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Why Have “C” Co-Workers?

Originally published: 1/1/10 by Ron Smith


Ron Smith challenges you to re-evaluate the talents of your current staff.

Don Beveridge, an inspirational speaker, says: “Whenever you have no discipline for non-performance, your company always has declining standards.” What a great quote!

Being an effective leader doesn’t mean you always get to do the fun things. A leader does what is necessary to ensure the company is:

• More than satisfying its customers
• A pleasant place to work
• Achieving the profit and return on investment (ROI) that it’s entitled to reap.

Bill Blees was a consultant to my contracting company and an unforgettable mentor. On one of his visits he told me: “Ron, you should fire 10% of your co-workers every November.”

His comments sounded very harsh and totally shocked me! Bill had a rather unique way of getting a person’s attention. Unfortunately, he did not elaborate, and being a nice guy, I simply ignored his advice. A few years later, I finally figured out what he meant.

What Bill was saying — and I believe to be true — is that over a period of time, many of us who own and/or manage a business allow it to become overstaffed. Had Bill elaborated, I’m sure he would have said

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there comes a time when if you had 10% fewer co-workers, you would probably continue to do business as usual, and never notice the difference.

The ABC Principle

If Bill’s theory is true, then which 10% of co-workers should go?

To answer this question, I came up with “Ron’s A, B, C Co-Worker Principle” more than 20 years ago.

“A” co-workers spend as much time thinking about your business as you do, and may worry even more about it. They often come to work early and work late; they may even put in extra hours you don’t even know about. They are willing to work overtime, or any time you need them. They are always positive in their comments, and always have a good — or great — attitude. If you see an “A” co-worker talking to other co-workers in the morning, you know they’re all going to have a good day, more than satisfy your customers, and make the company money.

Generally, “A” co-workers make-up about 10% to 15% of a company’s total workforce. I bet you have at least one. Who are the “A” co-workers in your company?

A “C” co-worker is just the opposite of an “A.” These workers continually make negative comments and have a poor attitude. You could give them a raise, and they would think you were setting them up for something horrible to happen. If you saw a “C” co-worker’s service van parked at one of your friend’s or neighbor’s homes, you would shudder, say a prayer, and drive on by.

Back in the 1960s, when I was founding my first HVAC company, I introduced all the co-workers to a profit-sharing plan. I had about 30 co-workers and the plan was funded with about $30,000 — a rather significant amount for that time. As I was announcing the program in a company meeting, one of my technicians asked: “Ron, aren’t you really doing this just to save money on your taxes?” That’s a “C” co-worker!

“C” co-workers work exactly the hours they are assigned, or less. If they work in the office and are supposed to leave at 5:00 p.m., you can bet you won’t see them at 5:01. If you see a “C” co-worker talking to other co-workers in the morning, it scares you to death, as you fully expect all of them to have a bad day, not interact properly with your customers, and probably not make the company any money.

Generally, “C” co-workers make-up about 10% of a company’s total workforce. Do you have any “C” co-workers on staff?

It’s pretty easy to describe a “B” co-worker, as they are everything an “A” or “C” is not. “B” co-workers show-up for work when they are supposed to, are dependable, and do the job they are expected to do — not less, and not a whole lot more.

Generally, “B” co-workers represent about 75% to 80% of the total workforce — by far, the largest of the three groups.

Both “A” and “C” co-workers can influence “B” co-workers. If a “B” interacts with an “A,” they’ll probably have a great day, or next several days. However, if a “B” interacts with a “C,” they’ll probably have a rotten day, or next several days.

So, what’s the answer? It’s simple: “C’s” cannot work for you. Purge the company of them — now! Don’t wait!

Without the “C’s,” the “B’s” will only be influenced by the “A’s” — and become more like them. Everybody will win: your customers, your co-workers, and your company!


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