“Hire three top performers, pay ’em like 8, and get the results of 10.”

That quote is from this podcast interview, and, well, the actual quote would be:

I always tell my clients, hire three rock stars, pay them like eight, and you get the result of 10.

I changed “rock stars” because it’s a term of deification I’ve never understood. A lot of rock stars are drug-addled messes who destroy hotel rooms and female self-worth in equal measure. Why do we associate that with “good employees?” It’s kind of the same how “viral” usually means “a bunch of people got sick” but somehow in the social media era, it’s a good thing? Semantics are confusing.

Anyway, this quote is good for a couple of reasons.

Uno: You want good people, you gotta pay ’em

Good people don’t come cheap. That’s part of the definition of being “good people” in a capitalism. You want good people, you need to pay for them.

Dos: It will actually keep costs down

If you take this quote anywhere even near face value, you’re essentially saving on 7-8 middling “account manager” type salaries. “Strategic account managers” making $85,000 essentially pull us all into Hades dailywith meaningless boxes we need to check. Fuck those people. Go get those who do the real work.

Tres: Understand what an “A-Player” does/is

Huge confusion about this. Many people quote “A-Players” as the “top 25 percent of employees.” That’s totally wrong. Usually it’s less than 10-15% of a company.

Here’s the other important aspect of that: it has to be based on data in terms of either revenue generated or projects advanced/completed, etc. Too often this is what happens: someone who is really a “C-Player” in terms of talent level is grouped as an “A-Player” because he/she makes the life of some boss easier. That’s not an “A-Player.” It is a blocking and tackling thing — bosses want their lives to be easier, like any of us — but being able to do that shouldn’t get you in the “A-Player” tier.

Quatro: Good people want to be challenged

That means you need to remove barriers around micromanaging, clearly define objectives and priorities around the work, and don’t make their job contingent on kissing the right ass all day.

Then you need to find a way to hire other great people — because Great A will push Great B and so on and so forth. But that’s a tall order because admittedly most hiring these days is low-context InMail messages, emails that are maybe one spam gradient above porn, and “post and pray.”

Cinco: Don’t necessarily then make the A-Player into a manager

That’s not really going to end well.

And finally: beware the “top performer curse”

That would be the notion that “the only reward for doing good work is receiving more work to do.” Too many organizations come to see “A-Player” as “OK, I can heap work than the drones are messing up onto this person.” Uh. That just leads to burnout. Burnout leads to them getting more money from a competitor because they’re worth it and, er, you’re treating them like shit. It doesn’t benefit you.

Flexibility is important — and if you’re doing good work and driving good revenue, you’ve earned it.

What else would you say on this whole ecosystem around top performers, supposed and real?

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]