By Stacy Eads
May 3, 2022

The Paper Napkin

Learn how a CEO walks into a bar, then walks out with an employee plan.
Don't Panic written on napkin

You’ve heard the story about the most amazing, fresh new idea being sketched out on a bar napkin that’s later framed when the company earns its first, cool million, right? Well, what if I said you could map out your Employee Coaching Plan for 2022 on that same tiny, white square?

Yes, that’s right—imagine this with me. You leave the office feeling a bit heavy one Friday night, feeling like all the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders as the CEO. You belly-up to the bar sighing “TGIF,” and as you look at that square napkin, you decide to do something about all the stress, headaches, and drama swirling around the office. 

You pull out a pen, draw a huge plus sign on the stark white napkin in blue ink. And so it begins… your napkin now officially has four quadrants. Each corner of your napkin now serves as four areas for you to place your employee names.

One by one, you swiftly select which quadrant you’d place each employee within upon gut instinct of how this week went. Did you read that part… “swiftly”? Here’s the key, you can’t dwell on their past success when they won Employee of the Year back in 1995 or how attached you are to their five-year-long history dutifully shuffling between departments before they found the right fit in 2021. Your mind can’t get mired down in the details—it’s just a cocktail napkin after all, right?

ABC Player Napkin Quads by Stacy Eads

Go with the here and now.

Go with your gut.

Go with this week’s results and actions per employee.

STEP ONE: Who is Above the Fold?

If the employee name comes to mind, and you firmly believe they adhere to your company core values, they go “above the line.” You place them in one of the two top squares above your horizontal blue pen line. They show up on time, get along with their teammates, honor your code of ethics, and play by the rules.

STEP TWO: Pick Your A-Players on the Team

All the names you’re thinking of that adhere to your core values, how will you decide if they go to the right or left quadrant above the fold? Performance!

A-Players meet your core value standards and your performance standards.

Place the name in the upper right quadrant, and label it A-Player if they both adhere to your core values and have excellent performance. These names are your star players who hit all the goals and metrics you lay before them, and they do it with a smile. You know who they are, and so does the rest of the company—it’s obvious! Their teammates all want to have lunch with the A-Player, and all the senior managers wish the A-Player was in their department, too.

They are not the employees who gave you the headache this week. They are the one’s who breathe life back into you every Monday morning for the week ahead!

STEP THREE: Select Your B-Players

A- and B-Players on your team are those who adhere to your core values and actively engage in your core purpose. They are above the fold on your napkin, so label your upper left quadrant “B-Players” and start your list.

Now think: Who consistently adheres to your core values, you just wish they performed a tad better in one or two areas? They are right on the cusp of greatness, but need a little push to get there this year.

Maybe they haven’t been with the team long, and still need a mentor to continue training on your products and services. Maybe these B-Players could up their game by taking an online course, or becoming certified as the next step in their career path toward the A-Player quadrant.

Overall, you are happy with who they are. You want them on the team because they fit in at the company, but their performance, goals, and metrics just have not shot to the top of the charts yet.

Recognize that you want to retain your A-Players, and coach your B-Players. After tonight, you’ll get ready to dig deep, learn why they underperform occasionally, and make an action plan to improve their career path at the company.

STEP FOUR: Who is Below the Fold?

Your C-Players do not consistently exhibit your core values on a daily basis, or they engage in unethical behavior that rocks the team boat, starts drama, and leads to chaos. It’s like a cancer that spreads and infects the team.

Remember the last time your HR Manual was updated for “that one time that one person did this”? Yeah, that’s certainly a C-Player if you’re re-writing the rules to clarify and enforce your basic core values.

STEP FIVE: Left or Right Quad?

You know the list of C-Player names that caused your headaches this week. Will you place them in the lower left quadrant of your napkin as a C-Player, or the lower right quadrant as a potential B- or C-Player.

Lower Left: If they are low on core values, and low on performance. They are 100% a solid C-Player. You’re ready to get them off your boat so they can’t drill any more holes to drown those A- and B-Players.

Lower Right: If the employee is occasionally slipping here or there on core values, but over performs metrics, take a long hard look at what you truly value as the CEO. This B/C-Player mix is an extra dangerous quadrant on your bar napkin. If you manage your organization with “the ends justify the means” approach, you might as well tear up the Core Values poster in the lobby, because every A- and B-Player walking by it knows each value—Trust. Integrity. Respect. Teamwork. They aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. These A- and B-Players actively watch you accept poor, ethical behavior from a B/C just for good metrics.

Here’s an example: If your highest salesperson brought in ten times the contracts as every other rep month after month, but they stretched the truth to get those client signatures, the rest of the team deals with the fallout of unhappy customers long after the sales commission check is cashed. Internally, the A- and B-Players see the corners your B/C cuts to get the yes. And externally, “overpromised and under delivered” contracts will erode your reputation in the community, damaging your firm long term. How long will you allow the B/C Player to walk the fine blue ink line and dance around your rules?   

Why do something now?

Now that you’ve completed the four quads of your napkin, you can see the A-Players you want to retain, and the B-Players you want to coach on their performance. You’ve now identified the dangerous B/C Players who cross the core values line too often to achieve their metrics in an unethical way. You sit there, with your martini glass now empty, staring at the C-Player names, knowing what you have to do as a leader.

Eighty-nine percent of employers think their A-Players leave for more money, and during The Great Resignation, that’s partially true for certain generations’ market-based motivation. Yet, it’s never the whole truth. It’s never the only reason a person leaves our company. Ask yourself this: What situation occurred prompting them to freshen up their resume last week? What frustration did they take home that night when a friend said, “Well go ahead and see what else is available on Indeed?”

As managers, we tell ourselves the story of how our regrettable turnover “left for better money” because it eases our conscience to blame outside forces, when in reality, only 12% of A-Players said they were leaving for a higher income pre-pandemic. The hard truth is… A-Players have consistently stated in exit interviews across all major industries that the number one reason for leaving a company is management’s tolerance of C-Players.

Your inaction drags them down

An A-Player outperforms a B-Player by a factor of three. So pick a name from your upper right had quadrant of A-Players and imagine loading up three cinderblocks into their bag when you greet them every morning. Go ahead, smile at their face, and say, “Hello Amy the A-Player, here’s your three heavy cinderblocks to lug around the office today because I chose not to step up, be a leader, and create a coaching plan of action for Bob the B-Player yet. I just haven’t had the time, sorry.”

Tomorrow at the front foyer, you’ll hand Amy the A-Player more and more weight to carry. This time, you’ll load it with nine heavy cinderblocks and say, “I have failed you as a leader. I’ve looked the other way when Carl the C-Player didn’t abide by our core values all these years. I know as an A-Player I lean on you to embody our teamwork core values and pick up the slack. In fact, you outperform him by a factor of nine! Amy, I hope you understand, it’s just hard to find qualified people right now. Keep lugging all the weight around, I’ll deal with it next quarter.”

Remember

The faster you can cut a C-Player loose, and the faster you can coach a B-Player across the line, the more you’ll see your A-Players succeed and achieve. What to do with those pesky B/C Players who fall below the core values line, but hit the metrics? Warn them! Communicate clear, verbal and written warnings of progressive discipline from your HR policies. If they slip to a C, now you’ve got the documentation to get them off your bus. Set those B/C and C-Players free to fit a better fit.

After all, you might have walked into the bar on a Friday night feeling the weight of the office drama, but you certainly don’t have to start the cycle all over again on Monday. I think I hear your napkin and ink pen calling for a plan.

Want more tips on managing people? Visit The People Decisions or 8 Rules to Effectively Delegate in the Edmond Business article archives.

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About Stacy Eads

Edmond native & UCO Alumna, Stacy Eads, is an award-winning “Most Admired CEO” who scaled her company as a Woman in Tech before becoming an International Scaling Up Business Coach. She now empowers other CEOs from $2M to $200M to embrace their leadership potential through quarterly strategic planning. Her talent is in high demand to CEO Coach, Train Teams, and Speak at Events in both the U.S.A. and Canada.

Stacy Eads’ career affiliations include 50 Women Making a Difference award, Circle of Excellence award, Torch Ethics award, Most Admired CEO award, Edmond Chamber & UCO Mentor, Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors, TEDx OKC Speaker Coach, and Ambassador Chairwoman for the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce.