In a few days, Major Leaguers in Florida and Arizona will be breaking camp and opening up the 2015 Major League baseball season. Each team will have gone through the arduous and sometimes tedious process of winnowing their rosters to 25.

Presumably, these 25 players represent the best of the best (let’s face it, even the least talented MLBer is still pretty talented) and give their respective teams the best shot at winning it all this Fall.

Of course, rosters don’t always represent the best of the best. Injuries and contractual obligations and flexibility play factors as well, but all-in-all, it’s safe to say that most of the talent gearing up for next week’s season openers are true “A” listers.

Can you say the same for your business? Is your team filled with top talent that’s right for your brand . . . or do they represent something less?

Last year around this time, I wrote a blog about what top talent could mean for your business. It was sage advice then . . . and still is today. Here’s to making the grade! Enjoy.  


Making the A-List

(Originally posted on April 2, 2014)

The calendar tells me it’s spring—though some of my northern and mid-western buddies might disagree—and the days are getting longer and warmer. Another true sign of spring is that the Major League baseball season is upon us (Go Dodgers!). For baseball fans across the land, hope springs eternal and anything, at least for a week or two, seems possible for the good old “home team.”

Have you considered your “team” lately? Whether you operate a small business, manage a department within a larger corporation, or are a solo entrepreneur juggling a lineup of freelancers, your team and how it performs is critical to your success.

Tell me, would you prefer your team to get results like the world Champion Boston Red Sox or to achieve more like the cellar-dweller Houston Astros?

The answer is obvious. In business (and I would argue ALL walks of life), results matter. Results are a direct function of performance, and performance relies on the skills and expertise of your team.

Does your team consist of top performers, true “A” listers? Or do you have what, at best, could be described as “B” and “C” level talent?

If the latter, is it for lack of understanding what top talent could mean for your business, or are you like many leaders who surround themselves with less-than-stellar performers, convinced they either can’t afford or can’t attract the kind of A-level talent they’d like?

Competition being what it is these days, I would argue you can’t afford NOT to surround yourself with top performers, from the key players within your organization, to the vendors you use, to your network of trusted colleagues and confidantes.

Of course, having what’s considered “A” level talent at every position is no guarantee of success. Just ask Detroit TigersTexas RangersLA Dodgers, and New York Yankees teams of recent vintage, and even aforementioned Boston Red Sox, circa 2011. In every case, having a team of All Stars (or at least talent paid at an all-star level) did not equate to championship caliber performances.

Clearly, while most “A” listers tend to be self-motivated, accountable, get-it-done types, what it takes to be a top performer for one business (or team) can vary greatly from what it takes to be an “A” lister for another. Teams, and specifically the individuals who make them up, can only perform at “A” level when the conditions for success are right, namely the alignment of individual and organizational values, attitude, and work ethic.

For example, do you encourage flexible work schedules? Do you encourage employees to get the job done when it needs getting done, and not to worry about punching clock 9 to 5? Or does the nature of your work or your clientele require that all work take place during so-called banker’s hours? There’s no right or wrong answer. If flexibility is key to your business success, then you don’t want someone on your team for whom a rigid 9-to-5 schedule is a requirement, and vice versa. Or maybe the answer for your organization is something in-between—a mix of the virtual and physical, with some team members participating in the work place materially, while others telecommute by phone or some online platform. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer.

Make Way for The A-Team

So how do you know what works best for your organization?

One place to start is simply to ASK your current team members. What is it about the work environment, from the products and services you produce or deliver, to compensation and benefits, to day-to-day of office life, that makes them work their best?

If something’s missing what can you add? If something’s working, what can you do to encourage more of that behavior?

Once you’ve determined what motivates your people the most, you can introduce ways to reward and recognize them accordingly for jobs well done. While you may be inclined to believe cold hard cash motivates employees best, time and again workplace studies have shown that as long as top performers feel they are paid fairly, money is not what gets them jazzed. Instead, employees usually mention the general work environment itself (flexibility, alignment with their values, etc.), a boss who is respectful and who provides them with inspiration, and professional development/advancement opportunities as being key motivators.

Alternatively (or in addition to asking your employees), create a checklist of who you consider to be your top performers. Note what characteristics they share and where they differ.

What common themes do you see among your top performers? Again, what can you do to encourage more of that behavior? What can you do to enhance existing skillsets and develop others that need honing?

Once you know more about what makes your environment conducive to “A” caliber performance:

  • Encourage your top performers to mentor others in the organization. Ask them to lead by example.
  • Adjust your recruiting practices to attract the right people to your team. Emphasize those key elements of your business you know will appeal to “A” listers.
  • Adjust your work environment—from benefits to compensation, to flexibility and training and professional development opportunities—to retain top talent.
  • Encourage prudent risk-taking by making “failure” part of your equation for success. Fear of failure is one of the top killers of performance. Do you think LeBron James worries about missing a shot as the seconds tick down? What about Michael JordanMagicLarry BirdKareem, or any of a host of other stars of the NBA’s yesteryear? None of them was afraid of failing. They wanted the ball in their hands when it counted most. None of them won all the time; but each would most likely make it onto any coach’s basketball “A” team. For them, nothing ventured was nothing gained. Failing was part of their equation for success (and for your team to be truly top-performing, that’s the kind of can-do attitude you want).

BOM Team Levels

As Wall Street tells us again and again, past performance is no guarantee of future success. If something’s not right with your current team, find out why. Find out what would make current underperforming members move up to your “A” team. And if you don’t have “A” listers, get some. You and your business can’t afford not to.

How do you motivate your “team” to succeed? What processes have you put in place to help keep your pipeline filled with “A” list talent?

Share your ideas here.