The Role of A-Players in Execution
A recurrent pattern we found throughout our research was the relentless effort of top organizations to
Probably one of the most opinionated leaders about hiring only A-players was former Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
He repeatedly said that if you hired B-players they would hire C-players, and that it would start a performance decline because after a while the vicious cycle would continue until the company has become a B- or a C-class company.
A-players on the other hand, Jobs said, only like to work with other A-players, so by hiring them you ensure that only the best people work in the company because these A-players will self-police the company and only hire and retain similar top performers.
Another big advocate of only hiring the best is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. In The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, journalist Brad Stone tells the story of Nicholas Lovejoy, a former colleague of Bezos at hedge fund firm D.E. Shaw who came to work for Bezos and wanted to move from part-time to full-time in the early days of the company.
Until then, Lovejoy, who had been with the company since its beginning working as a recruiter, had only been working thirty hours a week and enjoyed the rest of his time playing frisbee, kayaking and hanging out with his girlfriend.
Bezos couldn’t see how Lovejoy’s relaxed lifestyle would fit into his vision of Amazon’s hard-working culture and turned him down several times. Under Lovejoy’s continued insistence, Bezos asked him to find his own replacement.
Bezos was, from the earliest days of Amazon, committed to only bringing in the best people he could hire, and for years interviewed new prospects himself. Hiring the best was, in Bezos’ mind, how his vision for Amazon would become possible.
We found this relentless, almost obsessive pursuit of top players to be a pattern that repeats itself in top-performing organizations from GE, Capital Cities and Google, to Netflix, McKinsey and Comcast.
In almost all cases, recruiting and retaining only the best people, providing them with unique tools and knowledge, running the company on a healthy winning culture and the existence of a performance system that ensures teams are always at the top of their game, was a kind of success formula.
That’s why small and unprepared companies can’t resist the attack of aggressive entrants that have these tools in place when they advance into their markets, like Amazon entering the food space through the acquisition of Whole Foods, and Apple entering the music industry with iTunes.
Weaker incumbents will be forced to fight back with all they have just to keep their doors open. They must streamline their business models, target different markets or just face death by irrelevancy.
It is happening right now in many industries and it will keep happening more frequently, as cheaper money is poured into every market and aggressive players look for new markets in their search for world domination.
Only those with great people will be able to fight back, shift direction and stay afloat.
So, if you know how the movie ends, what are you going to do about it?
Wu, Sun. Strategy for Executives, this book can now be downloaded for free here.
Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.