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CW Ep. 16: Leadership & Culture with James Lee

James Lee, Corporate Director of Sales with Aventine Senior Living, discusses “A Players or A Positions” and the importance of beginning to think differently about every senior living organization’s strive to have the best talent in the industry. No one can have the best talent in every position. We are all focused on “A-Players” but may be missing the pre-work of first determining “A-Positions.” We talk a lot about getting the “right seat on the right bus.” It’s time to pull up a bit and think more about if we have the right vehicle in the first place.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of BTG Contributor Wednesday. My name is James Lee and I’m the Corporate Director of Sales with Aventine Senior Living. 


Thanks again for spending some time with me and just want to say how much I appreciate the feedback, the messages, the insights, rebuttals- everything in response to the episodes thus far. I’ve really, really enjoyed those. Please keep those coming. And I hope that at some point I’m able to continue doing this and able to incorporate more of that dialogue I’m having offline as a result of these podcast episodes. So again, please keep those responses coming and your thoughts shared. 


Today I wanted to talk about the idea of workforce management. Just to pull back real quick, the broader topic that I am addressing is organizational psychology and that’s the science of human behavior in the workforce.


So in previous episodes, I talked about organizational culture, the concept of an optimistic leader, the virtue of writing and reading, that kind of lost art of thinking in leadership positions. So today I wanted to talk about an article that I read as part of my coursework with the McCombs School of Business at University of Texas. And so I want to make sure I get the citation here because one: my professor would kill me if they knew I didn’t do that; and second: I don’t want BTG to get in trouble. When somebody inevitably hopefully makes the reference, this is heavily based on this article. 


So the article is from the Harvard Business review entitled “‘A Players’ or ‘A Positions’?: The Strategic Logic of Workforce Management.” And those are by authors Mark A. Huselid, Richard Beatty and Brian Becker. So don’t sue BTG over the content. We have properly cited, hopefully, the article. 


But the article- there’s tons of articles from  the coursework that I could reference- but this one was a true aha moment for me. And it really, really made me think about senior living. So I was excited to share some of the content of that. And the title itself, hopefully that peaked your interest: A Players or A Positions?  I’ll share a little bit of what that means from the point of view of the authors and then I want to try and bring that into our arena. Okay, here we go. 


Let’s first start with the idea of A Players. I think we can all intuitively understand that. And we think about that quite often. A Players, these are your top talent individuals, the hardest working, the most productive, the highest performers. These are the folks at our organizations that we call the star players, the A players. And I want you to think about where do you currently have your A players in the organization today? Are they in operations? Are they in sales? Maybe they’re in a regional or corporate position. But just think for a moment about if you had to list all of your A Players throughout the organization, where are they? What positions do they typically fill today? Maybe it’s your nurse in your community, maybe it’s your RDO or RDSM. But I bet that most of us have similar thoughts about where our A Players aren’t. Okay. So that’s kind of the basis of this. 


Generally, we’re looking at A Players as the highest skilled or top talent, and let’s also recognize that no company in senior living has the resources or the manpower or the salary availability to attract and select and develop, and most importantly, retain top talent in every position, okay? None of us can have an all-star team through every level of our organization. So we’re all in the game of how do we get the top talent? And that’s usually the first conversation, and it’s usually where it stops. Like how do we get the most talent? The bigger kind of problem that we should be solving is not just, how do we get the most talent? It’s where do we put the greatest talent that we get? And so I think that what was such a wonderful insight about this article for me was that we kind of go on autopilot as an industry when one of the things that when we think about getting the best talent and the article really kind of talked about a portfolio approach to workforce management, okay? 


A portfolio approach to workforce management. So, there are three kinds of basic tenants of that: The first one is that you have your very best employees in strategic positions, okay? That sounds obvious. And you might think that we already do that, but I’m going to come back to that point. That one, we have the very best employees in strategic positions. Two: that we have good employees in support positions, B positions. And then three: we eliminate non-performing employees and jobs that don’t add value. So these would be your C positions. A positions being your strategic B being your support, and C being non-performing or non-value add positions, we all have them. So that’s kind of the basis of your A, B and C positions. Now here’s an important note: Effective management of your A positions also requires you to intelligently manage your B and your C positions as well. So, this is not about saying that some people are better than others, but in every company,  we’re going to have those A positions that are very, very important and strategic to the long term goals of our company.And then we’re going to have B positions. But I think that we think of those B positions, those support positions as different. And so I’ll explore that in the course of this podcast as well. But that note again, is that effective management of your A positions also requires that we’re intelligently managing our portfolio of the B and the C positions, because they both are very, very important. 


Currently in the senior living world, I think we generally take an HR recruiter approach to workforce development. And that’s simply what positions do we have that require the greatest amount of skill or the hardest working employee, or is the hardest to fill? So we have an approach of how do we get the toughest positions filled and where do we need the greatest amount of skill? And it generally leads us down a lane where we’re thinking about recruiting for EDS and sales counselors or sales directors or clinical nurses that’s kind of the Holy Trinity of our senior living industry: ops sales clinical.


And we get really boxed into those lanes of we’ve got to hire the best talent, but if we were to open up our HR recruiting reports and our workforce analysis, how often do those positions turnover? How often does the ED position turnover at a community every year, every two years? And sales positions- think about, if you have a sales counselor, a sales coordinator, a sales director, and you aggregate all of that and you just think about how often do we have a salesperson turnover at the community again, every year, every two years? And I would bet that two years, we would all be happy with if we had a sales director for two years or more at a community. 


And then three, I think we are headed towards a place where we have the most significant burnout and turnover of our nursing physicians.So your health and wellness director, your resident services director, whatever we call it, your top nurse physician at the community, those certainly are turning over as frequently if not more so than your ED and your sales position. So we get stuck on this Merry-Go-Round of trying to attract the best talent. We get them in. We do our version of orientation and then a year later, we’re probably doing that all over again, over and over and over and over again. So this approach to managing our workforce into recognizing that these are tough positions to fill, and we want the best talent in them, and then all of your organization kind of goes all in on that. So what’s the alternative to that? 


Well, what if we took an economist’s approach to portfolio management of our workforce? So let’s think of a simpler way would be to think of it like an investor. My 401k, I know that I’m not going to have A Players in all of my 401k accounts. That’s just not how investors think, you diversify your risk and that you’re going to have winners and you’re going to have losers, but overall, you’re going to put your significant amount of dollars towards the areas that can have high growth. You’re going to have a portion of your portfolio that kind of mitigates that risk and gives you kind of slow and steady gains. And then you’re going to have some that are very, very high risk and they’re going to give you an extremely high return or they’ll have a loss, but they probably won’t represent the biggest portion of your portfolio. So that kind of portfolio management, when we talk about it in terms of personal investment makes sense, but do we really manage our workforce in the same manner?


How do we identify the A positions? So you may be thinking, okay, that’s, that sounds great, but who are our A positions? And why would they not be the ED, the nurse and the salesperson? Well, here’s kind of the position. The first qualification of identifying an A position is that the position is disproportionately important to your company’s ability to execute some part of its strategy. The A position is disproportionately important. It is more important to your company’s ability to execute some part if it’s strategy. Okay? So that’s one. And then in combination with this second criteria, which is how widely variable is the quality of the work by someone in that position. So what’s the variance, high highs, low lows, the variability of the performance of somebody in that type of position. 


Here’s an example: So let’s consider somebody painting a wall. Now, unless you are marketing that you have the most beautifully painted walls in all of senior living, it’s probably not part of your strategy. So it’s not going to have a significant impact to your execution of your strategy. And then also the variance in the quality of work is not going to be that much. It’s not going to be a bad paint job on a wall and an extraordinary paint job on a wall is not going to have a great degree of variance. So in this example, not in any way to disparage the hardworking people who do paint our walls, but it’s not a inherently strategic position to most of our organizations. 


Here’s another example: So somebody managing a turnaround project for your company, okay? So if part of your strategy as an organization is that you take distressed assets, you acquire them, you turn them around and you do that in a smart way. You pump in CapEx, you get workforce, right players on the right seat, all of that work. And then that becomes a big part of your company’s strategy. Well, now it fits those two criteria. The first one being, does it have a disproportionate impact to your company’s ability to execute its strategy- in this example, yes. To, is there a wide variance in the quality of work that a person in that position is going to do? So could somebody handling the project management of turnaround work, could it be high highs and low lows? Absolutely. You can have somebody who is exceptional at that, and it’s going to make a pretty big impact to your business. And then you can have somebody who’s very lackluster in that, and it’s going to have a big downfall to your business. So those are examples of, of what fits the criteria and what doesn’t fit the criteria. 


Of course, I want to be careful in providing a lot of examples here. It’s really for illustrative purposes, because I don’t want to unintentionally convey that some positions are just more important or that the people in those positions are better people. That’s certainly not the case. But when you think about A positions being strategic, B positions being supportive those two are both very critical to any business. The C positions are the ones that we need to be very thoughtful about. And I’ll talk a little bit more on that in just a moment. But there it is. That’s how we identify our A positions. Are they disproportionately important to our strategy? And then is it our wide variance in the people who hold those positions? 


Now that we have that kind of clarified for us, then the next really important kind of consideration here is that in order for this to happen, in order for us to have this concept have any impact to our company, is that we must have a clear company strategy. A clear company strategy. So if we were to poll your community level managers, your regional managers, and then your divisional or corporate managers, and we asked, what is the strategy of your company? Is it a pricing strategy? Is it a quality strategy? Is it a niche offering strategy? Are you the Walmart of senior living? Are you the Ritz Carlton of senior living? Are you the Apple of senior living, et cetera, et cetera? Now, again, neither end of that strategic position low cost or high quality means that your good or your bad, right? Walmart is not good or bad. They’re just really, really great at their low cost strategy. Apple is not good or bad. They’re just really great at their differentiation strategy. 


So for senior living, think about how many of us have an all things to all people strategy and those companies that haven’t all things to all people strategy tend to be the ones that lose in the market. Apple, I’m going to go back to Apple for a moment. Phones do not cost a thousand dollars to make. We’re not paying for the components. And then the hardware of the phone, right? We are paying for research and development. We’re paying for marketing. We’re paying for branding. So a phone doesn’t cost a thousand dollars yet. People stand in lines. When new phones come out and we all generally have started to associate, okay, we’re going to have a mini computer in our pockets. I’m willing to pay this thousand bucks. But there are companies that also produce phones that are much lower costs that basically function the same way with maybe some less bells and whistles, but there’s still going to be smartphones. So think of companies that also produce a phone, but also do a bunch of other things. They do a bunch of other things: electrical components, other electronic devices, household appliances, like Samsung is as an example. They do a lot of things for a lot of people. You can have a Samsung washer and dryer, and you could have a Samsung phone. You could have a Samsung TV. There’s a lot of things that they do. 


Now while I don’t have their financial statements in front of me, I would bet just kind of mentally thinking about those two companies. Apple is dominating the phone market because they’ve chosen a very specific strategy. Walmart by comparison does not pursue a differentiation strategy. They pursue a low cost strategy. So at Walmart their A positions are not necessarily going to be research and development and marketing like it would be for Apple. For Apple, their strategic positions are going to be research and development for sure, and marketing and branding, absolutely. Walmart is not going to invest the same way in those positions. Who are they going to invest in? Their A positions are going to be logistics and operations and supply management. These are going to be the people who can rigorously adhere to expense management protocols. In order for Walmart to do exceptionally well in their strategy and execute that, they have to have extremely talented people, A players in those A positions. Conversely, for Apple, they’re going to have to have A players in their A positions. 


So this brings me to an important point that that comes out in the article and that’s that there are no inherently strategic positions. There are no inherently strategic positions. And what’s more is that those positions are pretty rare in a company. According to the article, less than 20% of your workforce is going to qualify for that A position category. That makes sense, right? Apple has lots of smart people, I’m sure, but there’s probably only one out of five positions that are strategic in importance to Apple. And on the other side, Walmart. They have people who work in marketing. They have people who work in HR, but they’re not necessarily going to be strategic to Walmart’s low cost strategy. 


Some other ways that we can tell if this is an A position or not is to think about if the person in that role, if they improved significantly in the role, if it has marginal gains to the company, then it is not an A position. So let me give you another example. So this is an example in the article, not my own personal thought, but think about the role of a pilot for an airline and the importance of their adherence to safety protocols. Now that is clearly very important. I absolutely want to fly on airplanes where they have the best pilots. But here’s kind of the point when it comes to this A position consideration, would the improvement of a pilots safety adherence dramatically impact the performance of that airline? Not really. If you had bad pilots, absolutely. It would be detrimental to your company. If you had planes falling out of the sky once a year, twice a year, three times a year, that’s going to materially have an impact in a negative way, but does it work the other way? If you have greater safety measures and you continue to have zero airplane, malfunctions in the air, is it going to materially impact your company in a positive direction? No, not really. It’s unlikely to have a material impact in a positive way. It’s only going to have a material impact in a negative way. 


So for Southwest Airlines, for most airlines, the pilots are not actually an A position. If I were to ask you, what’s an important role for an airline, you’re probably going to think pilot. They are important, but they’re not a position, strategic importance, okay? For Southwest airlines, let’s think about Southwest Airlines, who are their A positions? Well, Southwest is a low cost, low fare, no frills airline. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I happen to enjoy flying with Southwest Airlines because the things that I prioritize are convenience: low cost expediency quick turns in the airport, no baggage, flexibility if I need to cancel my flight, all of those things I value. So I like that there’s an airline that kind of puts a lot of focus on that. 


So their A positions are not pilots that are going to be people in logistics or operations. They’re going to be the ones that can just to  a science figure out how do I get this airplane in and out as fast as possible when they get to the terminal? How can I figure out how to lower the cost of everything in our operations so that we do not have to  increase the cost of the tickets? So the A positions at Southwest airlines is going to be somebody in logistics. They’re going to invest heavily in systems that allow for them to track and measure expenses and efficiency. So pilots are a 100% critical to the success of an airline company, but only as far as not going backwards. So if you have unsafe pilots, not good for your business. But can you have the safest pilots in the airline industry? In the eyes of the consumer, not really. Like, do you know which airline has the most crashes or dysfunction? Probably not. 


So in senior living think about what are the A positions in your company? Well, that’s going to depend on your company’s strategy. And so first you need to figure it out: Do we have a clear strategy? So I’m going to go through some generic strategies here. If you were having a differentiation strategy, like you’re going to have niche offerings, you’re going to specialize in a specific form of assisted living in a specific market. If that is a big component of your senior living strategy, then you’re probably going to have A positions like a strategy officer or strategy team, okay? So those people who can appropriately go out and figure out the market and position that community to be specific in how they offer those kind of niche offerings in that market, it’s probably going to be initially by the work of strategy, maybe marketing, but those are your A positions if you have that kind of a company strategy. 


If you have a low cost strategy, you’re the most affordable senior living option, we give you good care, good food, but no frills, right? There is absolutely, and we call it the middle market generally, I think we call it the, the middle market people who can’t afford the 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 dollar assisted living apartments, but the people who need it for 2,500, 3000. So in that type of an environment, you’re gonna have A positions that lower costs that improve efficiency. So maybe operations, maybe logistics, whatever the comparable for that is in senior living. 


A third alternative would be if you were doing a high value lifestyle, branded strategy, like you come over to our company and you’re going to live your best life. We’re gonna go on trips around the world. We’re gonna have five-star dining options. And those people are probably going to be less price sensitive. You need to have extraordinary kind of design of your communities. And you’re going to have a bunch of effort put into marketing, branding, customer experience. So if your company strategy is along those lines, then those are your A positions, right? 


So again, inherently, there is no strategic position. There, there are only strategic positions that relate to your strategy. So, as we’re talking about this internally within our own organizations, we have to kind of take away that kind of idea that’s been beat into our heads, that there are only three strategic positions: operations, sales, and clinical. Again, they’re important, but they may not be strategic. 


This is the portion of my podcasts that I’m a little nervous about because I’m going to say something that’s potentially unpopular, but hear me out. It’s along the same lines of pilots in airlines. Yes, they’re important. Absolutely. But do they materially impact the positive performance of your company?  So, the position I’m thinking about is the nurse. The nurse in our communities, are they important to what we do? 100%. There is nobody in our industry that would say you say to you that they are not important to our industry. They are the backbone, they’re the fabric of everything we do, but are they strategic? So can a good nurse materially impact the positive performance of your community? Maybe, but if you’re thinking about it realistically and comparing your company’s clinical care component compared to everybody else’s, in the eyes of the consumer, right? Not in our eyes, but in the eyes of the consumer, could they tell you company X has better quality care than company Y? Unless they are in the senior living industry themselves, or some way have a foot in our industry other than a typical customer. No, not really. 


If you go pull a hundred people on the street and ask them, hey, which assisted living communities have the best quality care, they probably couldn’t even name more than one or two companies to begin with much less differentiate based on care. 


So going back to that pilot example, nurses are important, can a bad nurse materially impact your company’s performance negatively? Absolutely. Bad state surveys, bad care outcomes, medication issues- of course, those are going to materially impact your business the negative way. But a really great nurse versus a good nurse will probably not impact your company in the other direction. So that’s kinda that asymmetry of A positions impact to your company performance. So like a pilot to an airline, they are critically important in making sure we don’t mess up, but if we have a workforce full of the best and brightest nurses in all of the industry, how much of a of a marginal gain is that compared to if we have the and an average of good nurses in our communities?


So again, I realize that the topic in it of itself, without context may sound very unpopular, but in the context of a positions that are critical to the strategy of your company, again, unless you are actively pursuing that care differentiation strategy, then, then that position is not inherently strategic, just because of what it is. Okay. Some I’m interested for your thoughts on that. I, again, it may be an unpopular opinion but think about this in terms of portfolio management of A, B and C positions. Some of the best people I know are nurses in our industry, and we could not do this without them. So, I want to be very careful that that’s not the distinction I’m making. The distinction I’m making is A positions in terms of strategy, B positions in terms of support to that strategy, which nurses probably fit that category and then C positions that we need to really evaluate whether we need them or not, or maybe we outsource them.


Got through that portion, moving on to the next part. The discussions so far about pilots and nurses, and whoever when you’re thinking about your A positions and your A players, the simple concept, if we distill it down is the idea of asymmetrical impact, okay? That the downside of a bad employee is very substantial, but the upside of a good employee is pretty limited. So going back to the painting the wall analogy: if I hired somebody to come in and paint my bedroom walls. If they do a really, really bad job, yeah, I’ll notice. If they do a really, really great job, it may not materially make that much of a difference between a great painter and a good painter. 


So, here’s the kind of aha moment that I took away from this is that although a position may be hard to fill, it doesn’t necessarily make it an A position. We put so much focus on the positions that turn over frequently, or the ones that we say require the greatest amount of skill. And those are certainly important. But if we were managing our workforce like a portfolio of investments, we would be really thinking first and foremost about how do we get A players in our companies’ A position. And that’s really the basis of this conversation. Let me repeat one more time: There are no inherently strategic positions. These are choices that directly flow from your company strategy. And these positions are rare. They make up less than 20% of your workforce. 


So once you have identified your eight positions, how do you manage those A positions? So there’s four basic cornerstones of that, and the first is going to be that you need to have a very rigorous evaluation of the performance of that A position. So these are well, first of all, you need to get A players into those A positions. So that’s, first and foremost, but if you do, when you do, you need to have a rigorous evaluation, not just of their performance, but how are they impacting the organizational culture? So things like 360 reviews and quarterly goal reviews, and a week to week or monthly coaching sessions, and maybe you’re not the appropriate coach. Maybe you hire an executive coach for that person. Their personal and professional development is going to be critical to their happiness inside of that role. So if they fill an A position, you need to make sure that you are giving them every opportunity to have insights into their own performance and their ability to improve. 


So that, that kind of bleeds over into number two, which is having a robust professional development approach to those A positions. So however they like to learn, however they choose to learn, lean into that. So if they like learning through peers and kind of networking, allow them time to go to networking events, allow them time to go to industry conferences and meet other people and learn from them. We can’t have a kind of a protective approach to A players in A positions. If we let them grow, if we let those people grow and at the risk of they may leave us, I don’t know that we have an alternative, we just need to do it. We need to invest in people by evaluating their performance. And if they’re doing well, then we need to make sure that they have a very robust professional development plan. And again, it may not include you if you’re their direct supervisor. Maybe you’re not the best at coaching, and you need to outsource that to somebody else. The point is that they get it and not necessarily that they get from you, okay? 


Three: Their compensation. You need to disproportionately compensate people that are A players in A positions. So the example given in the article is IBM. IBM disproportionately puts their pay raises towards people in A positions. That will probably also be an unpopular opinion. But, if you worked for an organization in a B position and you were paid fairly, paid well for your position, and you knew that based on your company’s strategy, you quote unquote overcompensated people in the A positions, but it meant longterm security in your job. It meant that you could be proud of the company that you work with, that there’s going to be long term growth. Would I be okay with people in A positions, A players in A positions getting disproportionately higher salaries than the rest of the company? Yeah, probably. If it doesn’t take money out of my pocket, but I know that our company’s heavily investing in the positions that make my life and my career better and more optimal. I’m going to be behind that. 


Four: You need to have a very formal succession plan for people who are in A positions because by nature, A players in A positions are, they’re talented. They’re the best and the brightest in positions that are strategic. So they’re going to have lots of options. And in fact, you should allow them to explore those options. And it’s a good gut check for ourselves that our A players leaving us to go somewhere else, that’s solid data that is solid information and feedback to us of. If our A players keep leaving us, then we’re not managing the aide positions very well.


So having a formal succession plan means that you’re warming up the bench, that you’ve got B players in your organization coming up to those A positions eventually. So that’s what we mean about kind of having a portfolio management approach to your workforce is that you’re not just managing your A players, you’re managing B players who could fill those A positions through the right amount of development. So that overall managing the portfolio of your workforce, we’ve pretty well talked about A positions. For your B positions, the general kind of approach here is that you can’t necessarily win on your company strategy, but you can lose. So these are your pilots of an airline. These are your nurses in assisted living. These are people that do important work that need to be compensated well, that need to have all of those other things of evaluation and robust professional development. But disproportionately prioritize the hiring of A players in A positions. And when you have them, then you’re kind of managing the middle there. You’re managing people in those B positions so that you have great support of the strategic initiatives in your company. 


And then your C positions, you just need to carefully evaluate those the same way that we would evaluate C players to either coach them up or coach them out. That’s a pretty common phrase in our professional verbiage. Carefully evaluate them, do we need to move on? Do we eliminate those positions altogether? Do we outsource those functions so that, we don’t have to manage it internally as a company? You’re gonna determine that based on your own company’s strategy. 


Here’s how we kind of prioritize: what do we do with all of that information? What do we do moving forward? And in these podcasts, I don’t want to just kind be philosophical about things I want to try to talk about how do we create some action today based on this discussion? So I think the first thing we need to do, which is a theme of many of my podcasts and LinkedIn posts, is that we need to determine if we have a clear strategy. And a good way to do this is to have somebody probably not the CEO or the VP of whatever, somebody to maybe send out a survey and survey your line managers, your middle managers and your top managers, and have however you want to do it, fill in the blank or choices whatever you think is appropriate, but try to pull and determine does our organization currently have a grasp of our strategy?


If in that feedback, you are able to determine, what, this is pretty good. 80% of our leaders throughout our organization know that we have a XYZ strategy, but if you have an XYZ strategy and your survey comes back and it shows that you have an, ABCFG7 pink strategy, you’ve got some work to do.


 So prioritization of what we do from here, I think the very first step is we need to determine, do we have a clear strategy? Because this whole kind of thing about A positions and B players and, and whatnot, it doesn’t really matter if we don’t have the clear strategy because the A position approach has to flow from what is our strategy in the first place. 


So that’s step number one. Step number two is then you need to assess your A, B and your C position. So once what your clear organizational strategy is, how you’re going to serve senior living uniquely, then you assess what are our A positions that are materially impactful to the success and the execution of components of our strategy? And then again, to remember the second criteria there is: Is there a wide degree of variability in somebody who’s in that role? And then assess: what are your A positions? What are your B positions? Do we have any C positions? And then you want to kind of do a little quantitative check there. If you have 50% of your positions categorized as A, it probably is pointing out that you don’t have a clear strategy. So you should be able to point to a small subset of positions in your company that fill that a position criteria based on your clear strategy. 


Third, who is in those positions? So I think it’s important that when you’re doing the work of A, B and C positions, you’re not thinking about: At that time, who is in those positions. Now that’s going to be a pretty tough exercise. So we need to make sure that we don’t kind of pull in like, oh yeah, John is in that position, or Mary’s in that position. Just, think about, is the position of strategic importance to your company and then categorize A, B or C and then once you’ve done that exercise go in and backfill, well, who is in those positions. Hopefully you’ll have some insights once you go through that. 


If you have C players in A positions, get them out, get them out immediately. This will have a big impact right away to how your company’s going to function. So if you have C players in your A positions, get them out, replace them with A players, make that a top priority in this whole kind of portfolio management strategy. And then if you have B players in A positions, help them to become A players. So you’re either going to recruit and bring in A players from the outside. You’re going to go through that whole kind of management process of rigorous evaluations and robust professional development and all that. And then you’re also going to have that succession plan, remember? So you’re going to have the B players prepped and ready to fill those A positions when it comes time. If you can recruit the A players to fill that position, do it. Do that first, but get your B players ready as part of that formal succession plan. 


What we have to do here, this is kind of a summary now of this discussion. We really have to stop managing our workforce strictly from a cost mindset. A cost of mindset to workforce management means that we always talk about the expense of turnover or the expense of labor. We talk about overtime. We talk about what it costs to turnover an ED position or a sales position. And it’s not that that’s unimportant, but it’s that that discussion is too far ahead of this mindset that I’m talking about, which is a mindset of strategic value to the workforce. So if we started prioritizing, what are the strategic value adds to our company? What are the A positions? How do we get A players in them, get those decisions right first and then focus on your B. So if everybody gets the A position thing, right, then your kind of long term success is going to rest on your B players, the amount of support, the amount of consistency that you have in your B players will now support what you’ve done with your, a position kind of alignment, right?


So that’s kind of full circle: That’s managing your workforce like a portfolio to not just have great A players in A positions, but to recognize how do we manage the entire ABC mix of positions within our company. 


I wanna end on a story or just to convey a conversation I’ve had recently with colleagues in the industry. This time right now far into the midst of COVID with no real tangible end sight, none of us really know when this is going to be over. These discussions about A players, A positions, organizational culture, organizational psychology, learning and development- the reason that I think that this is important for us right now, especially right now during this time, is that if you are hyper focused on a growth mindset right now that you’re pushing your salespeople, you’re pushing your EDS, you’re pushing a regionals, you’re push, push, push, push, push to grow, I think, just my opinion, I think that’s probably the wrong approach. I think that right now, we need to we’re in the off season, as I say internally in my company. We’re in the off season in that nobody’s going to have dramatic gains. Hopefully nobody’s going to have dramatic losses. Right now, we’re all in kind of a crisis management mode to mitigate the loss, to slow the loss. And if we can, keep it steady. 


I don’t think that that is a bad mindset. And some people may listen to this and think, wow, how does the corporate director of sales for a company not have a growth mindset? It’s not that I don’t, it’s that I have a longer term criteria for that and that right now I think the most important work that we’re going to do is selecting the right people, is doing the training, is getting our strategy conversation right. If we’re not going to have a big variance between the success of one company or another, when we get out on the other side of this and we will, we’re going to get out on the other side of COVID, the ones that are doing the hard internal work, the realignment, the focus on people and taking care of those people who are on the front lines, if we do all of that, when we’re out on the other side, we’re going to be better positioned for an open market. When times get better, the employees that were treated well, that were pushed to grow but in productive ways, they’re the ones that are going to be full of gratitude and full of loyalty moving forward. So let’s show our loyalty today and we’ll earn that loyalty when times are good again. 


So I know that sounded a little preachy and I am constantly having to work on that myself. I put these thoughts out there really to remind myself that this is how I think. This is what I believe. And I have to keep kind of reminding myself that don’t let performance and growth and all of those things get in the way of what’s important right now. Everybody’s stressed and if we’re going to have a long term solution of helping seniors and the people who love and support them, we got to do this important work. We got to have conversations about culture. We got to do the off season work of practice, practice, practice. 


I hope that you guys are getting your fair share of appreciation and thank you’s. Thank you. Thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for just putting your heart on the line right now during this difficult time. There is work to be done, and I believe that this, that the topics that I’m talking about, I happen to believe that those are the important things that we should be doing right now. So stay safe. Take care of each other. Thank you for listening to another episode of BTG Contributor Wednesday. This is James Lee. Talk to you next time.

CW Ep. 16: Leadership & Culture with James Lee