The ABCs of Employees

What makes an “A Player” in the finishing industry.


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By now, most of us have all heard some version of the A, B and C employee rating system.

As the theory goes, we are to place team members in one of three categories. A Players, those go-to people critical to the ongoing operation of the organization comprise perhaps the top 10% of the team. They are to be highly rewarded and retained at virtually all cost. We are to nurture B Players—team members who are dependable and relied upon—so that they can one day become A Players. C Players offer little in the way of long-term benefit and should be systematically shed and replaced with Bs or As from outside the organization. This begs the question: What, exactly, makes an “A Player” in the finishing industry?

First and foremost, an A Player blames himself first. Years ago, I attended a seminar featuring success rock star Tony Robbins. Say what you will about him, this point stuck with me. Robbins said, “Whatever happens, take responsibility.” There is little time in today’s business world for those who expend energy trying to pin the blame for a problem on someone else. The A Player figures out what he could have done to prevent the problem, owns up to the issue and gets on with devising and implementing solutions.

The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer and must be respected and treated as such. A member of my management team shared this concept and it has become one of my mantras.

There is no benefit to be gained by demonstrating that a problem is the customer’s fault. The A Player gathers data, analyzes it, communicates it, wins the customer’s and his team’s confidence and tackles concerns.

Finishing industry A Players are always connected. (Or as I like to put it: Evenings and weekends are on the table.) From time to time, I hear people say things like, “When I’m at work I’m all in, but my nights and weekends are reserved for myself and my family.” Great! I take no issue with that … you’re just not an A Player (and remember that the greatest rewards and promotions are reserved for A Players). An A Player checks his e-mail on Saturday and takes a business call at 8 p.m. on a weekday. He does this not because he’s a masochist but because he’s so passionate about the business he can’t stand the idea of waiting until the next day, let alone Monday morning, to receive an update or resolve a problem.

Finishing industry A Players innately understand throughput, yield, line utilization, and bottlenecks. Fortunes are made or lost based on how many parts go on a rack, how many racks run in an hour, and how many parts meet the customer’s standards. The A Player focuses on maximizing throughput and understands that by doing so, labor, materials and other costs are minimized.

The finishing industry A Player is a life-long learner. Whether it’s lean manufacturing, the latest innovation in leadership, or understanding how technology impacts the business, the A Player has a virtual obsession with continuous education. Reading, attending classes and industry seminars are all part of the A Player’s repertoire.

Finally, the A Player is not a “Yes Man” but he is a “Company Man.” He’s comfortable with conflict and understands that honest discussion, even when it becomes a little heated, is valuable. He doesn’t tell the boss what the boss wants to hear unless he believes it himself. Rather, the A Player puts the needs and goals of the business first and is loyal to his employer’s interests, knowing that in the end, what’s good for the company is good for him.