Are You An "A"-Grade Employee — Or Are You a Drag On Your Boss?

I was talking to my best friend from college the other day, who told me that after 2 years at the company, he finally felt like he had become an "A" grade employee at the company. He works with a well-established, billion-dollar technology company in California, so I assumed that he meant he got an "A" grade in his job appraisal, but I clearly didn't have the slightest idea what he meant by "feeling like an 'A' grade employee". On inquiring, he told me that employees everywhere generally go through 2-3 stages of evolution, based on their learning ability, proactiveness, job interest, past experience and so forth. Universally, employees can be classified into 3 types: C employees, B employees, and A employees.

C employee: Most new employees, who are new to the job market, start off as C employees. These employees are very raw and don't contribute any value to the firm, as they are still ascending the learning curve and understanding how to effectively perform their duties. Generally speaking, most competent employees manage to graduate to the next level in about 6-9 months' time (probation period) or they are weeded out from the organization accordingly. Such employees are easily dispensable in the beginning, and as a result they also have to bear a lot of bossing around/grunt work/hardship.

B employee: When the training wheels come off and the employeecan manage to carry out their tasks effectively with minimal supervision, that is when an employee finally graduates to being a B Grade employee. Such an employee manages to add value to the firm, which is limited only to performing his or her duties at hand. Such employees become integral to the firm and become harder and harder to replace as their seniority at the firm increases. They either strive to reach a level where they do more than what is expected of them, or stagnate without adding value to the company and only work for their next paycheck.

A employee: These are employees who fully utilize their abilities, work experience, and act proactively to ensure they add more value to the firm and perform better than what is expected of them. Such employees want to learn and are highly motivated and incentivized in what they do. They go out of their way to get the job at hand done. They always strive to better themselves by adding to their productivity and application of their skills, which in turn, helps organizations reach higher levels of excellence year after year. Most employers dream of cultivating an army of such employees, who have the capability to take on a lot of responsibilities and who are able to test the limits of their abilities daily.

My friend was quick to point out the subjectivity of such discrimination, but having worked in my share of companies before, I more or less agreed with this hierarchy of rating employees. What really struck me about what he said was that he didn't measure his success at the company in terms of his posting, promotions, salary increases; his metric was based on adding actual value to the firm and his productivity in general.

This got me wondering about what it would take to create more 'A' grade employees ... It is about the office space/amenities? The prestige of the company? The incentives given to employees? I have personally noticed that in many of the well-established companies and firms I have come across, the majority of employees fall in the bracket of being 'B' grade in terms of service and productivity. They seem to go about just doing enough to earn their paycheck, while avoiding doing little enough to get fired. The problem with having a lot of B-grade employees in a company is that B-grade employees generally choose to hire or associate themselves with other B-grade employees and create a company culture where mediocrity is worshipped. Stagnation is the silent killer of any company. In this day and age, companies cannot afford to create a B-grade culture, because that is how you lose out a competitive and evolving business landscape. We have seen this scenario play out in goliath companies such as General Motors, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Xerox, etc., who have fortunately made a recovery, but with major scars to show for it. In spite of their gigantic market share, we saw how they devolved once their company culture of innovation and quality got compromised, it fell like a house of cards, which was a direct result of losing their A-grade employees.  

Now I am not implying that most employees are lazy robots who only work because they get paid, and neither am I saying that most employees don't strive to be A-grade. In fact, I strongly believe most people who enter the workforce aim to be the best they can be and aim for the coveted job where they can excel and take pride in what they do. But it seems that somewhere down the line, they become disillusioned for a whole host of reasons, which organizations fail to recognize or choose to ignore.

Organizations who really want to strive and be major players in any market, need to learn how to identify their A, B, and C employees, understand how to incentivise and motivate B-grade employees to become A-grade, and learn to weed out B- and C-grade employees who don't graduate to A level status soon enough. The million dollar question now is: how do you make your employees A-grade in the first place?

Firstly, I feel a third party like a human resources / management consultancy or freelancing agent needs to be hired by the board of directors discreetly, and this third party should get a thorough understanding of the functioning of the company from an employee stand point and not from a profitability standpoint. Their appointment needs to be disguised as one of a managerial position in the human resources department of the company. After about 3-6 months they would be able to classify the employees, and suggest means in which to incentivise them to perform better. After their work is done, it needs to be up to the management whether to implement their suggestions or not.

Do you agree with this view of employment? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

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Rushabh Desai

Founder, Jobinsight.com. Proud Longhorn from University of Texas at Austin. (McCombs School of Business).. who pretty much loves to play devil's advocate all the time...

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