How to Build a High Performing Team (Leave Stragglers Behind)

Leadership

Most leaders and managers spend almost all of their team development time focused on the wrong people. Bob, the CEO of Onramp, had to learn this the hard way…

He spent all of his time and effort focusing on underperforming staff. He wanted to lift them up. Truly realize their full potential. It’s a noble gesture, sure. But it gets you nowhere, slowly. It wasn’t working. And all Bob wants is to learn how to build a high performing team.

 

Understanding Who’s on Your Team

Picture your company as a classroom. You’ve got your A’s—your high achievers who turn every project into gold. They are highly productive and are a great cultural fit with your business.

Your B’s are your solid, reliable students, turning in consistent work that keeps the ship sailing smoothly. Most of the time you don’t pay attention to them because you think they’ve got it under control

And then there are your C’s—stragglers who, despite potential, just haven’t been able to make the grade. This could be because they aren’t the right cultural fit or their productivity within their current role is low.

 

Most Managers Make This Critical Mistake

As a manager, our job is to help the low performers, our C players, level up and become B players. That’s common sense, right? 

That was Bob’s mistake.  He put his entire focus on helping his C players.  He tried training, coaching, Performance Improvement Plans, and everything else you could think of.  Most of those C players stayed C players.

And something terrible happened.  He lost an A player.  Then another.  

 

Why? Two reasons

 

  • A players don’t tolerate C players
  • Everyone, even your A players, need your attention

 

An Employee Performance Improvement Plan is NOT the Way

Performance Improvement Plans are a simplistic way of looking at employee performance issues.  PIP’s identify how an employee is falling short of expectations and then aims to put a plan together to improve those skills. But it’s often not about skills. It could just be the wrong fit for said employee.

You might think “Wow, Stephen is really all about our company’s core values. But he doesn’t seem to be too productive in that role.” 

There’s a few things you look at:

  1. Is Stephen competent (properly trained) for this role?
  2. Is he getting the support he needs to be successful?
  3. Is he in the right role? 

We need to dig in and ensure you have the right person in the right seat, with the right support first.  

 

PIPs are Doomed to Fail

No matter the intention behind a PIP, it’s a grenade with the pin pulled out. The employee on the receiving end can’t help but feel the heat of the impending explosion—their eventual termination.

Because PIPs are essentially rearview mirrors—showing where you’ve been, not where you’re going. They focus on past mistakes rather than future potential, stifling any chance of real growth.

 

How to Build a High Performing Team (Effectively)

Bob needed to pivot from a culture of correction to one of growth. He introduced Professional Development Plans, tailored to each individual’s career aspirations and aligned with the company’s trajectory. These plans were not about correcting past behaviors but about investing in potential and ambition.

Focus on Your B’s and A’a 

As  a leader, you have to focus on your star players. You need to make sure these players constantly feel like they’re growing within your company or they’ll get bored and you’ll lose them. You need to be a big part of their career development. Show them that you care about where they’re headed.

Focusing on C players will only take you so far. If there’s little to no cultural fit, the best they’ll become is a C+ player. It’s a harsh reality, but often true.

Think of sports teams. What do they do with C-level talent? They don’t usually try to develop them. They usually trade them. Hopefully with someone who is a better fit.

Make Sure Employees are Striving (and Working) Towards a Goal

Bob knew that a goal-less team is like a ship without a rudder, aimlessly drifting. He began collaborating with each member, A and B alike, to set clear, ambitious, yet attainable goals.

Was it a managerial position they were eyeing? Bob plotted the course with them, mapping out what skills, training, and milestones were needed to get there. He set out a clear path within the organization.

Focus on Finding Fit During the Hiring Process

When bringing in new talent, prioritize how well they align with your company’s culture and values. A seamless fit means smoother integration and development. Misfits, no matter how skilled, can disrupt your team’s synergy and will likely find their way out sooner or later. Keep this in mind—it’s not just about filling a vacancy but about nurturing a vibrant, cohesive team.

What Do You Do With C Players?

There’s two types of C players – those who have the productivity but don’t quite gel with the company’s culture and those who aren’t productive in their role. 

For those who don’t fit the culture, it’s essential to address the misalignment with transparency and empathy. 

As a leader committed to nurturing talent, you recognize that every individual has a place where they can shine. It’s not a matter of simply dismissing them for underperformance; it’s about guiding them toward a role or environment where their productivity is celebrated and their potential fully realized.

Let these team members know that while they may not fit perfectly into your company, their skills are valuable. By helping them transition to a place that aligns with their abilities and values, you’re not just offloading a misfit—you’re responsibly stewarding their career growth. 

In doing so, you affirm that your commitment to people extends beyond their contributions to your business—it’s about ensuring they find success, whether within your walls or beyond them.

Actions

Building your high performance team is a core element of building a great business.

On a quarterly basis, you should be reviewing your team using the talent assessment methodology (link to previous article) and coming up with:

  1. A plan to level up, coach, warn, release C players
  2. How you’re going to help your B’s and A’s make the next step in their development 

This is something we do with every team we work with.  The difference between a team with C’s and one with all B’s and A’s is incredible.  Think 3-5x.  

Ready to learn how to build a high performing team?  Let’s talk.

Mike Knapp

STRATEGIC PLANNING & EXECUTION

Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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