B of the Corporate Hierarchy?
not stars and they're not laggards. They
do their jobs competently, stay the course
and define the organisation's values and
culture. They also receive the least attention
from the top management, since they're seen
to be rather unexciting and unambitious.
They're the B players, who are distinguished
only by the fact that they tend to make
up 80 per cent of any company's bell curve.
(Is it wiser to stay in the B team?)
Or as Yasho Verma, vice
president (HR), LG Electronics India defines
them: "B players are the ones least
likely to be seen talking with the CEO at
parties. They're not as adept at mingling
with the top and getting attention as the
A players are."
Indeed, that is probably
the single, most defining characteristic
of B players: they don't seek attention,
and they usually don't get it. The easiest
way to identify the B players in any organisation
is to list the people who make the fewest
demands on a CEO's time. In the organisational
machine, the B player is the wheel that
never squeaks and hence, never gets any
lubricant - unlike the A and C players,
who squeak in different ways and for different
reasons, and hence consume a lot of expensive
The other pronounced characteristic of
B players is their desire for a work-life
balance. Indeed, some were once A players
- putting in long hours at work, seeking
out new responsibilities, but somewhere
along the way, they decided it wasn't
worth it and decided to spend more time
with their friends and family. They differ
from the stars, not in intelligence, but
on drive and attitude.
"The B player is one who meets expectations,
but doesn't exceed them," says S
Varadarajan, vice president (talent engagement
& development), Wipro Spectramind:
"Most people know that they're B
players and they accept it. After all,
differentiation is a part of life, right
from the school days, and people get used
to it. If your performance measures are
transparent, nobody cribs."
The problem occurs when organisations
start taking their B players wholly for
granted. Though they are averse to calling
attention to themselves, B players do
need recognition. They may not be the
ones who bring in the largest orders and
the biggest clients, but play a considerable
role in improving corporate performance.
"Stars are needed to push the envelope,
but as they say, an army marches on its
stomach, and B players play that role,"
says Satish Pradhan, group HR head, Tata
Sons. "The best way to celebrate
their contribution is giving them recognition.
It matters to them their voice is heard
from the third row."
The trouble is, most CEOs don't find
the efforts of the B players worth acknowledging.
Indeed, CEOs rarely empathise with their
B players as they do with their A players,
who usually remind them of how they were
at the same age. "We tend to worship
heroes and not ordinary people,"
says Ramesh Tainwala, CEO of Samsonite
India. "That's how human society
By their very nature, B players stick
on with an organisation, mainly because
they value the camaraderie and security
of a known team. But if a company mismanages
its people, B players do leave, taking
their knowledge to where they are more
Verma of LG feels B players are harder
to retain than A players: "We are
a seven-year-old company, so the gap between
A and B players is larger than you would
find in a mature organisation. Enthusiasm
and drive gets highlighted more at LG
because speed is important for us. Later
on, as collective wisdom becomes more
important, the gap will reduce. We are
going out of our way to keep the Bs because
getting similar people from the market
is difficult. For example, they're usually
hesitant to raise issues, so we give them
opportunities to mix with junior HR employees
to discuss their problems and it later
gets reported to me."
Of course, B players form a fairly wide
spectrum, from the former A players to
the less competent middling players who
care deeply for the organisation's values
but steer clear of any work that's remotely
challenging. Individuals sometimes slip
between categories, depending on their
situation at any point of time.
In young BPO organisations like ICICI
Onesource, for example, 95 per cent of
the employees are would-be stars in the
age group 21-25. "B players will
emerge over a period of time and hopefully,
we'll be able to convert them into B-plus
and A," says CEO Ananda Mukerji.
Coca-Cola India regularly does a cluster
analysis based on performance feedback,
dividing employees into five levels -
high potentials, promotables, matches,
mismatches and non-performers. It's the
'matches' who form Coke's majority B group.
"They're the solid citizens, the
juggernauts who give stability,"
says Coke's vice president (HR) Adil Malia.
"We have a leadership programme where
we send key contributors of the company,
and that does not mean just the high potentials.
There's a career path for everyone, based
on their aspirations and their competencies.
Not everyone aspires to be a CEO."
Malia agrees with LG's Verma that it's
easy to lose B players in today's scenario:
"Others will promote him and take
him to a level you cannot. The high-performing
part of the organisation is the most protected
while the second rung is most vulnerable."
Hindustan Lever has created a special
category for the top employees within
the B category, which it calls the sustained
high performers. (SHPs). They are not
in the top 15 per cent list of high potentials,
but they get the same increments. "We
are trying to stratify people according
to their contribution to the company,"
says HR chief Prem Kamath. "SHPs
are high performers but will not grow."
And then there's B-player heaven - organisations
that don't seem to have room for aggressive
star types but are run by individuals
in various grades of B. As a public sector
bank, Bank of Baroda was once one such
organisation, but it's now trying to change
Says executive director Anil Khandelwal:
"B players are hardworking, sincere
and intelligent people. For us, they're
the supply line for A players. A lot depends
on the CEO - if he is decent, informal,
reflective and emotionally sensitive,
he can create an A team from a B team.
An organisation under transformation,
as we are, can transcend into the future
in this way."