sets sales records but researches more, who thinks about the future as much as the present, or who never lets anyone feel left out or alienated.

Those strengths -- Analytical, Futuristic and Includer, by the way -- are less noticeable than Competition. In fact, without a CliftonStrengths assessment, you may not even know your employees have them, much less how to develop them. But talents like these keep teams together and functioning, and they set companies up for long-term success. Performance is what matters, and different talents achieve similar performance metrics in different ways.

So, yes, focus on your best. Identify your team's LeBron James (maybe you have more than one) and make sure that person always has what they need to capitalize on their talent. That's the best use of your time. But don't neglect your B-players. If you do, their productivity will suffer and so will their engagement. Your whole team will be less successful, and your all-stars will feel stymied.

A whole lot of people in Ohio will tell you how that ends.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Adam Hickman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization.

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