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What's the Definition of A vs B player?

Got into a debate with my wife around high performance culture (she has a
catering company but I do the web and marketing stuff). I was being
demanding in trying to get copy to be more punchy/ customer centered and
reacted negatively when I thought she was giving me generic drivel.

My worldview (shaped by football, medicine, McKinsey, and a number of big
corporate change/ turnaround projects):

- It's got to be about impact and some of the process of getting there
is turning up the heat to burn off the impurities. == there should be
frank and immediately negative reactions to low quality output so as to
raise the bar
- You want this process to be transparent (and reciprocal!) so everyone
strives to raise the bar and feedback is a given to push to new levels of

Her worldview (she's a pastry chef by training but came out of an Ivy
league undergrad)

- Her team should not hear criticism of her, as it undermines her
position. I should tone it down until we're behind closed doors

Any research anyone's come across on what a "high performance" culture
looks like? My thought is that this lack of frankness/ focus on
sensitivity is usually what I remove from companies and see performance go
up immediately on the order of 30-200%, and this is a culture where A's
thrive (and C's immediately leave as they can't take it). Her thought is
that this is a tough way to build a team and will shut A's and B's down.

Be curious to see if you've come across anything that would let us have a
more fact-based discussion around it. We both agree that C's are cancer
and must be stamped out (so it's not a retention thing). It's more of a
question of what does a culture that promotes "A" players that work in a
team over time look like?

26 Replies

Ryan Selkis
Ryan Selkis Entrepreneur
Founder at Inscrypto


I found the attached deck on $NFLX culture interesting and helpful.  Not
sure it has 100% of what your looking for, but it might help and/or be of
interest to others in the group.


Doug March
Doug March Entrepreneur
Product Design & Engineering

Along with the Netflix suggestion good content here,


Ricky Wong
Ricky Wong Entrepreneur
Tax consultant for Real Estate, Private Equity, and Ultra High Net-worth Individual Clients

Or maybe it was Valentine's Day and she was looking for more emotional
support and romance? :-)

Clynton Caines
Clynton Caines Entrepreneur
SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

Is anyone familiar with App stores other than iTunes and Play? Do you know how to get listed in Yahoo ( ) or Amazon ([removed to protect privacy] ) for example?

After launch, what tips might you suggest to get into the other App stores?


Vijay Goel, MD
Vijay Goel, MD Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder Chefalytics, Co-owner Bite Catering Couture, Independent consultant (ex-McKinsey)

Lol. we do valentines the day before (welcome to the service industry).  She
was more than happy with the flowers, chocolates, and night out.

Really, I think the question I'm trying to answer is whether there is an
analogy other than the forge (see football, pro sports, military, mckinsey,
banking etc) that gets people to achieve their potential.  My belief is that
high performers seek these out to test themselves and see what they're
capable of (and hence look for rather than shy away from strong feedback and
coaching/ development).  Sensitive people that can't handle this level of
feedback (in my belief system) are automatically B to C players who will not
achieve what they're capable of (because they care more about their ego than
their impact)

Her belief is that this level of feedback/ coaching can retard performance
by making people feel like something's wrong and that there are softer ways
to achieve the same results.

I'm trying to understand if anyone's seen a non-confrontational/ feedback
driven way that accomplishes the same high performance achievement/ I haven't seen it (I know data and dashboards help, but see them
as enablers to have the right conversations/ coaching)

Netflix showed a great 50K foot structural approach but not a "how" in
everyday execution on the frontlines.

Has anyone seen real literature/ research on this including documented
differences in performance?

David Albrecht
David Albrecht Entrepreneur


Working in some pretty intense research labs and at Microsoft has given me
a very "gloves off" personal style similar to what you describe at McKinsey
(I think Google also practices this with their "OKR" system). Your comment
comes at a very opportune time for me as I reflect on some of the conflict
I've had both professionally and beyond. A few thoughts:

(1) Cultural context matters a lot. I live in the Bay Area but travel to
Chicago 10+ times/year, and am always surprised at how straightforward (to
the point of bluntness) people in my hometown of Chicago seem compared to
the Bay Area. Likewise, some parts of the world place a much greater
cultural emphasis on group cohesion and "saving face" vs. bare-knuckled

My own experience suggests that fact-based, no-holds-barred debates are
characteristically North American (Anglo-German, to be exact); people from
cultures with greater power
likely find this kind of discussion quite off-putting.

(2) Having clear goals is a must. Metrics and confrontation have to happen
inside a well-developed system of organizational goals that gets everyone
excited, e.g. "make the best pastries possible", or "deliver the best
operating system ever made".

(3) Likewise, colleagues have to know and trust each other for open
conflict in the workplace to be tolerated. Lack of trust makes giving
feedback exceedingly difficult, which completely derails your
high-performance culture.

I find Github's "company of the compelling
great personal compass toward doing better at work (vs. the company of
"what the boss wants", "what we did last time", "what doesn't upset
people", or 100 other bad ways to make decisions.)

Dave Angelow
Dave Angelow Entrepreneur • Advisor
Board Member at HAND Austin


There is a good bit of research on the subject of cultures and performance
- certainly there is a strong correlation.

However, the factors outlined are unlikely to be related to culture
and performance.  The factors will vary by industry yet in any organization
of size there will be a distribution of people with different values - the
key is to motivate and measure the outcomes to all pull in the direction
executive leadership wants to go.

Tools like balanced score-card and others focused on driving alignment have
proven to be some of the best at helping shape long-term corporate

It's less about A, B, C-level players than about getting to the hearts of
people and selecting those to join the team who are motivated by a
vision/goal/style.  The evaluation of A vs C player is often about the
context and environment.  AKA - you can take a highly driven "type A" with
a confrontational style  and put them into a culture that values
communication and commradarie and they will be rejected (likely graded a
"c" player in the org context).  Move them into McKinsey where the style is
valued and in this context more likely to be an "a" player

Nick Fassler
Nick Fassler Entrepreneur
Product Manager at Yammer

Great discussion! I'm working on building an app for feedback cultures (
Thrively <>), so I've spent a bit of time researching
and talking to people about similar topics. I would definitely agree with
the two Dave's: cultural context matters a lot; and evaluating "A" versus
"B" or "C" players also relies heavily on the culture.

Here's great quote that highlight my belief that there aren't really "A" or
"B" players: *"One of the greatest thought leaders of the twentieth
century, W. Edwards Deming, wrote that immeasurable damage is created by
ranking systems, merit raises, and incentive pay. Deming believed that
every business is a system, and the performance of individuals is largely
the result of the way the system operates. In his view, the system causes
80 percent of the problems in a business, and the system is management?s
responsibility." *(PDF link<>

There is also great research on "feedback-seeking behavior" of leaders. Sue
Ashford <>,
my teacher and advisor at UM, is publishing some research basically showing
that feedback-seeking leaders (ie McKinsey) and visionary leaders (ie Steve
Jobs, or probably the role most chefs play) have a similar impact in
creating high performance cultures. I'll try to find the link, but its
probably behind an academic firewall.

In short, I don't think either you or your wife is correct. The answer, as
it is for many things, is "it depends".

*Nick Fassler
*Founder and CEO, Thrively
(415) 735-6317
n>   <>

Gareth Aye
Gareth Aye Entrepreneur
CEO at MathLeap


More people will want to work with you if you treat them well and evaluate
and encourage their performance in a holistic way rather than arbitrarily
bucketing them.

Sandy Naylor
Sandy Naylor Entrepreneur • Advisor
Product Management and Development

You might find the Appreciative Inquiry method helpful:

Googling the term also brings up academic research, additional resources, etc.

The basic idea is to focus on what works and how you can enhance that - whether at the level of the employee or the organization as a whole.

This is a similar philosophy to strengths-based leadership and Marcus Buckingham's work, as well as the concept of "bright spots" from the Heaths' book Switch.


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