“Nothing demotivates A players like tolerating C and D ones” -An A+ player 

by | May 24, 2024

I ran into a friend of mine at a conference a couple of months ago and we grabbed dinner to catch up. This colleague was always one of the highest performers if not the highest at our company when we worked together. When I heard how he’s frustrated and always has been that C&D players continue to be tolerated by leadership, it stuck with me. A players can’t stand when they work at the top of their game, only to pick up the slack for their C and D colleagues. 

John Frehse, Senior Managing Director of Labor Strategy at Ankura, shared with me an example during a keynote at a Las Vegas conference for executives. A leader in the audience asked, “I have very underperforming supervisors. Nine out of ten of them are really bad, but you can’t just fire all of your supervisors. We have to have some people here to manage the place. What should I do?” John’s response was clear: “You should fire those people immediately. If you really care about your employees, you should fire the nine underperforming supervisors that are bad for your culture because it says that’s unacceptable. We should only have supervisors that are real leaders, and if they’re not, they don’t belong in our organization.” 

Earlier this year, I collaborated with John Frehse to understand the sentiments of frontline employees better. Culture Partners and Ankura analyzed data from 50,000 frontline employees to get a sense of their relationship with their employers. The findings highlighted a significant issue: management’s failure to consistently show care with employees over time. 

The data revealed a sharp decline in the perceived care from management as employees’ tenure increased. Initially, 72% of respondents within their first month felt that management cared about them. However, this percentage dropped to 51% by the third month and continued to decline to just over a third by the end of the first year. 

A similar trend was seen in employees’ views on how well management communicated with them. Initially, 64% felt management communicated well, but this dropped to 47% by the third month and to only 32% by the end of the first year. 

Our analysis showed a strong link between how cared-for employees felt and how well they thought management communicated with them. This indicates that effective communication from management is closely tied to employees feeling valued. 

When management tolerates underperforming employees, it sends a damaging message to everyone else. High-performing employees, or “A players,” thrive in environments where excellence is recognized and rewarded. When they see “C players” getting away with poor performance, it creates a culture of complacency and unfairness. This not only demotivates the top performers but also breeds resentment and disengagement. 

Tolerating underperformance can also lead to increased stress levels among high achievers who feel burdened with picking up the slack. This additional stress can erode their job satisfaction and drive them to look for opportunities elsewhere, further depleting the organization of their best talent. 

Understanding stress in the workplace is crucial. Our survey showed that 21% of employees describe their job as very stressful, with 48% experiencing above-average stress levels. In stark contrast, only 15% perceive their job as having no or low stress. Notably, employees who believe that management communicates effectively are four times less likely to feel stressed. Similarly, those who feel management genuinely cares about them are three times less likely to feel stressed. 

This underscores the importance of management practices that prioritize effective communication and genuine care for employees. When management fails to address underperformance, it signals a lack of care and weakens overall communication within the organization. 

To build a thriving organizational culture, management must take a firm stance against underperformance. This means not only setting high standards but also holding every employee accountable to those standards. By doing so, management shows a commitment to excellence and fairness, which in turn motivates high-performing employees to keep striving for success. 


Elsewhere In Culture 

In yesterday’s NBC News Now segment, I had the chance to talk about the new trend of “quiet vacationing” among Gen Z and millennial workers. This trend involves people taking breaks during their work shifts without officially asking for time off because they fear being seen as less dedicated. But those same people are also not taking all their PTO. I pointed out that this behavior comes from a culture that expects us to be always on and productive, leading many to not take time off officially and instead take these breaks in secret.  

I also explored why this is happening, noting that younger workers are often unfairly labeled as lazy or entitled, which makes them hesitant to use their earned PTO. This mindset is contradictory since taking time off is crucial for long-term productivity and well-being. Leaders need to set a good example by truly disconnecting during their vacations. Do not dial into meetings from Hawaii! You may think you’re showing up but really you’re sending the message that time off doesn’t really exist. In doing so, you can help remove the stigma around taking time off and create a more supportive and realistic workplace culture. 

Toxic Workplaces Are Fueling All-Time Highs In Depression And Anxiety

My latest Forbes article is out, diving into how toxic workplaces are driving record highs in depression and anxiety. It’s alarming to see nearly 30% of Americans diagnosed with anxiety or depression, a situation made worse by the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stressful, unsupportive work environments are a big part of the problem. The Oracle 2022 State of the Workplace review shows that heavy workloads and lack of growth opportunities are making things worse, pushing many employees to “quiet quit” as they search for a better work-life balance. 

We need to tackle this head-on. Employers can make a huge difference by building a culture of clarity, empowerment, and accountability. Leaders should help everyone see how their work fits into the bigger picture and provide the resources and support needed to succeed. Listening to employees and valuing their feedback can boost morale and productivity. Studies from the UKG Workforce Institute and Culture Partners show that employees who feel heard are more engaged and productive. Recognizing and rewarding positive behaviors can create a more supportive work environment, helping to ease the mental health crisis and drive long-term success. 

Gen Zers walk into the workplace with one foot out the door—slandering them won’t solve the future-of-work conundrum

Gen Z is often an easy target, frequently labeled as “lazy” or “difficult to work with,” but this stereotype isn’t fair or productive. According to Jabra’s research, nearly half of Gen Z respondents expect to change jobs within the next year. This highlights a significant shift in what young workers want from their careers, shaped by entering the workforce during a pandemic that disrupted traditional work models. Instead of dismissing their demands for flexibility and meaningful work as entitlement, employers need to understand where these expectations come from. Organizations stuck in old ways are missing the opportunity to attract and retain this new wave of talent. 

It’s unfair to slander an entire generation when their work preferences can actually benefit companies. For example, strict return-to-office policies clash with the flexibility younger workers value. As Gen Z grows to make up about 20% of the workforce, their impact on workplace culture will only get stronger. Smart leaders should use this shift to rethink how work gets done and create environments where employees feel appreciated. Embracing Gen Z’s fresh ideas can help companies stay ahead and thrive. 


If you want people to genuinely care, you need to change their beliefs, not only their actions.

I’ve been approached by countless CEOs and leaders, all expressing a shared frustration: despite reminding, urging, and implementing perks and benefits, they face a stark lack of genuine engagement.

This is precisely what we refer to as the “Action Trap.” The Action Trap occurs when leaders find themselves in a continuous cycle of implementing new processes and systems (taking new actions) to change results, rather than addressing the underlying experiences that lead to those results. Our beliefs stem from our experiences.

So, if you want to instill a new belief, you need to create a new experience.

That’s the key to making people care.

This week on the #cultureleaders podcast, I interviewed Adam Hergenrother, CEO, author, podcast host, and spiritual seeker on a mission to help people live their lives to the fullest. 
Despite his monetary success, you’d be surprised by his emphasis on non-material goals. He shares how his mindset has evolved related to: 
-Learning the importance of setting expansive goals 
-Finding passion in the challenges you take on 
-Valuing simplicity 
I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Tune in to the full episode here: 
Youtube: https://lnkd.in/eg7ZcKqV 
Spotify: https://lnkd.in/ec2BwBa3 
Apple Podcasts: https://lnkd.in/eWYeFMrE