The Life of a “C” Player

As a leader most of us are always trying to live our core values and treat people the way they would like to be treated. When we evaluate employees, we look at two things. 1) Does the employee embody a company’s core values? Do they consistently and impactfully demonstrate behaviors that exemplify the core values that are the foundation of a company’s culture? 2) How productive are they in their given role and function within the company? Productivity doesn’t mean busy, it means delivering results based on the key performance indicators of the role.

“A” players are employees who deliver performance in both areas. “B” players deliver good results in one, and mediocre performance in the other.  “C” players deliver poor performance in one or both areas. We must be careful to not let people roam around in our companies who are “C” players. “C” players destroy your company, they have a hard time living your core values and usually aren’t very productive.

Companies need to be on the look-out for employees who hide behind high productivity but demonstrate low core values. They create havoc on your team but present well to management because of their productivity. One of my clients was searching for “C” players in their company. They spent significant time re-discovering their core values and attempting to improve their company culture. This client knew they needed to rid the company of people who didn’t believe in what they believe in.  Through this process the Senior Vice President found someone who could possibly be a “C” player. In her quest to be a fair leader she spoke to the employee and both agreed he would move to a different position. Sales wasn’t his thing, she thought he had the company core values, and wanted to try to keep him. As we sat in their corporate planning meeting this is the email the whole company of almost 200 employees received (the grammar is painful, but keep reading):

Effective immediately I will no longer be an employee of XXX. I have accepted a position with another company that is NOT a competitor and is outside of the XXX industry. I would like to thank the sales team at XXX location you are a great group/team which I learned a lot from and hopefully soon you will be able to flourish in the sales roll you were intended to do before the on slot of non-sales tasks you were asked to perform. Also our XXX team and customer support they are a dedicated group that will go above and beyond for the company and customer without the recognition they deserve. Consider this my letter of resignation. It will be said the writing was on the wall based on my numbers which is undeniable, but my decision was solely based on the fact that we do not live our “values”. Which is being engrained in us to express to our customers but not practiced with its own employees, must be felt, believed and felt within first before a customer can believe. I would most of all like to thank SVP for showing me exactly what I do not want in a leader. I truly enjoyed being a part of the XXX team prior to the changes that has taking the company away from what it was built on. Thank you to everyone in our sales, design and customer support for tolerating me over the last 2yrs. Best of luck to everyone.

As you can see this guy is a piece of work. Let me share with you what I mean. So he burns his bridge in the first few run on sentences and continues his judgement all the way through the email. He challenges the non-sales task. He was being asked to do non sales task because he wasn’t good selling. He never hit his numbers. My favorite part is when he uses their core values to attack his leader.

The irony of this email is the SVP who lead him was trying to live their core values and keep this guy around because she thought he may share what the company believes in. She was trying to put him in a position where he could be successful. The email was what she received for trying to do the right thing.

This guy is a true “C” player. The best part is the email helped the SVP with the inevitable, she would have had to move him along sooner or later. If you write emails like this, you’re a “C” player. When you find a “C” player get them the hell out of your company, you’ll never be able to fix them. As Brad Smart wrote in his infamous book Top Grading “set them free so they can go find what they will be good at.”

I think there are two great lessons from this unfortunate situation. One, keep trying to help people you believe may be a fit because if they’re not, their true colors will come out sooner or later. Two, at times the right thing will look wrong but if you have a lot of clarity of what you really believe in and you hold fast, your business will grow the way you want it to grow. Being militant about your core values it will pay off dividends in your company culture.

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