Identifying Critical Positions

So you’re a big-time leader in your company; congratulations, it feels good to be high up in the company, doesn’t it? But do you know how the company really values your role? Are you in a critical position, or are you merely occupying a “surplus” role?

If you work in a sophisticated talent management company, chances are someone has classified each leadership role above a certain level into some kind of category. A popular framework used by large companies involves identifying jobs as follows:

A Positions (Strategic)
B Positions (Support)
C Positions (Surplus)

“A” positions have a direct strategic impact on the business, and have high performance variability – that is, being really good at this job produces major upside for the company. For example, your primary revenue leader roles are “A” positions. “B” positions have an indirect impact on the business, and generally support strategic positions by serving to minimize risk or costs, producing valuable internal processes or services, etc. Examples of “B” positions might be staff positions in Finance, IT, HR or Operations. “C” positions may be necessary for the company to operate, but have little strategic or direct line support importance. Examples here might include philanthropic or corporate archivist roles (rare, but some companies have them!).

“A” level roles have a lot of autonomous decision making authority, and the consequences of mistakes (or in having the wrong player in this role) are great. “B” level roles follow more specific processes, and also have a high cost associated with making mistakes (think IT or Finance roles). “C” level roles have less discretion in their work, have little positive economic impact, and the consequences of error are less severe.

So, does your company have a classification scheme like this? Should they? Is there any reason for you to recommend such a framework, and what would your company do with it? For starters, knowing where your critical roles are across the organization comes in pretty handy when you’re trying to determine where to move high potential talent. Generally, companies want to ensure that they really have strong, experienced talent in their “A” roles – obviously, these are not used for short rotational assignments. Other reasons to know your critical roles have to do with recruiting, compensation, and succession planning.

So, where are you? Are you occupying a critical role, a real “A” level leadership position? If not, is that cause for alarm? Not necessarily – especially if you’re in a key “B” level role. However, if you’re in a “C” level position, you might want to start pumping up the role’s impact or start looking around for a position where you can have greater influence. After all, you don’t want to be considered “surplus” in this business climate!