Experienced managers and leaders will agree with this immutable truth about employees: When they hire the right people, their job as a manager is easy, even effortless and they look like a management genius. The opposite is also true; when a manager hires the wrong people, the work of management becomes tiring, tedious, frustrating and unrewarding. Therefore, hiring A Players is critically important.

Traditional sources of competitive advantage like economy-of-scale or access to particular markets, know-how, or resources have diminished over the past 50 years. Today, firms that have high-quality employees that are engaged, accountable, collaborative and committed to the vision will win.

This fact was confirmed by the pioneering work done by the Gallup organization in the early 2000s that was reported in several articles and books including Marcus Buckingham’s “First Break All the Rules.” The research continues today and confirms repeatedly that organizations with highly engaged workforces outperform their competitors on a variety of factors including growth, client acquisition, retention of employees, product quality and customer satisfaction. Employers in the top quartile of engagement are a whopping 21% more profitable than the average in their respective industries.

Immediate Qualities of An A Player Employee

We define an “A Player” as an employee that meets two criteria: 

  1. Firstly, A Player employees reach or exceed the success metrics for the role. This implies, therefore, that every role in the organization needs these metrics and a way to report them. What we have found is that true A Players are attracted to these specific measures, and it’s often an indication of a B or C player if an employee seems happy with ambiguity.
  2. The second characteristic of an A Player is that they fit the core values of the organization. They often demonstrate, through their actions, behaviours that show the values and ideally identify it in others as well.

Combined, these two dimensions give us a simple tool for evaluating everyone in the organization, and a powerful language that leaders and managers can use when making recruiting and development plans for employees. We would love to have an entire team populated with A Players, but this simple ranking system can help us define actions for the other quadrants.

Hiring Techniques to Attract Ideal Talent

Employee fitting right into place

Many of us recall learning about magnetism in school as children. If we were lucky, our school had steel magnets with different polarities. When putting two of these close to each other they would either strongly attract or repel depending on which polarities were aligned.

In a way, our organizations are like magnets that will either attract or repel A Players. Positive attraction will occur when people in our organization are authentic, demonstrate the values through actions, are excited about purposefulness and vision, and are treated fairly. There will be added attraction when the firm has competent leaders and managers who play their role in developing people. The icing on the cake is when an organization is already populated with high-performing team members; A Players want to work with A Players.

Likewise, negative polarity comes into the equation. When an organization doesn’t have a compelling and clear vision and culture, acts disingenuously, treats people poorly and tolerates B and C Players, the best people will be repelled.

Today, like never, there is nowhere to hide; through online social channels and platforms like Glassdoor, the experiences that employees have at any organization is in the public domain.

This all adds up to the fact that the work of having a large pool of qualified candidates for roles in an organization starts long before the vacancy. By then it’s too late. Months and even years of work on company culture are directly responsible for the number of candidates that are available to the organization.

Hiring Great Employees: Strategies and Tips

Before interviewing a candidate for any role in your company, it is vital that you follow a sound, world-class interview process. That’s where an approach like the Topgrading methodology has made a huge difference. Studies have shown that based on the way most organizations conduct their recruiting, the hiring manager will only successfully hire an A Player 25% of the time. That’s just not good enough!  Whereas, if you follow a disciplined hiring methodology, recruiters can increase their hiring success rate to over 80%.

It starts with developing and posting a Role Scorecard for the position and using that as the basis for promoting the role. We recommend using a Role Scorecard in place of a traditional job description. The scorecard format forces the user to capture the essence of the role on one page. Every functional role in a company (including the CEO) should have a Role Scorecard that contains the following three items:

  1. Key Duties & Accountabilities
  2. Measures of Success (Key Performance Indicators) for the role
  3. Core Values

Role Scorecards are not just for recruiting. Rather, they are the centrepiece of the entire talent system including performance management, promotions, compensation and succession. Preparing and updating Role Scorecards every quarter enables the manager to have a meaningful one-on-one meeting with employees at the beginning of every quarter to ensure both parties are very clear on what is expected and on how performance will be measured at the end of the quarter. When this is done with discipline holding people accountable becomes so much easier because expectations are clear. And when Role Scorecards are posted within the organization, everyone is very clear about who is focusing on what.

Once posted, the role description should begin to attract candidates. The next step is to ask each candidate to fill out a form or questionnaire rather than just looking at resumes. This has two primary benefits:

  •  It filters out the “tire kickers” that, with online tools, can apply for the role with just a few clicks. If the candidate doesn’t want to spend the time to consider and respond to your questions, they’re not taking the opportunity seriously.
  • It collects exactly the information needed. When all candidates have filled out this form, it’s easier to compare “like with like.”

Creative Interview Strategies and Processes to Hire A Player Employees

woman hiring a-player employees

With selected “short-list” candidates there are three types of interviews that need to be conducted in succession:

  1. Phone Screening Interview
  2. Face to Face Tandem Interview (at least one highly structured, 2-3 hour interview)
  3. Reference Check Interviews (with the people YOU specify)

Throughout this process, here are several key principles to keep in mind:

  1. Firstly, we dig for the truth. We let the candidates know that we will seek verification for all claims they make. We ask for tangible evidence of their individual performance. We ask for their permission and assistance to contact previous bosses, colleagues, and employees. We specify the people we want to speak with (they’re not the “friends” listed on their resumes as references). If there were any previous issues with past jobs, we want these to come out as soon as possible, and to be discussed openly and honestly.
  2. Secondly, we ask for precise examples of where they exhibited the desired behavioural competencies (as listed on the Role Scorecard) in their past jobs. For instance:  Describe a time in your previous role when you . . . (e.g., dealt with a dissatisfied customer).
    • What was the situation?
    • Who was involved?
    • What exactly did they do? What did they say?
    • What exactly did YOU do? (Not what “we” or “the team” did.)

In this situation, we are less interested in what “we” or “the team” did, or what the candidate might do in some hypothetical situation

True A Player candidates will not be put off by any of this. They will have verifiable stories where they demonstrated the behavioural competencies you seek. They provide tangible evidence of results. They willingly furnish you with the names of bosses, colleagues, and employees (that you specify) for you to speak to. They have nothing to hide and can back up everything they say.

You may be saying, “wow, isn’t this going to take a long time for each candidate?” The answer is yes, but what is the cost of a mishire? What is the financial, time and morale impact on the organization when you hire a B or C Player? It’s not just a financial impact. Mediocre performers can severely impact the satisfaction of customers and the productivity of other employees, not to mention the time you as a manager will have to spend managing the individual. Taking all this into account confirms that the time invested in optimizing your likelihood of hiring an A Player.

Finally, resist the need to settle. Too often managers feel pressure to make a hire quickly and rationalize that a candidate they have interviewed is a great fit. The anecdote to this effect is getting other, ideally unbiased and unpressured, individuals involved in the hiring process. The cost of continuing the search is always less than the cost of hiring the wrong person.

Download Our Guide To Hiring A Players

If you liked this post, we invite you to download our FREE guide to learn the full techniques you can use for hiring and developing A Players for your company.


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