How to Spot the B Players at Work

UPDATED: October 13, 2015
PUBLISHED: May 28, 2015

You probably know the A players in your office, but what about the B players?

A players are usually obvious in a company. They are the employees who continuously excel and climb to the top ranks, recognized by management as future leaders. They will characteristically be great on their own because they are intrinsically motivated. As driven high performers, they do not require much external training and development because they proactively seek it out for themselves. They are noticeably ambitious.

However, 80 percent of an organization is made up of B players, employees who typically fly under the radar—but who are also capable, committed and valuable. They have the potential to be great but are not always easy to spot, and because their ambition isn’t overtly obvious, they aren’t usually recognized for their work.

But managers need to know who their B players are, to stop disregarding their potential and start developing it. Why? Because they need to be sure they are producing a strong lineup around their A players, of key performers who can step off the bench and into the game at any given moment.

Here are five traits of B players:

1. They excel in their role… with guidance.

B players can hit every deadline and deliver on every task. Once they’ve completed the project, they might suggest ways to make the job more efficient. But B players need coaching. They won’t take something and run with it, but when given all the details and guidance, though, they will execute well and won’t need to be told again how to do that specific task.

2. They’re curious.

They are curious about the role above theirs and the strategies behind a process, but they don’t overstep and complete that role’s task. For instance, an entry-level accounting professional shouldn’t take initiative to do the role above his or hers. Curious people don’t ask, “What?”—they ask, “Why?”

B players want to learn the plan and reasoning behind a task and will ask why it’s being done. Oftentimes a manager can misinterpret this, believing they don’t want to do the task, but more times than not, they are just trying to better understand how it will impact and help the organization holistically.

3. They want to understand the bigger picture.

No matter what they’re doing for the company, they strive to understand how it fits into the company’s bigger strategic goals, and they’re willing to do what it takes to help accomplish these. If they don’t understand how their actions are driving growth, they ask.

B players are the ones who stay late or come in early to learn more about the industry, the marketplace, its competitors and where the company stands in relation to it all. They focus on delivering on A, B and C, but they stay with the team afterhours to help understand D, E and F.

4. They’re flexible.

B players may spend their time at the company in a specific role, but if management approaches them with another internal opportunity, they are flexible and open to the opportunity. They may be unsure that it’s the right fit, but they trust that leadership is making the right decision.

5. They want it.

Maybe they’ve expressed interest in growing, developing, a promotion, etc. but need help getting there. Managers should take note of whether a B player shows he or she wants to learn, grow and develop to be a key player. The market has become very competitive, so if leadership fails to focus on them, those potential high-potentials will leave for companies that will.

Watch for 7 warning signs of an unhappy employee, so you can reverse the damage before it’s too late.

Sirmara Campbell Twohill is the chief human resources officer at LaSalle Network and has more than 15 years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry. Sirmara has a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago.