“Dare to be….how to recruit “A” grade employees!”(Part 1)

“Finding the right people is the single biggest problem in business today” (The Economist)

Over 400 business leaders were recently asked “what factors contributed the most to business success?” “Management Talent” was identified the most important and contributed to over half of the key determinants of success.
I guess that we can all acknowledge this assessment, but how many of us are actually recruiting top management talent? Virtually every business I work with struggles to find really talented new recruits and when vacancies do arise they continue to persist with trying to recruit “A” grade people using techniques that are unstructured, variable and produce results that evidence suggest are a mistake up to 75% of the time! (Hirer please beware – mistake typically costs a company 10 to 15 times the base salary)
Jim Collins in Good to Great identified that the most important decisions that businesspeople make are not what decisions but who decisions. What refers to your strategies, your products, services and processes.  It’s people (the who) who decide the what.  Without the people, there is no what.

“Your success as a manager is simply the result of how good you are at hiring the people around you”

“I hired your CV.
But what I got was you”

As a coach I’m always looking to help clients recognise what they need to look at to move their business forward. I recently read Geoff Smart’s Who: The A Method for Hiring – a comprehensive look at how to interview and ultimately hire top talent into your company. I’ve summarised the main steps in his book and I hope that you find it of use.

The methodology that they’ve developed has 4 Parts which if conducted systematically purports to have a 90% success rate:

Part 1: Establishing a Scorecard

Part 2: Source potential

Part 3: Four Interviews for Spotting A Players

  • Screening Interview
  • “Topgrading” Interview
  • Focused Interview
  • Reference Interview

Part 4: Selling the opportunity


Part 1: Establishing a Scorecard

The scorecard is a document that describes exactly what you want a person to accomplish in a role. It is not a job description, but rather a set of outcomes and competencies that define a job done well. By defining performance for a role, the scorecard gives you a clear picture of what the person you seek needs to be able to accomplish. Scorecards describe the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished, and competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role.

You wouldn’t think of having someone build you a house without an architect’s blueprint in hand.

The first failure point of hiring is not being crystal clear about what you really want the person you hire to accomplish.

The Scorecard consists of:

  1. Mission

    The mission is an executive summary of the job’s core purpose. It boils the job down to its essence so everybody understands why you need to hire someone into the slot.

Develop a short statement of why the role exists. Example for a Sales Director: To Double our revenue over 3 years by signing large profitable contracts with industrial customers. And to set up one hunting team to land new accounts and one farming team to grow existing accounts.

  1. Outcomes

Develop 3-8 specific, objective outcomes that a person must accomplish to achieve an performance. For example “improve customer satisfaction on a ten point scale from 7.1 to 9.0 by December 31.”

  1. Competencies

Ensuring Behavioural Fit.  Identify as many role-based competencies as you think appropriate to describe the behaviours someone must demonstrate to achieve the outcomes. Make sure to include competencies that also describe the culture of the company.

Typical examples: Efficiency, Honesty, Organization/Planning, Aggressiveness, Follow-through on commitments, Intelligence, Analytical skills, Attention to detail, Persistence, Proactivity, Ability to hire A Players, Ability to develop people, Flexibility, Calm under pressure, Strategic thinking, creativity/innovation, Enthusiasm, Work Ethic, High standards, Listening skills, Openness to criticism, Communication, Teamwork, Persuasion

  1. Ensure Alignment

Compare the scorecard with the business plan and the scorecards of the people who will interface with the role. Ensure there is consistency and alignment.

Part 2: Source potential:


  • Create a list of the ten most talented people you know and commit to speaking with at least one of them per week for the next ten weeks. At the end of each conversation, ask, “Who are the most talented people you know?” Continue to build your list and continue to talk with at least one person per week.

Add sourcing as an outcome on every scorecard for your team. For example, “Source “X” A Players per year who pass our phone screen.” Encourage your employees to ask people in their networks, “Who are the most talented people you know whom we should hire?” Offer a referral bonus.

    Consider offering a referral bounty to select friends of the firm. It could be as inexpensive as a gift certificate or as expensive as a significant cash bonus.
    Hire A Player recruiters. Build a scorecard for your recruiting needs, and hold the recruiters you hire accountable for the items on that scorecard. Invest time to ensure the recruiters understand your business and culture.
    Create a system that (1) captures the names and contact information on everybody you source and (2) schedules weekly time on your calendar to follow up. Your solution can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as complex as a candidate tracking system integrated with your calendar.

Part 3: Four Interviews for Spotting A Players:
The best and surest way to select A Players is through a series of four interviews that build on each other. Collectively, these interviews provide the facts you need to rate a person against the scorecard you have developed for the role. To be a great interviewer, you must get out of the habit of passively witnessing how somebody acts during an interview. That puts you back in the realm of voodoo hiring methods, where you end up basing your decision on how somebody acts during a few minutes of a certain day. The time span is too limited to reliably predict anything useful. Instead, the four interviews use the time to collect facts and data about somebody’s performance track record that spans decades.

The four interviews are:

  • The screening interview
  • The Topgrading Interview®
  • The focused interview
  • The reference interview

A key to success is to have a common set of questions for all candidates.

(i) Screening Interview: Culling The List

30 minutes over the phone

“I am really looking forward to our time together. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to spend the first twenty minutes of our call getting to know you. After that, I am happy to answer any questions you have so you can get to know us. Sound good?”

  1. What are your career goals?

Talented people know what they want to do and are not afraid to tell you about it. You also want to hear the candidate speak with passion and energy about topics that are aligned with the role. A clear misalignment should put you on alert.

  1. What are you really good at professionally?

We suggest you push candidates to tell you eight to twelve positives so you can build a complete picture of their professional aptitude. Ask them to give you examples that will put their strengths into context.

  1. What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?

    This explores weaknesses and you may have to use something like the following to get them to open up.

    “If you advance to the next step in our process, we will ask for your help in setting up some references with bosses, peers, and subordinates. Okay?” The candidate will say, “Okay.” Then you say, “So I’m curious. What do you think they will say are some things you are not good at,

  2. Who were your last 5 bosses and how will they rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them? 

Be Curious: ask what, how, tell me more?

 (ii) Topgrading Interview

The first in-person interview.

The Topgrading Interview was developed by Brad Smart and so named in the 1990s. It is a technique for interviewing new hires and company employees who are candidates for promotion. Disappointed by the HR practices used for hiring when he entered the working world, Smart designed techniques to develop a comprehensive picture of each candidate’s personality and work history. The process is more intensive than a behavioural interview, which only explores a few examples of past work challenges, but the result is a complete picture of the applicant’s personality, strengths and weaknesses that can help a company avoid the costly mistake of picking a candidate who is not a good fit for the job.

It’s a chronological walk-through of a person’s career. You begin by asking about the highs and lows of a person’s educational experience to gain insight into his or her background.

Then you ask five simple questions, for each job in the past fifteen years, beginning with the earliest and working your way forward to the present day.

Kick off the interview by setting expectations. Candidates are likely to feel a bit anxious because you will have told them that this interview is going to be different from what they have done in the past, but they won’t quite know how it will be different.

Here’s a simple script that you can use to set the stage.

“Thank you for taking the time to visit us today. As we have already discussed, we are going to do a chronological interview to walk through each job you have held. For each job I am going to ask you five core questions: What were you hired to do? What accomplishments are you most proud of? What were some low points during that job? Who were the people you worked with? Why did you leave that job?”

At the end of the interview we will discuss your career goals and aspirations, and you will have a chance to ask me questions.

Ask the 5 questions for each job:

  1. What were you hired to do?
  2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  3. What were some of the low points during that job?
  4. Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:

(i) What was your boss’s name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her? What he/she tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?

(ii) How would you rate the team you inherited on an A, B, C scale? What changes did you make? Did you hire anybody? Fire anybody? How would you rate the team when you left it on an A, B, C scale?

  1. Why did you leave that job?


– These 5 questions are asked for each job on the candidates CV, starting from the oldest job so that the interview flows chronologically.

– Interrupting the candidate (necessary to move the interview along)

– Push vs Pull (People who perform poorly in their jobs were pushed out vs People who perform well in their jobs are pulled out).

Example: Why did you leave that job?

– Push: “It was time for me to leave”, “It was mutual”. “I missed my numbers”

– Pull: “My biggest client hired me”, “My old boss recruited me for a bigger job”

 (iii) Focused Interview

Focused interviews allow you to gather additional, specific information about your candidate. In essence, you are turning the magnification up another notch so you can give would-be hires one last look with a finer degree of granularity.

These interviews also offer a chance to involve other team members directly in the hiring process. Be sure to emphasize to your team that this is not meant to be another Topgrading Interview. One time through a candidate’s full story is enough. Stress, too, that everyone is to follow the script. Otherwise, some of your colleagues might fall back on their favourite voodoo hiring methods. That’s the last thing you need at this point.

The focused interview is similar to the commonly used behavioural interview with one major difference: it is focused on the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard, not some vaguely defined job description or manager’s intuition

  1. The purpose of this interview is to talk about(insert specific outcome or competency from scorecard)
  2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
  3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?

(iv) Reference Interview

This is a major part of the recruitment process.

Don’t skip the references!

Conduct seven reference calls with people you choose from the Topgrading Interview. Ask the candidate to set up the calls to break through the gatekeepers while minimizing your own effort.

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  4. How would rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
  5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled within that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Part 4: Selling the opportunity

In reality, selling is something you should be doing throughout the entire process. Like sourcing, selling requires constant attention.

There are five distinct phases of the hiring process that merit increased selling effort on your part. Think of these as waves to overcome. If you don’t increase your sales energy, you won’t get your candidate over the crest of the wave to the next phase. The waves are:

  1. When you source
  2. When you interview
  3. The time between your offer and the candidate’s acceptance
  4. The time between the candidate’s acceptance and his or her first day
  5. The new hire’s first one hundred days on the job

Sell the 5 F’s

  • Fit ties together the company’s vision, needs, and culture with the candidate’s goals, strengths, and values. “Here is where we are going as a company. Here is how you fit in.”
  • Familytakes into account the broader trauma of changing jobs. “What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?”
  • Freedomis the autonomy the candidate will have to make his or her own decisions. “I will give you ample freedom to make decisions, and I will not micromanage you.”
  • Fortunereflects the stability of your company and the overall financial upside. “If you accomplish your objectives, you will likely make [compensation amount] over the next five years.”
  • Fundescribes the work environment and personal relationships the candidate will make. “We like to have a lot of fun around here. I think you will find this is a culture you will really enjoy.”

The next step? Call me and we can discuss how I can help.

Leigh Dorling
Mobile: 07768 290694
Email: leigh@cognisi.co.uk
Web: www.Cognisi.co.uk

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