Pamela Steer | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Pamela Steer


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The Mistake:

I once believed that hiring “A-players” exclusively was the best way to grow a business. As someone who has roots in fast-changing start-up and telecom companies, the myth of hiring only the most talented and driven employees was a story I heard often from leaders and recruiters.

It may have started with the late Steve Jobs, whose brilliant, driven and mercurial personality built Apple into global business giant and left us with a legacy of revolutionary products. Jobs believed that A-plus players like to work together and don’t like it if you tolerate B-work. He also believed that B-players hired only C-players, and so on, because of fears they might be replaced.

Fair enough. As an A-player myself, I found that working with my peers is energizing, with good debate, discussion, idea generation and execution. But every A-player believes they are capable of becoming the next director, vice president or even CEO. When they miss out on that promotion, their inevitable feelings of disappointment can lead to workplace conflict, culture and staff retention problems.  

Value diversity in all its forms.

The Lesson:

A-players are great but there needs to be balance in a workplace. Think of the ways by which we often describe strong B-players: loyal, deliberate, methodical, solid, dependable. What’s wrong with that?

Don’t overlook their value. They are often the keepers of corporate memory who “know where the bodies are buried.” They are often more interested in excelling in roles rather than careers – both attitudes are perfectly acceptable and in fact, important to business and the economy.

With A-players, ambition and performance are sometimes mutually exclusive. The individual drive for career advancement and recognition can sometimes interfere with the corporate need for projects delivered on time and to expectation.

Value diversity in all its forms. That includes the A-players who strive to become leaders and the B-players who are satisfied with the accomplishment of a job well done.

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