Who, Geoff Smart and Randy Street (New York: Random House, 2008)

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Who Synopsis

Geoff Smart and Randy Street team up to co-author the book, Who, an in-depth guide into their A Method for Hiring framework. The book brings together insights from over 300 CEOs and 20 billionaires to distill the key factors which lead to hiring high performers. Bad hires cost organizations millions. It is estimated that a hiring mistake can cost an organization, on average, $1.5 million dollars or more. Bad hires also impact employee morale and drive away great customers, further exacerbating the problem. A Player, candidates with at least 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve, are demonstrably better at helping organizations achieve their strategic objectives. Taking both factors into consideration, it is imperative that companies master the art of hiring A Players.

Common problems with hiring

Hiring mistakes are expensive. It is estimated that the average hiring mistake costs an organization 15x the base salary. Additionally, there is also a loss in productivity. This cost becomes even more problematic when we take into consideration that the average hiring success rate is only 50%. Therefore, narrowing down a solid process for hiring is important for the success and profitability of any organization. There are four common mistakes that managers make when hiring. They are:

  1. Unclear about the needs of the role
  2. Weak flow or pool of candidates
  3. Lack of trust in their own abilities to pick the right candidate from similar candidates
  4. Preferred candidate decides not to join the team

Addressing these four factors can enable an organization to reduce wasted hiring costs and attract A Players.

Current hiring tactics

There are many hiring tactics, methods, and biases that managers use that are ineffective. For example, managers that assume they can “read” people typically select the wrong candidates since they are not looking for data points. Other organizations may have every team member interview, which can be a large waste of time and rarely goes deeper than surface-level views of the individual. Managers who also like to test candidates either with trick questions, psychological tests, or aptitude tests also do not produce quality results. This, again, is because the answers are not based on data points. In addition, personality tests and aptitude tests can only demonstrate capabilities. They are not predictive indicators of how well an individual will actually perform.

ghSMART A Method for hiring

The A Method for hiring focuses on generating a strong flow of quality candidates that hiring managers can use. The method consists of four steps: scorecard, source, select, and sell. These four steps directly address the common mistakes that managers make hiring.

Step 1: Scorecard

The scorecard captures the essence and success factors of the job. It provides an executive summary of what the role entails and is written in simple and plain English so that all members of the team can understand. It also defines the outcomes of the role. For example, for a sales manager, an outcome can be $100 million in new country sales. Listing such outcomes on the scorecard will help eliminate B and C players. Finally, the scorecard will also outline the individual and cultural competencies that the candidate must have. This specifies how the team member would operate in order to reach the outcomes. Examples of individual competencies include efficiency, proactivity, persistence, and honesty and integrity. Cultural competencies require that the managers understand what the organization values. This will help managers understand who will fit into the organization and who will not.

Step 2: Source

The next step in the A Method hiring is to generate a flow of A Player candidates. There are two methods that hiring managers can use to do this:

References – internal references are the best source for finding A Players. Create a program within the organization to start generating a flow of potential A Players. Provide adequate incentives for team members to tap into their professional and personal networks to recommend talent. Follow up with team members on a regular basis too.

External recruiters – leverage external recruiters the same way you would a doctor. Namely, the more they know about the situation, the better they are able to help. This means providing recruiters with knowledge about the company’s culture, its needs, and the management style.

Once sources are generating potential candidates, schedule 30 minutes every week to connect with A Players. List out all potentials recommended either by references or recruiters and prioritize. Try to connect with one per week and have a conversation. This can help generate a pipeline of over 40 candidates in a year.

Step 3: Select

Smart and Street recommend four types of interviews for selecting A Player candidates. These interviews build on one another in order to narrow down and retain the right type of individual.

Screening interview

This is the first interview is meant to weed out B and C Players from the list. It should be done over the phone with the candidate answering four questions:

  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally?
  • On the inverse, what are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  • Who were your last five bosses and how would they rate your performance when we want to talk to them?

Talented individuals know what they want out of their careers and are not afraid of vocalizing it. Furthermore, they understand what their real weaknesses are and are open to sharing them. The answers to the above four questions can help identify who is set for success versus who is a B or C player.

Topgrading interview

This second interview is meant to provide managers with a view of a candidate’s career. To bring together this picture, questions highlighting both top achievements as well as their low points. Questions to ask include:

  • What were you hired to do?
  • What are your proudest accomplishments?
  • Who were the people you worked with?
  • What are some low points during your job?
  • Why did you leave your job?

Topgrading interviews can help managers become effective in screening candidates, which allows them to reduce hiring failure. For managers to be effective in providing topgrading interviews, they should master five tactics: interrupting, the three p’s, push versus pull, painting a picture, and stopping at stop signs.

Focused interview

After screening through the second interview, the next interview is similar to a behavioural interview. However, instead of testing for how one acts, a focused interview tests for the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard.

Reference interview

This final interview is similar to a regular reference check where hiring managers validate what they have learned about the candidate. Managers are to pick references from bosses, subordinates, and peers from the discussion in the prior interviews. Anywhere between four to seven reference checks will give a leader ample data points about the candidate’s performance.

Step 4: Sell

Selling happens at every stage of the employee lifecycle. Even after an A Player is identified and hired, managers need to sell the candidate on the role. There are five areas that managers need to tend to when selling. They are:

Fit – demonstrate to the candidate how their goals, values, and talents fit in with the vision, strategy, and culture of the organization.

Family – in many cases, changes in careers likely impact the candidate’s family. Get to know the family by talking to them. For candidates who may have to relocate, invest the time to bring the family to the new location. Hire a real estate agent to take the family around the community and answer questions about schools and so forth.

Freedom – A Players will want to operate with autonomy in their role. Thus, managers need to demonstrate that the organization has a structure and culture that supports such behaviours.

Fortune – while money is less of a key motivator for individuals, managers cannot ignore it. Organizations should compensate A Players and their performance accordingly. They can do this by linking bonuses to performance and ensuring that top compensation for A-level performance.

Fun – the last component that managers need to sell is the culture. Great team players perform better and report higher job satisfaction when they enjoy their work and their work environment. Leaders need to demonstrate to top candidates what the organizational culture offers. Moreover, candidates will need to determine if the work culture is one where they can thrive.

Key takeaways

  • The ghSMART A Method of hiring entails four steps: scorecard, source, select, and sell.
  • In order to attract A players, leaders need to invest in sourcing the right candidates by tapping into their networks and partnering with external recruiters.
  • Selling a candidate doesn’t end when they join the company; leaders need to continue to sell even after to ensure that A Players stay.

Who authors Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Dr. Geoff Smart is an author and founder of ghSMART, a management consulting firm specialized in helping senior and executive leadership at Fortune 500 companies recruit and develop leading talent. In addition to publishing New York Times Bestsellers, his organization is recognized as a model for leadership, with Harvard Business School Cases featuring ghSMART in “ghSMART & Co.: Pioneering in Professional Services.” He has a Doctor of Philosophy from Claremont Graduate University and studied Economics as his bachelor’s at Northwestern University.

Randy Street is Smart’s co-author for Who, and a Managing Partner of ghSMART. He’s served as the executive leadership at EzGov, a software firm based in Atlanta and was a strategy consultant at a global consulting firm, Bain & Company. He has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and studied Mechanical Engineering as his bachelor’s at Rice University.

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