Who you gonna call?

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Nope, not Ghostbusters if you’te looking for A-list employees

“It doesn’t matter what you know, it’s who you know.”

I wouldn’t go so far as saying it doesn’t matter what you know, but yes, I would tend to agree that in the professional world, sooner rather than later the ‘who’ does pop up.

Whether it be who you partner with, who are your investors, who your clients or suppliers are, your first few employees or 77th employee, who your colleagues are yada yada yada.

Hiring and retaining good talent is one of the toughest jobs in any company, even more so in early stage startups. In fact, hiring is such an important job that it’s usually one of the key responsibility areas of a CEO, especially since “who is where the magic begins, or where the problems starts” as Geoff Smart puts it so aptly in his book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” – a book where he shares what he claims to be a fail proof method to hiring A list candidates.

“What is an A Player? For one thing, he or she is not just a superstar. Think of an A Player as the right superstar, a talented person who can do the job you need done, while fitting in with the culture of your company. We define an A Player this way: 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”

His method is expectantly an extremely rigorous, some parts even questionable process to emulate. But if you can run the extra mile, you will be more likely to the find hidden treasure. Here is my 3 hour read cut short to 3 minutes for the benefit of the buzy and the lazy. (In my experience, both are usually the same person)

He outlines a 4 step method to his process –

  1. Scorecard: A Blueprint for Success
  2. Source: Generating a flow of A players
  3. Select: The 4 interviews for spotting A players
  4. Sell: The top 5 ways to seal the deal

Scorecard: A blueprint for success

A scorecard is the ghSMART (Geaff Smart’s company) version of a job description. The only difference is it is not a job description.

A scorecard has the following 3 elements –

The Scorecard for 'The A Method for Hiring'

The Scorecard for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

  1. Description of the mission for the position – an executive summary of the job’s core purpose. It boils the job down to its essence so everybody understands why you need to hire someone into the slot. Mission statements help you avoid one of the most common hiring traps: hiring all round athletes, i.e., generalists instead of specialists.
  2. Outcomes that must be accomplished – defining what must get done (it helps you to focus on evaluating a person on what she must get done, not her past accomplishments)
  3. Competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role – to ensure behavioral fit and organizational fit

Source: Generating a flow of A players

Smart quite rightly says, “Great candidates does not happen without significant effort.” His 3 key sourcing methodologies are –

Sourcing for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Sourcing for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

  1. Referrals – from professional network, personal network and employees. Smart cites this method as the number one method to source candidates from all the other methods even though this is the toughest and most time consuming.
  2. Recruiters – Hiring external recruiters
  3. Researchers – Hiring recruiting researchers who will explore the market, identify talent and feed names back to you. They won’t conduct the interviews.

Select: The 4 interviews for spotting A players

Geoff Smart says that the time span in most interviews that are currently conducted is too limited to reliably predict anything useful. Instead, he proposes a series of 4 interviews, each building on each other as the best and surest way of selecting A candidates. You can use the time through the 4 interviews to collect facts and data about someone’s performance track record that spans multiple years.

Selecting for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Selecting for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

The 4 interviews are –

  1. The screening interview – a short phone based interview designed to clear out B & C players from your roster of candidates. The questions (fixed) you ask are –
    • What are your career goals?
      1. If he or she lacks goals or sounds like an echo of your own Web site, screen the person out. You are done with the call. Talented people know what they want to do and are not afraid to tell you about it.
    • What are you really good at professionally?
      1. Geoff suggests you push candidates to tell you eight to twelve positives so you can build a complete picture of their professional aptitude. Ask them to give you examples that will put their strengths into context
    • What are you good at or not doing professionally?
      1. If you hear cookie-cutter answers, simply say, “That sounds like a strength to me. What are you really not good at or not interested in doing?” Talented people will catch the hint and reconsider their responses.
    • Who were your last ‘x’ bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1–10 scale when we talk to them?
      1. You are looking for lots of 8’s, 9’s, and 10’s in the ratings.
  2. The Who interview – It is a chronological walk-through of a person’s career by asking the same set of 5 simple questions for each job, beginning with the earliest and working your way to the present day.

The Who interview is the key interview within the “Select” step of the ghSMART A Method for hiring. Geoff claims that this style of interviewing is the most valid and reliable predictor of performance according to a half-century’s work of thousands of research studies in the field of industrial psychology. It helps uncover data and patterns of behavior for making predictions about how somebody is likely to perform in the future. The questions 5 are –

  • What were you hired to do?
    1. The first question is a clear window into candidate’s goals and targets for a specific job. They might not know off the top of their heads so coach them by asking how they thought their success was measured in the role.
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    1. A Players tend to talk about accomplishments that match the job outcomes they just described to you. B and C Players talk generally about events, people they met.
  • What were some low points during that job?
    1. Everybody has work lows. There isn’t a person alive who can claim otherwise so keep pushing by reframing the question over and over again till the candidate shares her answers with you
  • Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:
    1. What was your boss’ name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her? What will he/she tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
    2. How would you rate the team you inherited on an A, B, C scale? What changes did you make? Did you hire anybody? How would you rate the team when you left it on an A, B, C scale?
  • Why did you leave that job?
    1. The final question of this vital Who Interview can be one of the most insight-producing questions you ask. Were they taking the next step in their career or running from something? How did their boss react to the news? Don’t accept vague answers. Get curious and dig deep for specifics.

3. The Focused Interview: Getting to know more – The focused interview is similar to the commonly used behavioral interview with one major difference: it is focused on the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard, not some vaguely defined job description or manager’s intuition. Focused interviews also give you the final gauge on the cultural fit with your organization.

  • The questions follow a simple structure just like the other interviews in the A Method quizzing on the candidate on –
    • What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career? (related to the specific outcomes of the scorecard)
    • What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?
  • Assign 2-3 members of your team to perform focused interviews based on the scorecard and focus on separate outcomes.

4. The Reference Interview – To test and validate what you learned. Conduct the right number of reference interviews. The ghSMART A Method recommends that you personally do about four and ask your colleagues to do three, for a total of seven reference interviews. Interview three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinate. Script your conversation with the following 5 questions –

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
    • The first question is really a conversation starter and memory jogger. Also in truth, Geoff believes, people don’t change that much. People aren’t mutual funds. Past performance really is an indicator of future performance.
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
    • This questions is exactly the same as the screening interview ones.
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas of improvement back then?
    • In truth, Geoff believes, people don’t change that much. People aren’t mutual funds. Past performance really is an indicator of future performance.
  4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
    • Once again you are looking for people who are consistently getting ratings of 8, 9, 10 across reference calls
  5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with ______________ in that job. Can you tell me more about it?
    • This last question allows you to use the information from the TORC (threat of reference check) section of the Who interview

Red Flags

Based on experience, the major flags during the hiring process include:

  • Candidate does not mention past failures.
  • Candidate exaggerates his or her answers.
  • Candidate takes credit for the work of others.
  • Candidate speaks poorly of past bosses.
  • Candidate cannot explain job moves.
  • People most important to candidate are unsupportive of change.
  • For managerial hires, candidate has never had to hire or fire anybody.
  • Candidate seems more interested in compensation and benefits than in the job itself.
  • Candidate tries too hard to look like an expert.
  • Candidate is self-absorbed.

Sell: The top 5 ways to seal the deal

The key to successfully selling your candidate to join your company is putting yourself in his or her shoes. Care about what they care about. It turns out that candidates tend to care about five things, so make sure that you address each of these five areas until you get the person to sign on the dotted line.

Selling for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Selling for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

The five areas, which we call the five F’s of selling, are: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun.

  1. Fit – ties together the company’s vision, needs, and culture with the candidate’s goals, strengths, and values. “Here is where we are going as a company. Here is how you fit in.”
  2. Family – takes into account the broader trauma of changing jobs. “What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?”
  3. Freedom – is the autonomy the candidate will have to make his or her own decisions. “I will give you ample freedom to make decisions, and I will not micromanage you.”
  4. Fortune – reflects the stability of your company and the overall financial upside. “If you accomplish your objectives, you will likely make [compensation amount] over the next five years.”
  5. Fun – describes the work environment and personal relationships the candidate will make. “We like to have a lot of fun around here. I think you will find this is a culture you will really enjoy.

If you thought this is way too much effort in hiring candidates then maybe the poll results from the leaders they interviewed for this study will make you think otherwise.

So, now that you’ve got ‘Who’ you know distilled down, the next question is “who knows you”. A different discussion for a different day.

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