Hire and Keep 'A' Players

When a company is clear about its values, hiring only ‘a’ players need not be an overwhelming task.


by Ann Rhoades

When a company is clear about its values, hiring only ‘a’ players need not be an overwhelming task.A’ Players are the people who genuinely live your company’s values, every day. They’re not always the high-flying world beaters, and they don’t even have to be part of your leadership team. They could be the front-line employees who smile, who go out of their way to be helpful, who care that things are done right. They are the people who help great companies and great leaders reach their full potential.

Making the company’s values clear to candidates helps employers discover who is a good fit, but before companies can communicate their values to their employees and potential employees, they have to understand and define them.

Hiring ‘A’ Players starts with your company’s Values Blueprint. Just like you would not build a house working off only an image in your head, you cannot build a lasting culture without a written blueprint. Creating a blueprint doesn’t need to take a long time and companies should be able to publish a Values Blueprint within a month of their initial assessment of the current culture. I’ve created a handful of key steps companies should consider when building their blueprint.

While companies are going through the process of assessing their current values, I suggest a meeting of senior management to discuss leadership’s understanding of the existing values, whether stated or unstated. Look at your current mission statement and stated values—make sure they are concepts you could create behaviors around. What does integrity mean in the day-to-day life of your company, for example? Make sure you don’t mistake results for values.

During the initial conversations, the senior management should agree on a baseline: 

  • Which values do you believe are currently in place?
  • Do those values actually drive behaviors?
  • Are the current values understood by employees?
  • Are senior leaders actually living the current values themselves or only giving them lip service?

After senior leaders develop their thoughts about values, they should start selecting a values workout team. That team will work on behalf of the employees to develop and implement the Values Blueprint. As part of its responsibilities, the values workout team will assess the validity of the senior managements values assessment, understand the current values and their place in the organization, and decide whether new values need to be created or if existing values need to be reinvigorated.

The values workout team should have no fewer than five and no more than 30 people. Go both deep and wide when selecting members of the team. It is vital that 'A' Players from every level are asked to participate, from senior management to the most entrylevel person. The people selected should be respected by their peers. Ask managers to recommend line people who are already outstanding contributors and will voice their opinions strongly. I have found that almost everyone, particularly among line employees, is honored to be part of the team.

The values workout team will define the values—no more than seven—that are vital to your organization and decide which behaviors will give the most meaning to those values. I recommend companies hold a mandatory off-site meeting for the workout team members, including senior management and people from other facilities. At the meeting, the first task for the values team is to build on the preliminary work of the senior leaders and the company-wide assessment. As part of the discussion at the meeting, the team can discuss if employees live the company’s stated values, if the values represent the company and if leaders support the values.

The team can then develop a list of potential organizational values and what behaviors exemplify the new values. This is likely an overnight thinking exercise. Good organizational values are typically very similar to good personal values. Personal values are those beliefs that you hold so strongly that they drive your behavior and dictate how you interact with and treat others. The next day, the team can get consensus on the behaviors and refining the identified values. 

After the workout, the team will have the first draft of the Values Blueprint, which should be communicated to the people in your organization for comment, along with a thank you, by name, to the values workout team members. By touching most of your people during this vetting process, you’ll engage them and get the buy-in you need for implementation. 

Based on feedback during the vetting process, the workout team should finalize and publish a professionally produced, concise statement of your company’s new values and behaviors. 

An implementation plan need not be complex, but it should indicate the order in which your departments are going to go through the process. A timeline should show when each department will be coming up to speed on the Values Blueprint along with the implementation of new metrics, scoreboards, hiring methods, rewards revisions, trainings and other activities and celebrations. 

With a solid communication effort, everyone in the company should soon understand what it means to put the values to work every day.

‘A’ Players are those people who are committed, dedicated and successful in their jobs. 'A' Players need to be in every position within the company—not just in management. 

The most important positions in your organization are any that directly touch your customers. To your customers, your company is your front-line employees. If you want to attract and retain more customers, you must concentrate on putting A Players there first. Your organization will only work as a well-oiled, value— generating machine if you try, over time, to recruit, hire, train and reward as many 'A' Players as you can.

The most successful companies are those that only hire 'A' Players. They don’t hire the best of the available applicants or simply because they need to fill a position. If they have to, they wait to hire until they find the 'A' Players—those employees would do more than is required, live the company’s values, and truly add value to the organization.

Of course, waiting to hire may mean that you have to delay the opening of a new facility, pay overtime or be understaffed until you find the right people. They aren’t always packaged the way you expect, but when you find them, they help you outperform the competition.


Ann Roades was a keynote presenter at The NATSO Show 2012. The NATSO Show 2013 will be held February 2–6 in Savannah, Ga. There will be two sessions on human resources including Good People Equal Good Retail on Monday, February 4 and Hire the Right People and Set Them Up for Success on Tuesday, February 5. Register and learn more on The NATSO Show website.

Ann Rhoades is the president of People Ink, which helps companies build values-based corporate cultures using the Values Blueprint principles. She was one of the five founding executives of JetBlue Airways and Chief People Officer for Southwest Airlines. She shares in-depth details on hiring and keeping A Players in her book Built on Values.



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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