‘A’-Game Recruiting Raises Bar for Workforce Competence, Profitability

By Geoff Smart and Randy Street Sep 30, 2009

Unless you are looking to finish in the bottom half of the standings, you would never assemble a team composed largely of B or C players. Why then use hiring methods that are almost certain to bring second stringers and backups crowding through the front door?

What’s an ‘A’ Player?

“A” players are not just superstars. Think of an A player as the right superstar—a talented person who can do the job that needs to be done, while fitting in with the company culture. We define an A player as “a candidate who has at least 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.”

Pay attention to the two mathematical elements of that definition. We’re saying that you need to initially stack the odds in your favor by hiring people who have at least 90 percent chance of succeeding in the role you have defined. Not 50 percent, 90 percent. This will take longer in the short run, but it will save you serious time and money down the road.

In the second part of the definition, we raise the bar. Who cares if someone has a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that just about anybody could accomplish? You don’t want to be good. You want to be great, and A players have a 90 percent chance of accomplishing what only 10 percent of possible hires could accomplish.

In business, you are who you hire. Hire C players, and you will always lose to your competition. Hire B players, and you might do okay, but you will never break out. Hire A players and life gets very interesting no matter what you are pursuing. Hiring A players, however, takes hard work. A company has to dig hard, ask tough questions and be prepared sometimes for disturbing answers.

Four ‘S’s = ‘A’ Method of Hiring

The simplicity of the A method of hiring means it is easy to understand and implement at all levels, from CEO to receptionist. There are four components:

Scorecard: Create a document that describes exactly what the person is to accomplish in a role. It is not a job description; rather, it is a set of outcomes and competencies that define a job done well. By defining A performance for a role, the scorecard gives a clear picture of what the person hired for the job needs to be able to accomplish. The scorecard should include three things—mission, outcomes and competencies—that are then tested for alignment with the company’s strategic business plan. Following is an abbreviated scorecard for an executive sales position.

Sample Position Scorecard

Mission:One- to five-sentence executive summaryof position’s core purpose

Ex: To double revenue over three years by signing large, profitable contracts with industrial customers.

Outcomes: Three to eight definitions of outcomes or what must get done

Ex: Deliver monthly forecast reports that are 90 percent accurate.

Competencies: Five to eight descriptions of behaviors needed to achieve outcomes

Ex: Analytical skills. Able to structure and process qualitative and quantitative data and draw insightful conclusions from it.

Source:Who. Copyright 2008.ghSMART & Co. Inc.

Source: Finding great people is getting harder, but it is not impossible. Systematic sourcing through professional and personal networks, as well as external recruiting researchers and firms before there are slots to fill ensures a company has high-quality candidates waiting when needed.

Select: Selecting talent using the A method involves a series of structured interviews, including the screening interview, the top-grading interview, the focused interview and reference interview, that help the company to gather the relevant facts about a person so it can rate the scorecard and make an informed hiring decision.

Sell: Once people a company wants on its team are identified through selection, the company needs to persuade them to join. Selling the right way ensures a company avoids the biggest pitfalls that cause the very people it wants to take their talents elsewhere. It also protects it from the biggest heartbreak of all—losing the perfect candidate at the eleventh hour.

How to Sell ‘A’ Players

1. Identify which of the following “F”s matters most to candidates: fit, family freedom, fortune and fun.

2.Create and execute a plan to address the relevant “F”s during sourcing and interviews, between offer and acceptance, between acceptance and the first day on the job, and during the first 100 days on the job.

3. Be persistent. Don’t give up until you have the A player on board.

Integrating Process Companywide

There are 10 things a company must do to install the A method for hiring in its business:

1. Make people a top priority. Top leaders spend as much as 60 percent of their time thinking about people. By making it one of management’s top three priorities and communicating the urgency of addressing it, a company can prevent its leadership team from thinking it is just another flavor of the month that they can wait out.

2. Leaders must follow the A method themselves. Great leaders don’t tell people what to do. They lead by example. That gives them the right to expect others to follow.

3. Build support among the executive team and other peers. Leaders gain momentum by engaging everybody on their executive team to follow the A method of hiring. They use their personal relationships to garner support, to promote the idea and even hold off-sites and workshops to supercharge the topic.

4. Cast a clear vision for the organization and reinforce it through every communication with the broader team. Try a message like, “We will succeed because we have an A player in every role,” or “Our people will serve our customers far better than the competition because they are A players.” Then back up these words with actions to show how the vision is transforming the team.

5. Train the team on best practices. Leaders ensure every manager on the team has the skills required to execute the A method of hiring by helping them learn each step. A hands-on workshop demystifies the process and puts the simple tools in their hands.

6. Remove barriers that impede success. Leaders who want to be A players in charge of a team full of other A players work with their human resources departments to eliminate almost any policy, standard or practice that gets in the way of implementing the A method or hiring successfully. They remove any possibility for excuses based on an outdated approach.

7. Implement policies that support the change. Leaders know that all the communication in the world won’t motivate some members of a team, so they put a few simple policies in place to provide a backstop for wayward colleagues. For example, they place the following outcome on every manager’s scorecard: “Achieve a hiring success rate of 90 percent or greater. Build and retain a team composed of 90 percent or more A players by a certain date.” They require a scorecard for every job requisition. No scorecard, no requisition. Managers who want help from the company’s recruiting team need to provide a scorecard to get support. They require a top-grading interview and rated scorecard before an offer can be made. The human resource group serves as the gatekeeper to ensure this actually happens. No top-grading interview, no hire.

8. Recognize and reward those who use the method and achieve results. Captains of industry are always on the lookout for evidence that people are using the A method and they recognize publicly those who do. They reward managers who achieve a 90 percent or better hiring success rate by linking a substantial portion of their bonus to that particular outcome. They know that bonuses pay for themselves through substantially increased productivity.

9. Remove managers who are not on board. Captains short-circuit the potential for mutiny by removing those who refuse to build a better team using the method. Of course, they give people every opportunity to succeed before they make this decision, but they do not hesitate once it becomes clear that someone is not going to cooperate.

10. Celebrate wins, and plan for more change. The best leaders celebrate their team’s success by offering tangible rewards, such as a fancy dinner, a team event or even a nice gift. They use the goodwill generated by this recognition to inspire more action in the next year. Never satisfied, they seek new and better ways to achieve the results they desire and go back to step one to implement those changes.

The fact that the method is simple doesn’t mean that implementing it won’t require real effort. But by implementing it, leaders build visibly stronger, more productive teams. And the payoff is huge. Ultimately, the value of their companies rises well above market benchmarks.

The referenced material by authors Geoff Smart and Randy Street first appeared in the book Who: The A Method for Hiring (Copyright 2008, ghSMART & Co.).Adapted with permission from ghSMART & Co. ©(2009) ghSMART & Co. All Rights Reserved.

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