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Have you hugged your B players today?

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in Leaders & Managers

Flashy A players often steal the scene, but in a weak economy, and especially during a retrenchment, you need the stability, knowledge and long view of your B players—the steady performers who don’t need instant gratification or the limelight.

Yet many leaders often ignore B players, focusing instead on volatile A players. The risk is that overlooked B players may leave, taking knowledge with them.

First, recognize who they are. B players tend to be:

Former A players. These highly skilled professionals hop off the fast track to raise a family or deal with a life crisis. They’ll keep doing A work if you let them do it more slowly, on their own terms.

Straight shooters. Blessedly honest, they ask tough questions that you’ll ignore at your own peril.

Go-to managers. These employees compensate for average skills with a profound understanding of company processes. They stay focused, quietly getting down to business while your A players continue to jockey for attention and advancement.

Once you’ve identified B players, keep them happy:

  • Accept that they’re not as driven as you are. Ask what they want from their careers and do your best to provide the conditions to help them achieve it.
  • Give them your time. Make sure it would never even occur to them that you might be ignoring them.
  • Reward them in small but meaningful ways. B players are promoted relatively infrequently, so thank them in other ways. Tickets to a show of their choosing, dinner for two, even a handwritten note can help them feel valued.
  • Offer them career choices. Training, coaching and sideways promotions all can invigorate an employee’s gradual development.

— Adapted from “Let’s Hear It for B Players,” Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan, Harvard Business Publishing, www.harvardbusiness.com.

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