Eric’s services are a ‘must’ for any owner wanting to take their business to the next level.
I know a financial analyst who recently received the highest performance review of anyone in her 400-person department. In fact, she was the only person in the entire department to receive ‘‘superior’’ rating. While this was great for this individual, it was not a good sign for the company. When only one person out of 400 receives a superior rating, you have a department filled with B- and C-players who are content with the status quo . . . and one A-player who wonders if her future lies with this company. The department had obviously not emphasized hiring A-players. If you’re this person’s boss, you had better start talking about an advancement plan for her as soon as you deliver this rating. If you don’t, you will lose her. Take immediate steps to coach and keep your A-players.
From How to Hire A-Players www.howtohireaplayers.com by Eric Herrenkohl
Endorsed by Michael Gerber author of The E-Myth and The Most Successful Small Business in the World
It’s not enough to just hire A-players – you have to be able to keep them. Toward this end, don’t neglect your superstars by only focusing on your problem children. Many executives and business owners are “fixers;” they love to jump in and fix problems. This could be a dissatisfied client, an inventory issue, or a people problem. The challenge ends up being that if you spend all your time focused on fixing people problems, you may end up taking for granted the A-players in your organization. They are the people who don’t need help – they are doing a good job. What they do need is time, attention, coaching, and the resources to contribute even more to your business. As you assess your time investment in your people, make sure to start with your A-players – you will always have mediocre employees who need your help.
After you interview people, do you have enough evidence to “convict” them of being an A-player? Do you know if they have they taken ownership, led people, figured out problems, and gotten results? And, have they gotten the kind of results that you need in this job. I talk a lot about how to do this in my book How to Hire A-Players www.howtohireaplayers.com Here is an overview of some strategies from the book:
First of all, put together an interview scorecard for the position for which you are hiring. It should outline what an A-player looks like for the position for which you are hiring. Your scorecard might have 5 criteria, it might have 13. These criteria could range from competencies like “Proven Leader” and “Proven Quality Control Abilities” to “Strong Sense of Urgency” and “Excellent Personal Customer Service Abilities.” When you get others in your organization involved in creating such a scorecard, you will be amazed at how much disagreement there is over the profile. If you all can’t agree on what an A-player looks like, your chances of hiring one are pretty small.
As part of this exercise, I like to customize an on-line personnel assessment that matches the scorecard. In addition to asking candidates interview questions, we can provide them with an on-line test that compares their results to the scorecard for the role. These test results help to reveal weaknesses in candidates that may not be immediately evident from interview questions. We usually test candidates after the first round of interviews but before the final interviews. That way, interviewers can focus on these potential weaknesses during their last round of interviews.
During the interview itself, have your scorecard and the candidate’s resume in hand and go job by job asking the person to:
• Tell me about your most meaningful accomplishments in this role.
• Ask plenty of follow up questions such as “tell me more” and “why so?” that dig beneath the surface and give job candidates enough rope to prove or hang themselves.
With this approach, you will have a pretty clear picture of what someone has accomplished and not accomplished during his or her career. How does this picture compare to your scorecard? If you need to know more to answer that question, now is the time to turn to more specific interview questions. For example, my clients often want to hire people who are leaders as well as experts in their specific areas. Your review of their accomplishments will have revealed some good information. If you need more, you can ask questions such as:
• Can you tell me by name the people you would say followed you in this role? If they worked for you, how were you a leader for these people vs. just being their manager? How did you influence them? If I called them and spoke to them, how would they say you impacted them? Are you still in touch with these people? Would they consider following you to this new job?
For some more ideas on favorite interview questions, Jay Goltz wrote a good column in the New York Times recently, you can check it out here http://nyti.ms/jaygoltzinterviewquestions
Here is another helpful hint: during the interview, write down quick notes in the candidate’s own words. If you do this, you will find that when you review your notes, these “quotes” will trigger your memory and help you recall what impressed you or turned you off about a candidate.
Finally, score each person on your scorecard. Then, compare notes with other interviewers (other people invariably will catch things we missed and vice versa). You will find that the combination of asking the right questions in an interview, and comparing what you hear to a scorecard for what you need, helps you to avoid hiring mistakes and make your interviewing process more “commercial grade.”
LinkedIn is introducing its Career Explorer system (initially just to high school students, soon to everyone) that allows people to map out their next career move – and it likely won’t be inside your company. The economy is still anemic (and the psychology of many A-players still conservative). But now is the time to make sure that your A-player employees see a concrete path to more responsibility, interesting challenges, and more money. This does not mean you have to pay people more today. It means that you have to demonstrate that you’re thinking about your best people and figuring out ways that they can learn and grow in their careers by staying with your company. As I wrote in How to Hire A-Players www.howtohireaplayers.com too many executives take their best people for granted because they are good. Over the long haul, leadership means investing in your strongest people. Make sure they are with you by investing your time and thinking with them about the next step in their careers.
BTW, here is an article that outlines the new LinkedIn offering and its potential future impact on leading and keeping A-players http://bit.ly/cAE7Vd
Thanks to everyone at SMEI Philadelphia http://bit.ly/darYTz for inviting me to speak earlier this week on Creating a Team of A-Players. Scott Messer, leader of Sales Evolution http://bit.ly/9c9Cvd made an insightful comment during the program: the worst salesperson to hire is the B-player. His point? When you hire an A-Player, you know immediately that you have found someone special who will be a great part of and contributor to your business. When you hire a C or D-player, you know immediately that you have made a mistake, and you let them go. But when you hire a B-player, you end up investing way too much time trying to turn them into an A-player, rather than spending more time up front to find the best salesperson.
One of the reasons that I wrote How to Hire A-Players www.howtohireaplayers.com is that I see too many business owners whose mindset remains “I have a position to fill,” rather than, “I have to find the next superior performer for my team.” It’s hard to stay committed to continually finding and hiring the best people. You have to invest more time up front in defining what you want (your A-Player Profile), you have to work harder to uncover more candidates (uncovering hidden pools of talent), and you have to interview more people. When you just look at these up-front costs, it can be hard to get excited about committing to hiring more A-players.
However, when you compare the payoffs of adding a superior performer to your team vs. an acceptable performer, the up-front costs of time and effort disappear in light of the return you will get on your investment. If you’re content to surround yourself with average people, keep hiring the same way you always have. But if you’re ready to take advantage of a buyers’ labor market and systematically surround yourself with talented performers who are also a pleasure to work with, then pay the cost now to find and hire your next A-player.
I first realized how unscientific the hiring process was in most companies when I worked as a recruiter in the financial arena. I was placing CFOs, Controllers, and other financial personnel with some highly regarded companies. My clients were very successful senior executives. Yet there hiring process was unstructured and ineffective. They were, of course, very busy people. They would emerge from a meeting and head to the conference room where they were to interview a candidate. Often, they would read the resume as they walked to the interview! Once with the candidate, they would often spend too much time talking and not enough time asking questions and listening. After the interview was completed, they would stop by the office of someone else who had interviewed the person and ask that perennial question: so, what did you think about that guy?
This is no way to run an interview. If you are falling into some of these traps, then consider adding some or all of the steps below to reduce hiring mistakes:
1. Determine an A-Player Profile. In my new book How to Hire A-Players, I ask the question: would you know an A-player if you met one? How so? What would tell you that an individual you currently employee or that someone you are interviewing is an A-player? I know this sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the lack of clarity within companies about the profile of an ideal candidate. If you don’t know exactly who you are looking for, you and your team will be slow to agree upon and actively pursue the right people.
2. Look for overall patterns of accomplishment. The best way to reduce hiring mistakes in an interview is to get a very clear picture of someone’s overall pattern of accomplishments in their life and career. Then, compare that pattern to your A-Player Profile for the role. Unlike mutual funds, with people past performance is the best indicator of future results.
3. Ask initial screening questions to weed out unqualified people. For example, some roles require that applicants have certain software expertise or industry experience. If you can’t determine this from the resume, ask about these abilities early in a phone screen. If someone does not meet these minimum criteria, they are eliminated and the phone interview is over.
4. Starting with their most recent role, confirm their dates of employment, including both the month and the year. People often fudge these dates – you want to verify them.
5. For each role, ask questions specifically designed to dig into their accomplishments. The best overall question to ask is: Please tell me briefly about the top accomplishments for which you were personally responsible while employed in this role?
6. Ask follow-up questions that keep the candidate talking. These questions include: How did you do that? Why so? Please tell me how you made that happen? What were the most important steps you took to make that happen? Such open-ended questions dig beneath a candidate’s initial, pre-planned answers and programmed responses to find out what he or she really did.
7. Take verbatim notes: I have found that jotting down the word-for-word responses that people provide during interviews is helpful. When you go back and look at your notes, those verbatim quotes will help you to recall the person’s strengths and weaknesses.
8. Score each candidate: Create a scorecard for yourself using the A-Player Profile that you created. Give candidate’s a score for each key area in the profile as well as an overall score. This helps you to objectively compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of all the people you interview.
In the end, it is your job as an interviewer to gain a complete picture of the accomplishments, failures, strengths and weaknesses of each person you interview. Then, you compare that picture to your A-player profile for the job. By taking this approach, you uncover more about job candidates than your typical interview and determine the person who best fits the role. The end result will be fewer hiring mistakes and more A-players hired.
Eric Herrenkohl is the author of How to Hire A-Players www.howtohireaplayers.com , being published by John Wiley & Sons April 12, 2010.
I wrote a Performance Principles eletter last month on the importance of taking 100% responsibility for ourselves and our careers. Here is a link to the article and brief payoff of the material: We Have to Manage Ourselves, January 2010 http://bit.ly/PP-ManageOurselves
Peter Drucker wrote a classic article for the Harvard Business Review called Managing Oneself. In this Performance Principles, I relate how Dwight Eisenhower failed to manage himself effectively and went from being known as a brilliant person in press conferences to being a klutz.
The Payoff – we have to know ourselves and manage ourselves in order to be effective. As Nathaniel Branden, who has written about 20 books on self esteem, has said – no one is coming to help us. We have to take responsibility for managing ourselves if we expect to be successful.
People who get ahead take 100% responsibility for their own lives and careers. This does not mean that you can win by yourself. No man (or woman) is an island. However, each one of us has to grow up and realize that life is difficult. Business is filled with problems. The people who get ahead think ahead, manage themselves well, play to their own strengths and (critically) manage their own weaknesses.
I once worked for a great boss who really wanted people to tell him the truth. It took me six months of working for him to adjust to his candor – because his ability to tell and hear the truth was unusual.
Darren Hicks, CEO of Hicks Consulting, has written a great article for the EO Magazine Octane on how he learned the power of candor as a Navy SEAL and has worked hard to apply it to his business. Good stuff to read, internalize, share, and implement. http://bit.ly/navysealscandor
My fellow Wiley author Kevin Daum has written a great new book called Roar: How to Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle. There is great material in Kevin’s book on all aspects of the marketing and sales process and the importance of creating the “awesome experience.” Kevin has some great insights into why you have to create a value proposition that informs every aspect of your business – - very good material, I found it helpful. His book is available in April, I encourage you to buy a copy and let others know about it.
One of the things I respect about Kevin is that he lives his message – he is a terrific promoter and he knows how to create a big splash and build a brand. Kevin is dead set on getting his book on the New York Times Bestseller list. For proof, check out his video: www.AwesomeRoar.com
This is a challenge to all of us when it comes to building our brand and helping people to connect with the value we provide.
Auren Hoffman writes the blog Summation. Take a look at one of his not-so-distant posts on A-players: http://blog.summation.net/2009/10/common-traits-of-aplayers.html
He makes a number of good points, including:
The A-player janitor: As Auren points out, you don’t need a Harvard MBA to qualify as an A-player, and every role in your organization can be filled with a superior performer. So, I would ask you: what is the A-player profile for a janitor? If you were going to hire a truly superior person to fill that role,what results would demonstrate superior performance and A-player status?
Relentlessly resourceful: A-players in general know how to get things done. They don’t settle for results that are easily obtainable with current resources. They leverage what they have and find new ways to achieve results that go beyond what most other people are achieving.
Getting back to people: I think this is a great point – many highly effective people are incredible at following up and following through. They “close the loop” with people. They write a note to say thank you. They get back to others quickly. I wonder if this is not in part driven by the fact that very successful people often recognize that it is relationships and relational capital as much more than technical expertise that creates success.
More good points in this article, worth your time to take a look.