What’s Your SWAT Score? Evaluating Your Team & Identifying A Players


Over the years, I’ve used a very simple and straightforward technique for assessing team members’ performance and contribution based on their skill level in their role, will to work hard on the job, and their attitude towards their colleagues and clients. In fact, these three dimensions were the basis of The 7 Categories of Coworkers.

In this piece, I’ll outline for you how I use these three dimensions in addition to a fourth that gauges your trust in a team member to create a clear scoring system that identifies your A, B, and C players on the team. The score acronym of SWAT is derived from the four dimensions.

Skill: 0 to 3

Skill is about the level of expertise and comfort one has in their role; the good news is that, in my experience, this is the dimension that can most easily be impacted through training, coaching, and other investment in the team member’s professional development. I’ve frequently told my team to “hire for Will and Attitude; train for Skill.”

  • Score of 3: the Expert knows his or her domain cold; they keep up on the latest and greatest trends in their field and frequently add to it with their own original content. They can communicate a well-founded opinion on major topics in their field, and are frequently looked to by people inside and outside the company for their subject matter expertise.
  • Score of 2: the Independent knows their role well and has experience doing it; because of that, they work independently on all but the most strategic and complicated of projects and client relationships.
  • Score of 1: the Student knows the fundamentals but still requires some guidance and support from a more seasoned team member; they may perhaps handle smaller projects or simpler client relationships independently but otherwise primarily support the rest of the team.
  • Score of 0: the Fire Me Today needs no more characterization.

Will: 0 to 3

Will is about one’s willingness to work hard and put in the hours necessary to move the ball forward. Yeah, I said it: hours of hard work matter. If you disagree, I’m grateful for you, because I need you to hire all of the lazy people out there who still want jobs that’ll allow them to exercise their admiration for the popular book The 4-Hour Work Week. Those people are out there and they’re employed; I just don’t want them working for me because I’d rather hire just one hard worker instead of two or three lesser team members.

  • Score of 3: the Engine puts in whatever time is necessary, whenever it’s necessary. They generate energy and drive work and progress across the organization (and hence the “engine” moniker). You don’t ever worry about this person; their commitment to work is impeccable and is independent of whether you’re there or not. They’re the folks who are frequently working additional hours beyond core hours just because it’s necessary to get things done. More often than not, when you put out a request for help or comment, they are the first to reply. Putting something in their hands is a guarantee that it’ll get done as agreed.
  • Score of 2: the Cog puts in a good day’s work but likely won’t go beyond expectations. They typically have relatively predictable hours that don’t seem to vary much based on workload (e.g., 8:30 to 5:30 daily even when there’s an enormous client deadline or company targets that require extra hours to achieve). Mind you, these are good people, but they’re not the engines of work within your company but play a role as a necessary cog.
  • Score of 1: the Clock Puncher is famously well-understood persona — they put in the minimum number of hours, and disappear whenever they can. These are the people who think of work as a vacation when you’re on vacation, essentially meaning that you have to push work their way and monitor them all of the time to get productivity out of them. Forget needing their help during off-hours. They’re the last to notice or respond to your messages, and you find yourself needing to follow up on those requests.
  • Score of 0: the Fire Me Today needs no more characterization.

Attitude: 0 to 3

  • Score of 3: the Best Attitude is the person everyone wants on their team — they project a friendly, collaborative, and bright attitude.
  • Score of 2: the Good Attitude is a friendly person who, while having their quirks, is generally well-liked by team members and, importantly, by you.
  • Score of 1: the Bad Attitude is well-known within the organization and frequently has few friends inside the company; they tend to send politically-motivated messages or make cutting comments to and about colleagues.
  • Score of 0: the Fire Me Today needs no more characterization.

Trust: 0 or 1

This one is straightforward. You must feel comfortable answering “yes” to this simple question: would you go out of your way to recruit this person to join your next venture as a co-founder? If you answered yes, consider this person a Trusted Advisor. The “co-founder” characterization is important because it means you have so much trust in this Trusted Advisor that you’re willing to select them as one of a very small cadre of people to co-found your company. For most of us, Trusted Advisors can be counted on one or two hands at most over our entire careers.

Total SWAT Score: 0 to 10

  • Score of >9: the Rock Star is exceedingly rare; they typically make up less than 5% of the company because, to be one, you must be the Expert, the Engine, the Best Attitude, and the Trusted Advisor. I need not tell you how invaluable Rock Stars are to an organization; it doesn’t take many to really change the effectiveness of entire organizations.
  • Score of 8 to 9: the A Player is the team member everyone envisions themselves being even though they likely aren’t because the bar is so high. Typically, the only thing keeping an A Player from being a Rock Star is time: you haven’t yet gotten to know them well enough to give them a Trust score of 1. You need at least one of these people in every team; without them on a team, it’s hard to get things done.
  • Score of 6 to 8: the B Player should not be seen as acceptable; they should be seen as “A Players in development”, people in whom you’re investing time and effort to develop (e.g., through training them from an Independent to an Expert or from a Cog to an Engine). I’m not a fan of the commonly-accepted philosophy that all companies need to be built on long-term B Players: people who are seen as “good enough for what we need them to do.” While it’s a pragmatic approach, I believe that, over time, you’re still better off developing the B Player into an A or replacing them with one if it becomes evident that isn’t possible.
  • Score of 0 to 6: the C Player should be allowed to move to another company where they can hopefully work their way up to being a B Player and perhaps, over time, even an A. However, I can’t tell you how many companies tolerate long-term C Players because it’s deemed inconvenient or because “I have bigger fish to fry right now.” C Players are actively (if possibly inadvertently) hampering progress and creating unwarranted issues within a team. Be kind to yourself, to your team, and to the C Player by helping find them a place elsewhere where they can grow.


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