FROM THE HARV ARD BUSINESS REVIEW
A R T I C L E
A New Game Plan for
by Beth Axelrod, Helen Handfield-Jones,
and Ed Michaels
New sections to
guide you through
• The Idea in Brief
• The Idea at Work
• Exploring Further. . .
P R O D U C T N U M B E R 8 5 9 8
The best way to manage
your C players?
Use an iron hand in
a velvet glove.
T H E
I D E A
How to sustain a 23% annual shareholder
return? Push your growth rate from 4% to 10%
in one year? Triple your market capitalization
in three years?
Clothing retailer The Limited, SunTrust Banks,
and high-tech firm PerkinElmer, respectively,
accomplished these feats by aggressively replac-
ing their C players—people delivering barely
acceptable results—with A and B performers.
C players’ mediocre performance pulls down
their company’s performance by:
• blocking talented employees’ advancement,
• calling their bosses’ judgment into question,
• encouraging a C-player mentality in others, and
• repelling valuable people.
Confronting these folks is painful. Fear of litiga-
tion, or the belief that an organization should
invest indefinitely in people, can further stymie
But to continuously strengthen your firm’s tal-
ent pool, you must confront them. By improv-
ing—or removing—C performers, you boost
company morale and performance. And since
letting people languish in a job where they’re
not respected only hurts them, moving C play-
ers up or out may even help them.
The key? Use an iron hand—a disciplined
process—clothed in a velvet glove—fairness
and respect for these employees.
A New Game Plan for C Players
THE IRON HAND
Use this disciplined process (conducted at least
annually during division talent-review meet-
ings) to regularly remove low performers from
1. Identify C Performers
• For each position, define goals, desired
skills, and behaviors consistent with com-
pany performance goals.
• Establish a simple performance-level
rating system—e.g., A, B, and C.
• Distribute people across the ratings. To