October 1, 2003   view past issues

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Feature: To “B” or Not to “B”

The War for Talent, a report produced by McKinsey & Company in 1997, was a seminal work in the recruiting profession. Not only did it underscore the importance of what recruiters do in the modern enterprise, but for the first time, it monetized differences in the quality of that work.

McKinsey studied a number of organizations to determine if the quality of the workforce really mattered at the bottom line. Now, you have to wonder why it took a study in the 97th year of the 20th Century to figure that out, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

Anyway, McKinsey found that the differential financial impact of high performers was not only measurable, but profound. No matter what metric was used-sales closed, products manufactured without defect or customer satisfaction scores-“A” level performers were 50-100% more productive than “C” level performers. Hire the best and most capable in each profession, craft or trade for which you recruit, and you will give your organization a clear competitive advantage that even the CFO will be able to recognize.

But here’s the rub. The McKinsey study ignored a whole class of workers that we would do well to consider. Between those “A” level performers at the top and those “C” level performers in the mediocre middle, there are “B” level players that are the invisible candidates of the labor force. And, according to recent work by a scholar at Harvard, they deserve better treatment.

“B” level performers are typically every bit as talented and capable as “A” level performers, but they bring different motivations to work.

  • “A” level performers These employees work for huzzahs. They want to be known as the best in the organization. They are good, and they want everyone else to know it. They crave being recognized by promotions and bonuses and the attention they get from the boss. They may be the only employees who actually look forward to performance appraisals. Their motivation is Brand Me.
  • “B” level performers These employees work for “mental chocolate.” They are very good at what they do-in fact, many are recovering “A” level performers-but they do it for the intrinsic reward of a job well done. It’s not that they don’t care about awards and bonuses, but they aren’t driven to climb the corporate ladder or to sit in the corner office to achieve them. Their motivation is Brand Us.
  • Said another way, “B” level performers have a balanced view of work and life, and because they do, they often go unnoticed (witness the McKinsey report) and underappreciated by their employers … until they’re gone. Moreover, they are, in many respects, the backbone of an organization. They are the workers you can count on in a crisis; they are the people who will quietly but competently step in to help cover for an absent co-worker. And they are, as a consequence, people we should recruit.

    How do we do that? As I’ve suggested in previous columns when discussing “A” level prospects, we have to find out exactly what will attract “B” level performers to our organization and focus on those factors in our job postings and the Career content on our Web-site. One of the best ways to acquire this insight is to borrow a tactic used by our colleagues in marketing and hold focus groups among the “B” level employees in our organization working in the fields for which we are recruiting. They are the perfect surrogate for the “B” level prospects we want to recruit and can tell us precisely what it takes to get someone (just like them) to “buy” our organization as an employer.

    The basis for this research, as our marketing colleagues have learned, is customer segmentation. We must recognize the differences in capability among the potential “customers” of our organization’s employment value proposition and shape the expression of that proposition to attract the customers we most want. The McKisney and Company report provides the justification for focusing on “A” level performers and their unique needs. To achieve full success as recruiters, however, we should also determine what attracts “B” level performers and source them, as well. Why? Because every organization needs both the rocket power of “A” level performers and the steady reliability of those who seek simply to be the best they can and want to be.

    NOTE: Just a quick reminder that is hosting a complementary breakfast series around the country at which I will present my seminar on 3rd Generation Online Recruiting. The sessions are open to the public and the first 30 registered attendees in each city will receive a free copy of my 2003 Recruiter’s Guide to Employment Web Sites. For a complete list of locations and dates and to sign up, please click here. If you do decide to attend a session, please come by and introduce yourself. I’d be grateful for your feedback on this newsletter and for any suggestions you may have to make it more interesting and useful to you.

    Section Two: Site News

    The American Hotel & Lodging Association has partnered with to launch the AH&LA Career Center. The Center will offer access to lodging industry job seekers with skills ranging from accounting and finance, bartending and gaming to serving, sales and marketing and fitness. Jobs posted on the site will be cross-posted to Hcareers.

    The American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) announced the launch of the ABI Career Center, “a one-stop site for job seekers and employers in the insolvency community.” Employers may post jobs and search the resume database at no charge.

    Clark Consulting released the results of a September survey which underscores the shortening tenure of workers among public companies. Of the poll’s respondents, 55% stayed with their last company three years or less, and just 23% stayed there more than five years. Why did they leave? Depressingly, almost six in ten (58%) left because of poor leadership or lack of career growth opportunity. Only one in five left because of salary or benefits. That’s important food for thought as another survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and indicates that a large segment of the current workforce intends to look for a new or better job as soon as the economy recovers. How can you deal with this threat to retention? Make sure the performance of supervisors and middle managers is what it should be and that you are offering genuine (and visible) programs for individual development and internal mobility.

    Electronic Data Systems completed a study which found that nine out of ten corporate executives in the Fortune 500 have a myopic view of HR performance. Not only do they base their assessment of the HR function on just three metrics, but at least two of the metrics do not measure what HR does. According to respondents, HR is typically evaluated based on HR expenses as a proportion of total operating expenses and on employee retention and morale. The former has historically never been above 1.1%, so why bother; it’s less than what most organizations are paying the CEO. The latter two metrics, on the other hand, are both primarily affected by work unit leadership (see above), not by the activities of the HR Department. And that begs the question: why aren’t line managers and business unit vice presidents being evaluated on the retention and morale in their units? Could such metrics be too “touchy feely” for these important business leaders?

    The Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society has introduced the Rubber Division Career Center to serve employers seeking rubber industry professionals. The site offers job posting, resume database search and automatic notification of a resume match for $250 per posting.

    Section three: Site Profiles

    Site Insite … how well do you know the Web’s 40,000+ job boards?

    If you were looking for a comedian for your new night club in Phoenix, to which of the following sites would you give a bad review?

  • If you were recruiting a social therapist for an assisted living facility in Philadelphia, which of the following sites would be no help?

  • If you were recruiting a secretary for your new sales office in London, England, which of the following sites should you avoid?

  • (answers below)

    Site Spotlite … from the pages of WEDDLE’s 2003 Guides and Directories


    Post full time jobs: Yes

    Post part time/consulting jobs: Yes-Part time, Contract

    Distribution of jobs: National: USA

    Fee to post a job: $201-300/posting

    Posting period: 60 days

    Can posting be linked to your site: Yes

    Resume database: Yes

    Number of resumes: 206,448

    Source of resumes: Direct from candidates who are Hispanic professionals

    Top occupations among resumes: Engineering, IT, Management

    Other services for employers: Auto notification of resume-job match, Banner advertising, Special area for HR professionals, Status Reports: banners/job postings

    Answers to Site Insite:

  •, the site of the Graphic Artists Guild, which is currently undergoing an upgrade
  •, a site for radiologists
  •, a non-existent site