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Performance Pay for the Role Player You Can't Live Without - A Cautionary Tale...

You've all been there.  You've been squeezed by the merit budget to provide no more than 3-4% in pay for performance merit increases across your team.  The problem?  You can clearly identify the stars, the average players and the laggards that you can't live without, but there's a small fourth group to whom you wish you could provide more than the average increase, but based on your budget you can't find the money.

The profile of that small fourth group?  The team player who handles the gritty details, never complainsBattier-kobe and is the glue to a lot of what you do.  They're not a star, and they're not necessarily very marketable outside your company.

You just wish you could find a way to value them closer to the star, rather than the average player, because they're not average. 

More from Ann Bares at Compensation Force:

"To be clear, I am not against rewarding high performers nor am I advocating getting rid of merit pay.  But as I think about our collective struggles with merit increases and our fascination with superstar performers, I continue to be haunted by the story of Shane Battier, which I posted about here.  Battier is the N.B.A. player whose own conventional performance statistics are utterly unremarkable, but whose presence on the court consistently makes his team perform better and his opponents consistently worse.  I am reminded of how far most of us have yet to go in measuring the contributions of employees whose presence "in the game" inexplicably makes the whole team perform better.  I do realize that most performance management programs include an element titled "teamwork", but I have to wonder how many managers truly understand and appreciate the nature of how their teams work and the subtle, often unnoticed ways that people help their coworkers shine ... or cause them to struggle.

Here's my point.  When merit pay and individual rewards are the only games going - or where they clearly dominate the reward package - I wonder how much of the struggle to accurately measure and reward performance is due to a gnawing sense that our conventional tools and metrics are missing something important, something we can't articulate but realize is there.  While some of the issue can certainly be traced to a "tragic" lack of management courage and honesty, could it also be that our current programs too often force managers to "rate" the Shane Battiers in their domains as "B" players when they know in their hearts that this isn't right or true?"

Ann's post is thought provoking, as is most of her stuff.  Subscribe now if you haven't already. 

Here's my take.  Want to pay your Shane Battier for being the glue of your team?  Find a way to make him a player/coach in your organization.  Change the game, rather than relying on the traditional merit system.  Find a way to get him in a slot that allows him to continue the work for your team while taking on additional responsibilities.  Get him a 20% promotional opportunity.  It's real and justified because all the characteristics that Battier shows in the article referenced typify leadership and team building characteristics.

In sports, the best coaches were usually average players.  Why should it be different in business?  Find your glue players who can't quite compete with the stars and put them on a managerial track and get them paid sooner rather than later.  If you're looking to not be limited by the merit system, that's your best bet. 

The players whose presence on your team consistently makes the team perform better and your competition worse aren't only players.  They're coaches as well.


Ann Bares

Great point, Kris! I appreciate your taking the question I posed and raising it to the next level. Framing it as a role issue rather than a reward issue is a great approach - the right approach. And it also gives us much needed perspective on another universal problem - assuming that it is your "stars" that should be promoted to management when an opening occurs...

Michael VanDervort

Type A players lead the pack, but even Lebron james needed a better cast of roles players (the B dudes) to help him climb to a higher level.

Keep up the good work Kris.. and adding a Happy Random Acts of Awareness Day kudos to you!

-- Michael



Good article, but I thought you were going to talk about who guarded Kobe well and who didn't. There are some players who cannot defend the great ones and others who know how to keep the great ones from scoring too much. Those players who defend well may be "B' rated players, but there is something about them that makes them more valuable against the great ones.

Take for example Bruce Bowen, a 12-year veteran on the San Antonio Spurs. He's not by any means an "A" player, yet he used to have an affect on Kobe where he limited Kobe's point total. So why can't guys like Ray Allen or Baron Davis have the same affect? They are definitely "A' players, yet they are ineffective at guarding Kobe.

It sort of ties in to what you are saying, but goes a little further - maybe a discussion for those who are basketball junkies...

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