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What good has ever come from labeling others?

February 22, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

What good has ever come from labeling others?  Does is seem to right to label a student “stupid” or “lazy” or “average?”  If we label them that, aren’t they likely to only perform at that level?  Do we unconsciously not encourage them to do better once we’ve labeled them?  It’s the same with employees. Labeling your employees as “A,” “B,” and “C” players can be very detrimental to team success and individual performance.

The A-player notion was made famous by Jack Welch during his tenure at GE Chairman and CEO.  In a system such as this, employees’ performance is judged based on comparisons with other employees. It also assumes that an A-player always performs at an outstanding level, no matter the project they receive or the management they receive.  The same goes for “B” and “C” labeled employees.  But in actuality people’s performance can vary.

We often assume that A-players have more ability and will be better in any job they do.  Therefore, they often get designated as high-potentials in their companies and get considered first for promotions.  But often times someone can be a high performer in one job and mediocre in another.  When an employee is performing optimally it’s likely a combination of having the right skills for that job, enjoying what they do, being managed well, and being recognized for their work.  These factors might not all come into play in their next position.

On the other hand, let’s look at so called B-players.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “research shows that when employees believe their current performance isn’t recognized, that they are stuck with a B-player label even if their performance shoots up, incentives no longer motivate them to work hard.  So they give up trying.”  Often times they’ll leave for another company.

And finally we have what so many label as C-players.  These are the poor performing employees who get shunned or pushed out of a company.  But might their performance have improved with some coaching, with a different manager, or in a different position?  Not always, but labeling prevents us from ever knowing this and giving them a chance.  

Pigeon-holing employees seals their fate from the time they start working for you.  But by getting rid of these labels and viewing each employee’s performance separately and reviewing on a regular basis will allow you to see their true talents (and weaknesses).  Perhaps a B-player is given a new project in a different environment and excels at it.  With proper leadership, mentorship, and performance management you can have a team of varied talents that outperforms other teams still utilizing the “A,” “B,” and “C” mentality.  Get rid of the labels and encourage the best out of all your employees.  You might be amazed at the results.

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