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How to change your hiring process to recruit more A-Players

Chris Mursau masterclass on tips for interviewers to hire the A-players

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Research shows that 80% of a business's profits are generated by 20% of its workers—in other words, by high-achieving A-players. (HBR) To build a great organisation you must learn how to hire more A-player employees.

Good to Great author Jim Collins calls A-players “the right people on the bus”. Thinkers50 awardee and Multipliers author Liz Wiseman calls A-players “impact players”. Liz says 98% of the time Impact Players always or often get the job done without being reminded, compared with 48% of the time for Typical Contributors (B players) and 12% for Under Performers (C players).


Hire, Coach, and Keep A-Players

Topgrading president Chris Mursau, an expert in intentional recruitment shared practical ‘how-to’ tips in his masterclass ‘Hire, coach, and keep A-Players’. He describes A-players as those in the top 10% of talent available for the pay (results + behaviour). An ‘A potential’ has the potential to become an A-player within 12 months. Further, he says that a team of 7 mostly A-players will outperform a typical team of 12 mixed ability employees and the salary costs are lower.


Why do we get hiring decisions wrong?

Most of us are not professional interviewers and we don’t get a lot of practice. So, typically we end up with 25% A-players, 50% B-players, and 25% C-players (clear mishires). Chris says this is because we have:

1.     An unclear target. We are unclear on who we are looking for on results and behaviours. To hire better we need a clear picture of an A-player.

2.     Questionable data. Resumes are a sales brochure or a highlight reel. To hire better we need more reliable information.

3.     Shallow interviews. To hire better we need revealing interviews.

4.     Weak verification. We call the candidates on the referees’ list, or we don’t check references. To hire better we need more solid verification.

The Topgrading framework:

To reach the 85% A player hiring success rate you need to address all 4 areas for improvement. Here is the Topgrading framework to do this.


Job scorecard

Three areas provide the framework for the job scorecard: Key criteria - Measurable accountabilities (What – Results) and Key and Important Competencies (How – Behaviours). You need the manager and a couple of others familiar with the job to outline the dimensions of the A player for this specific job, not a vague description.

1.     List all the results you expect a high performer to deliver

2.     List and weight core values

3.     Weight behavioural competencies

4.     List key competencies

5.     Remove competencies that don’t matter

6.     List key criteria/requirements and technical skills


Why get granular before you start looking for the A-player?

Chris recommends this level of detail so you can better interview candidates (to “tune the ear”, he says).


Before the interview

Before you conduct interviews read the candidate’s CV, look at their LinkedIn profile, Google their name and the companies they worked for. Let them know that “we’re going to check your references with managers you’ve worked for..” and that they will be asked to arrange reference calls (TTM = Topgrading Truth Motivator, formerly TORC = Threat of Reference Check) ideally before you speak with them.


During the interview

In general, you want to get the high points and the low points about their education and jobs in chronological order. Get more detailed the closer to the most recent jobs. Ask them to be concise as you ask them multiple questions about each experience:

·       4-5 questions about high school (Total: 15 minutes)

·       Questions about every job and a dozen questions about most recent jobs (Total: 1 hour 40 mins)

·       Future goals and plans, and self-appraisal (5 mins)

You are looking for patterns about their performance and behaviours. 


Education questions:

What were some high points? Low points? Did you work during your studies? If you did, what were the interesting aspects? Who was influential? What were your thoughts towards the end of high school? (Then 6-7 questions on uni).


Work history questions:

Here you want to probe for specifics, and you want to look out for the candidate blaming others.

·       Please tell us a bit about the organisation?

·       What were your responsibilities? What were you hired to do?

·       What shape was the company and role in when you arrived? What was the good news and bad news? What challenges did you face in this role?

·       What were your successes and accomplishments?

·       What mistakes did you make? What would you do differently?

·       What did you like and dislike?

·       Who was your manager? What were his or her strengths and weaker areas as a supervisor? What was their management style like?

·       What do you think he/she will tell us about your strengths, weaker areas, and overall performance in that role?

·       Why did you leave? Or how did your responsibilities change when you moved to the next role?


Topgrading interview techniques

Be prepared for the interview – connect with your interviewee – maintain control – keep it moving along but at conversational pace – make eye contact – be human – probe for specifics – ask open-ended follow-up questions. It may take up to 200 interviews before you feel you are expert, and even 50 interviews to feel they run smoother.


Annual measurement

Few companies treat hiring the way they treat other business processes. So, get measuring! Each year have your managers tell you of each of their direct reports: ‘Is the person a high performer or not? Do they exhibit core values or not? Would you rehire them again, or not?’

Measure your:

·       Hiring success rate: When you hire, what percentage of the time does that person turn out to be an A player?

·       Undesirable turnover: What percentage of A players are leaving the organsiation each year?

·       Promoting success rate: When you promote someone or move someone laterally in the organisation what percentage of the time does that person turn out to be an A player?

·       Current team: What percentage of your current team are A players, A potentials, or non-A players?

If they don’t belong on your team, remember to treat people fairly. Remember, if they are in that position someone in the company decided to put them there.


Entry Level roles

Create a job scorecard.

Do a phone or video interview to check availability etc.

Do a cut-down Topgrading interview (45 mins or less) .

Do check a couple of references.


On Psychometric testing

Chris says that while psychometric tests are valuable and often highly accurate when using assessing individual styles and team building, they are less valuable when hiring candidates who can skew results by offering what they think ‘what is the right answer’. If you are going to use them don’t have a cut-off score, because they will eliminate some A players and let some C players in. Treat tests as a data point on where to dig in further. “I would strongly recommend NOT using to screen applicants,” says Chris.


Questions for Referees

Here you want to ask:

·       What the candidate responsible for when they held that role?

·       What strengths did they have in that role?

·       Areas that needed development for this candidate back then?

·       Then tell them about your company and the current position on offer, and ask for insight on good fit factors; any concerns they have? Would they enthusiastically rehire this candidate?

·       Can they offer any advice for the person’s potential manager should this candidate be offered the job?


Conversation starters: Questions for You and Your Teams

-        What is our hiring success rate?

-        What percentage of team members would we enthusiastically rehire?

-        Do we need job scorecards? If we already have them are they good and are they used?

-        What is our hiring process? Do we have a repeatable, documented process executed by competent team members? Is it as good as other processes?

-        Do interviewers get enough practise interviewing? Are they good at it?


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