efforts in the book feel very old-school / dated to me.
Definition of an A Player
A candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.
You CAN staff a team of entirely A-players because you are defining an A-player as someone who can/will achieve the organization's goals with the required competencies. A-player doesn’t always = dominant, star, etc.
The case for getting this right
According to GHSmart, the average hiring mistake costs 15X an employee’s base salary in hard costs and productivity loss. Ie, A mistake on a $100K salary person is a $1.5M mistake.
Average hiring success rate = 50% (Source: Peter Drucker cited by this book)
Scorecard - document that describes what you want the person to accomplish through a set of outcomes that would be achieved in a job well done, and a list of required competencies
Source - finding the right candidates and systematically developing pipelines
Select - series of structured interviews
Sell - persuading them to join
Mistakes happen when managers:
Are unclear about what is needed for the job
Have weak flow of candidates
Don’t trust their abilities to pick out the right candidate from a group of similar-looking candidates
Lose candidates they really want to join their team.
Must be focused on outcomes and what the person needs to achieve, not a laundry list of activities that they will be doing in the course of their job
Competencies (long list on p29-32) - this is the HOW/behavior for getting the job done.
Should be derived from the firm’s values - e.g., not every organization will have a job that lists “aggressiveness” as a competency because in some organizations, that may be anathema to the culture. (They recommend 5-8 competencies that are firm-based, which sounds a bit too many)
Should also be specific to the particular job. Add on any competencies that are required for this particular job.
Ensure Scorecard Alignment
Check against other internal individuals’ own goals/scorecards
Check against OKRs of the org.
Spend time with excellent people and ask them who in their network is also excellent.
Have a system - spreadsheet, CRM, etc. Make sure to capture relevant info about them including personal elements.
Create a cadence of networking - e.g., make a goal to talk to 1 excellent new person per week and 1 excellent existing person per week.
Create referral a program for existing employees and/or advisors/supporters of the org. Can include a cash (or equity) bounty for successful hires.
Use external or internal recruiters (and researchers/sourcers)
Use structured interviews (same prescriptive set of questions) to vet candidates.
Use follow up questions to probe, be curious, and learn more
How did do that? What happened next? Tell me more? What do you mean? How so? How did that go? How did that feel?
Three types of interview - phone screen, WHO interview, the Focused interview
Always set the stage for the interview so the candidate knows what to expect and how the conversation will flow. E.g., we’re going to spend 20 minutes going through some of your experience and then have 10 minutes at the end for you to ask me anything you’d like to.
They recommend using the “TORC - thread of a reference check” throughout the process.
(A) Phone screen - 30 minutes
What are your career goals? (Ask them before you tell them about the role to check for alignment)
What are you really good at professionally?
What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
Who were your last five bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them? (Looking for a lot of 7/8-10; a 6 is bad)
(B) WHO interview
1.5-3 hours, depending on length of career. Go in chronological order through their career from beginning to end and ask the following questions. The hiring manager should do this or should do this with a partner (could be another colleague or someone from HR
Set the stage: we’re going to go through each job you’ve held in chronological order…at the end of the interview we will discuss your career goals and you can ask questions. Eighty percent of the process is in this room, but if we mutually decide to continue we will conduct reference calls to complete the process. I may interject to manage time and the process and ensure we have plenty of time to discuss your most relevant and most recent jobs…
What were you hired to do? (Understand the job’s goals)
What accomplishments are you most proud of? (Hopefully you will hear some overlap with your outcomes on your scorecard)
What were some low points during that job?
Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:
What was your boss’s name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her/they? What will they tell me where your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
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?
Why did you leave that job? (Get curious… “A players perform well and bosses express disappointment when they leave; B/C players are nudged or forced out of jobs)
Interrupting (politely) to redirect conversation and ensure that you get the most useful insights.
The three P’s of performance - How did your performance compare to previous years? To Peers? And to the Plan?
Push v Pull -
Push. “It was mutual”, “Time for me to leave” “Person A got promoted and I did not” etc.
Pull. “My biggest client hired me.” “I was referred to another company” etc.
Hone in on why they really left. Rule: "do not hire anyone who has been pushed out of 20 percent or more of their jobs. From our (authors’) experience, those individuals have a 3x higher chance of being a chronic B or C player.
Paint a picture in your mind - make sure you’ve asked enough probing questions that you can really understand what happened. Don’t make assumptions with squishy/non-specific language. Have the mindset of a biographer interviewing a subject (not a gossip columnist trying to get dirt).
Pay attention to inconsistencies or changes in body language. Get curious if you notice something.
(C) The Focused Interview
An interview that goes into more depth on the outcomes and competiencies of the scorecard. NOT a duplication of the Who interview.
Enables you to include other colleagues. But be sure they have specific guidance.
Try to cover entire scorecard.
Can use this interview type to assess cultural values alignment.
The purpose of this interview is to talk about [XYZ from scorecard]. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?
(D) Reference Interviews
They recommend you do seven reference checks - hiring manager should do 4 and colleagues/HR should do 3. They also recommend including 3 past bosses, 2 peers/customers, and 2 subordinates. Use your own network to talk to people the candidate didn’t suggest.
In what context did you work with the person? (Memory jogger)
What were the person’s biggest strengths?
What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then? (Gives permission to give negative view)
How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his/her/their performance causes you to give that rating? (Looking for a lot of 8-10… a 6 is really a 2)
The person mentioned that you might say he/she/they struggled with [XYZ] in that job. Can you tell me more about that? (Again gives permission to share negative view)
Make sure to read between the lines and hear what isn’t being said.
A-players get emphatically recommended; others get more luke-warm and general reactions. If you’re just getting faint praise, that is a problem.
Look for if/then statements… “if you’re okay with x, then hire the person” —> that’s a flag and should make you get curious.
Skill - if you believe there is a 90 percent or better chance the candidate can achieve an outcome based on the data you gathered, rate him/her an A for that outcome. If the data doesn’t support that conclusion, give a lower grade. Repeat for each outcome
Will - if you believe there is a 90 percent or better chance the candidate will demonstrate a particular competency or behavior required, rate A and so forth like above.
Flag behavioral warnings
Winning too much - e.g., focusing on battles that don’t matter.
Adding too much value - e.g., candidate always trying to build excessively on any ideas you share —> sign of ego
Starting sentence with no/but/however. —> sign of ego
Telling the world how smart we are - excessive credit, a lot of me talk especially in a leader.
Making destructive comments about previous colleagues.
Passing the buck. Blaming and not accepting responsibility is bad.
Making excuses. Saying that the biggest challenges weren’t their fault.
The excessive need to “be me” - e.g., “that’s just me; I’m disorganized” —> sign of not being open to feedback or coachable.
Need to sell across five elements at five junctures in the process.
Fit - how the person and his/her/their role fits with the company, its goals, its values.
Family - takes into account “broader trauma” of changing jobs. New job can mean a location change for their partner/children. What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?
Freedom - autonomy for A-player to make their own decisions.
Fortune - stability of the company and financial upside / picture if they hit their objectives.
Fun - what the personal relationships that come with the job look like, how work gets done that is fun, etc.
Five junctures where you need to sell
When you source
When you interview
Time between offer and candidate’s acceptance (don’t just let them sleep on it too much)
Time between the candidate’s acceptance and their first day
The new hire’s first 100 days.
Launching this method in your organization
Make people a top priority and communicate it as such (codify it in goals)
Lead by example and follow the methodology yourself
Build support among exec team/peers
Share vision that includes success/winning "because we have A players"
Train the team through workshops, etc.
Remove barriers - remove policies that would inhibit doing this.
Implement policies that support change
Add a goal on manager’s own internal scorecards - “achieve a hiring success rate of 90%+. Build and retain a team composed of 90% or more A players by MM/DD"
Require scorecard for every job req.
Require a Who interview and rated scorecard before an offer can be made.
Recognize and reward those who use the method and achieve results.
Remove managers who aren’t on board.
Notes on CEO selection & promotions
CEO selection study
With Steve Kaplan from U Chicago, analyzed data from 313 WHO interviews of private-equity backed CEOs from 2000-05. Matched CEO assessments with actual financial performance they delivered.
Classified CEOs as either:
Lambs - demonstrate openness to feedback, possess great listening skills, and treat people with respect. High mastery of soft skills. Get along well with boards and employees.
Cheetahs - move quickly, act aggressively, work hard, demonstrate persistence, set high standards and hold people accountable.
Lambs were successful 57% of the time; Cheetahs were successful 100% of the time.
A Method can also be used with promotions and succession planning
Design scorecard for the new level and see if the person could do the higher level job, up to and including the CEO.