How to Grade and Coach Your Team

How to Grade and Coach Your Team.

Being a manager is like being the coach of a sports team. Your players need to deliver the required results in their position on the field, but they also need to exhibit the right behaviors in order to build a cohesive team that plays well together so you can win the game.

One of your primary functions is to recruit, coach, and develop a team full of A-Players.

What is an A-Player?

I define an A-Player as a person who consistently:

  1. achieves the agreed standard for RESULTS in their role, and
  2. demonstrates BEHAVIORS aligned to the Core Values.

In essence, there are 2 dimensions to an employee’s performance. RESULTS + BEHAVIORS. Both requirements must be met consistently to be considered an A-Player.

So obviously, we need to give our people clarity about what good results look like for their role, and what the right behaviors look like. A Role Scorecard is helpful for making these expectations explicit to every person in every role.

Once performance expectations are clearly communicated and agreed upon, it is important for managers to meet regularly with every team member to discuss their performance, praise and acknowledge them for what is going well, and/or provide coaching and support wherever performance shortfalls are identified. I strongly recommend a recurring weekly 1 on 1 meeting for this purpose.

Grading your team.

Once per year at a minimum (but ideally once per quarter, or better still, a recurring monthly cadence), I recommend grading the performance of your team members to create a coaching plan for each person.

To help clients with this exercise, I created this 2 by 2 matrix to visualize the difference between A, B, and C-Players. The matrix also suggests which actions the manager should take in order to field a team of A-Players in every role.


Red Quadrant – Bottom Left

Not much needs to be said here. A hiring error has been made. You owe it to the person and to the rest of your team to remove them from your organization as soon as possible. Help them move on to another organization where they may be a better fit. Do this asap in accordance with the labor laws of your country. Be decent and caring, and allow them to leave with dignity.

Orange Quadrant – Top Left

This team member rates highly on delivering results, but poorly on exhibiting one or more of your Core Values. This person is toxic to your culture. Core Values are “musts”, they are not “nice-to-haves”. Sure, their Metrics might be “in the green”, and they get their Projects and Tasks done on time, but their behaviors are undermining the culture you are trying to create. 

Discuss this person’s behaviors with them as per this article on how to hold people accountable. Stick to the facts. Share concrete examples of observed behaviors, and point out how they could have behaved differently in each scenario. Provide them with the opportunity to modify their behaviors and provide coaching and support on a weekly basis as part of your 1 on 1 meetings.

However, if they are unable to make the agreed behavioral changes within an agreed timeframe (I suggest 3 months max) they should be asked to leave your organization.

These are tough decisions to make, especially when someone is a “top producer”, but if you don’t take a stand to demonstrate the importance of your Core Values, your team won’t take these behavioral standards seriously.

Yellow Quadrant – Bottom Right

This team member is great at demonstrating your Core Values behaviors, but they struggle to achieve the results required in their role. Perhaps their Metrics are “in the red”, or their Projects and Tasks are frequently overdue, or the quality of their work is below standard. This person is nice to work with, but their results are holding the team back.

As yourself the following questions:

  • Do they have the potential to deliver A-Player level of results in their role?
  • What is stopping them from achieving these results currently?
  • Do they have the tools they need?
  • Have they received the proper training, mentoring and support? (If not, then the Manager is not doing their job properly)
  • Are they putting in an honest week’s work or the bare minimum of effort?
  • Did they deliver A-Player results in the past but seem to be struggling now? Why?

Don’t put your head in the sand, hoping that performance will fix itself. It won’t. Managers must “weed the garden” every week. Discuss this person’s results with them as per this article on how to give corrective feedback. Provide coaching and support on a weekly basis as part of your 1 on 1 meetings. If the person makes the necessary improvements, praise and recognize their progress and make them feel like the winner they are.

If however, their results are habitually falling short, and they can’t make the necessary improvements within an agreed timeframe (I suggest 3 months max), then you either need to find them a new position where they can meet the standard, or you owe it to the rest of the team to remove them from the field.

Green Quadrant – Top Right

These people are your A-Players. The people you want to recognize, develop, and retain for the long-term. A-Players can exist in any role, and your goal is to fill every role with an A-Player.

To motivate, engage and retain your A-Players, offer them one or more of the following:

  • Develop their skills with new challenges, projects, and responsibilities
  • Involve them in decision making or grant them increased decision-making authority
  • Sign them up for educational courses and training programs
  • Give them reading or learning assignments, and discuss what they have learned at your 1 on 1 meetings
  • Offer personal development coaching and mentoring
  • Give them the opportunity to attend industry conferences
  • Invite them to participate in employee share schemes, or other long-term financial incentives that are based on the performance of the overall group

Grading objectively.

Don’t rely on your memory of a person’s performance. Use their software dashboard to get objective data. Are their metrics “in the green” most of the time? Are their projects on schedule? Do they get tasks done on time, or do they frequently have overdue tasks? Does their work consistently meet the agreed standard?

Also, review all the specific instances where they were observed living your Core values or specific instances where their behaviors fell short.

Grading people is not about how much you personally like a person. You need to put company interests ahead of your personal feelings when you go through the grading process and try to be as objective as possible.

Be aware of the common biases that managers have. As a manager you will tend to rate employees higher when:

  • You personally hired the employee in the first place
  • The employee is similar to you in appearance and behavior
  • The Employee is on “your team” (because their performance is a reflection of the manager’s ability to coach and develop their people)

To reduce personal bias, ideally, the talent grading process should be done by a committee of people. Typically it is the leadership team, but it could also be people from different functional areas who have regular interactions with the people being graded.

I use a scoring process with clients to help them plot their employees on the matrix. For example, you could assign each employee a score from zero to ten on each core value behavior (and calculate an overall average behavior score), and a score from zero to ten on each of their key results (and calculate an overall average results score).

Alternatively, you can use a Likert scale where you rate employees on the extent to which they demonstrate the core values on a 5 or 7 point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.

Likewise, you use the Likert scale to rate the extent to which they consistently achieve the agreed performance standard (results) for their role on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.

Then you plot each team member on the matrix. A coaching and development plan is discussed and agreed upon for each employee, and action items are assigned to the team leader to implement the decisions made.

You do want to manage a team of winners, don’t you?


Until next time…