Oct 13, 2006

How to manage A players

Many A players outperform others in search of recognition, which often signals irrationally low self-esteem, writes Steven Berglas in the Harvard Business Review. (Steven Berglas: “How to keep A players productive” in Harvard Business Review (September 2006). Article can be purchased online.)

Super-achievers are typically very smart, insecure and highly competitive.

He identifies the following strategies for dealing with stars:
  • Set boundaries: A players will tend to overextend tasks, so avoid vague requests and cap performance expectations very clearly
  • Let them win sometimes: make concessions to stars over minor points and they will support your strategy
  • Make praise personal: stars have problems internalizing positive feedback, so they need regular and highly personalized praise to boost their self-esteem
  • Make them team play: encourage A players to cooperate with others to achieve goals
  • Turn stars into coaches: this acknowledges their superiority and helps them to foster better relations with subordinates
  • Set fresh challenges: A players are hard to overload and will respond well to growth opportunities.
Although A players may not be easy to manage, research shows that they generate 80% of a firm’s profits, notes the author. By handling such players effectively, leaders can dramatically increase their value to the company, he concludes.

What do you think? Do you think the value of A players is overrated? Should they be getting any concession denied to the other players? The bit about insecurity is interesting. I have heard that at least of the biggest strategic management consulting firm try to gauge a candidate's "insecurity" before making an offer.