Brutally Honest Startup Lesson #3: Remediation of C players is futile

MeetingAbout the Series

Over the last nearly three decades (I’m getting…let’s call it “mature”), I’ve had the good fortune of being able to do everything from working as a software engineer to running a team of over 2,100 people across eighteen offices around the world to founding a software-as-a-service startup that. Over those years, I’ve learned a number of lessons that I humbly share with my colleagues in this series.

What do I mean by the words “brutally honest” in the title? It’s a combination of two cultural principles I have long espoused as part of my team norms. The first is “intellectual honesty” (those who’ve worked on my teams in the past will recognize this term): that we need to be honest and open about what’s actually happening because we can’t fix what we can’t acknowledge openly. The second is the notion of “blunt but kind”: that we talk to one another bluntly, but ensure a measure of empathy, kindness, and politeness…because we care about those to whom we’re talking.

With all due respect and humility, I’d like to share with you one of those lessons below.

#3: Remediation of C players is futile

It’s hard to discuss this without being perceived as insensitive, but I’ve found it to be true in nearly 30 years in business: C players aren’t worth remediating. It’s not that it’s impossible; it’s just that the cost in time and effort to help them improve is typically offset by the incredibly rare occurrence of their improving. Mind you, it’s worth one or two conversations to make yourself feel better about it, but, trust me, it’s not going to be worth your time, and the results have the same odds as winning the lottery. NB: B players can and should be encouraged and coached to turn into A players. For more on A, B, and C players, check out The 7 Categories of Coworkers.

Why is remediation so futile? I’m afraid it’s simple: nearly all C players I’ve tried to remediate over the years are fundamentally unable to acknowledge they’re C players (and therein lies the reason they’re C players in the first place: lack of pragmatic self-assessment). In fact, most are so out of touch with their performance that they frequently ask for a raise.

Mind you, I genuinely respect those managers who are much more patient than I am and are willing to work at it for months or sometimes years. My challenge is, in a startup environment, with piling priorities and a fast pace, it’s incredibly difficult to prioritize an additional initiative.

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