BLOG: Why startups absolutely CAN hire all A-players
By Daniel Williams. Posted 26 May, 2015
I’ve long advocated that it’s essential to only hire A-players, and to let go of B-players as soon as you discover one.

Then this week I came across an online discussion that hiring all A-players just wasn’t possible in the startup world — that all the best and brightest work for BIG companies like Google and Facebook (or Slack and Trello, depending on your preference.)

I’m here to tell you that you absolutely CAN hire all A-players.

What the heck is an A-player anyway? And how do they differ from a B-player? In the aforementioned discussion, there seemed to be confusion as to what it meant to be an A-player.

A-players are not the most talented/intelligent/attractive employees.

I know this to be the case because some of the smartest, most talented people I’ve hired have turned out to be the most toxic personalities, that bring the whole company down.

Let’s start with what a B-player is.

A B-player does the minimum amount of work required of them. They arrive late and leave early. They take exactly one hour for their lunch break. They gossip. They bitch about their boss and their co-workers. They’re disruptive. They cannot accept change. They think they know it all. There is alwayssomething to complain about. They blame the world for their troubles. Nothing is their fault. Their lives are a chaotic, disorganized mess.

The first employee I hired in 2000 was an extraordinarily talented web designer. Everything he did blew my mind in its awesomeness. He had the kind of talent that would take him anywhere in the world he wanted to go. But he was a B-player.

He took advantage of me in every possible way, and I tolerated it, because he was so good at his work. He would often not show up to work and when I would phone to ask if he was OK he’d say “I don’t feel like coming to work today.” I was at my wit’s end, and after nine (yes, nine!) written warnings, I told him we no longer had a position for him. We missed the great work that he did, but the cost of his toxic personality far outweighed the benefit.

Firing him was one of the best things I ever did, albeit was a very souring experience of hiring my first employee.

Fast forward to 2014 and I had 48 people working for me — a mixture of A- and B players, and a couple of C-players.

I’ve since sold that company, and looking back I can see I was far too tolerant of the B-players. You see, when A-players see B-players getting away with things they find unacceptable (lateness, slacking, gossip) they either become B-players themselves, or they leave.

So, what’s an A-player?

An A-player first and foremost takes responsibility for their life and their choices. They hold themselves accountable and admit their mistakes. They are first to arrive and last to leave, and they don’t ask for overtime. They see themselves as part of something greater. They’re not working just for the money — they are passionate about what they do. They want the company to succeed. They want to make a difference. They are driven to learn and improve their skills.

An A-player can be fresh out of school with no experience. They just need to have the right attitude. They’ll quickly develop into the role you might currently have filled by a B-player.

A-players don’t want to work with B-players because their values don’t align. You simply can’t afford to tolerate Bs in your organization.

Lastly, if you’re asking “how do you determine if someone is an A or B when hiring?” That’s easy — if you can, go take a look at their car. If it’s dirty and full of rubbish, they’re a B player. If it’s immaculate and tidy, they’re an A-player.

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