A great organization is made up of great people. So it’s no wonder organizations are putting so much energy into identifying, developing, and retaining what have become known as their “A Players.” Many large organizations have well-developed systems for managing and motivating their high-performance and high-potential staff—and for removing their poor performers. Well-respected management thinkers, like Larry Bossidy, have largely endorsed this approach.
But “A Players” are only effective when they’re engaged in work that’s essential to the organization’s goals. This may seem obvious, but, many organizations are so concerned with their “A Players” that they forget the importance of “A Positions.” They forget to manage positions so that “A Players” are able to deliver the “A Performance” needed in these crucial roles.
Conventional wisdom holds that the organization with the most talent will win out. Others, including me, believe that the firms with the right talent are the ones that succeed. Given the financial and managerial resources needed to attract, select, develop, and retain high performers, companies simply can’t afford to have top players in all positions.
Businesses need to adopt a portfolio approach to workforce management and put the right people in the right jobs.
Place the very best in strategic positions, good performers in support positions, and eliminate non-performing team members and jobs that don’t add value.
To determine a position’s strategic significance, it starts with the organization’s strategy: Do you compete on the basis of price? On quality? Through mass customization? Then identify your strategic capabilities—the technologies, information, and skills required to create the intended competitive advantage. Wal-Mart’s low-cost strategy, for instance, requires state-of-the-art logistics, information systems, and a relentless focus on efficiency and cost reduction.
“A positions” have little to do with the org structure despite the fact that this is almost certainly the only criterion considered by executive teams. Typically 1 in 5 positions may be strategically important; chances are that many of these positions will not be the most senior ones in the organization.