Topgrading by Brad Smart

The Big Idea: Create job scorecards instead of job descriptions. Use 1) Screening Interviews, 2) Topgrading tandem interviews, and 3) Reference Check interviews to identify A-players for your company.

Chapter 1: What is Topgrading?

  • Have high standards for all positions.
  • Filter out B’s and C’s early.
  • A player is someone who is in top 10% for the salary level.
  • Don’t settle for a B player at an A price.
  • Hiring a B or C player costs you more in the long run.

Ch 2: Calculate the cost of your mis-hires.

  • The average cost of a mis-hire (or failed internal promotion) is 15x base salary.
  • Think of Topgrading as Six Sigma for hiring, intended to minimize hiring mistakes.

Ch 3: Begin Topgrading from the top down.

  • B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them.
  • A players hire A players.
  • Start with an executive team of only A players.
  • CEO needs to be the Topgrading champion.
  • 1. Conduct a talent review of everyone on the team
  • 2. Create scorecards for key roles
  • 3. Build your virtual bench of A players and A potentials
  • 4. Learn how to conduct: screening interviews, top grading interviews, reference check interviews
  • Topgrading takes time but pays off in the long run.

Ch 4: Conduct a talent review to identify your A-player.

  • Rank all employees, then rate them as A, A potential, or non A.
  • Some A players are promotion material; some A players are content to stay in the same role.
  • Be honest about the talent review.
  • Be disciplined about conducting talent reviews regularly.

Ch 5: Create scorecards that guarantee accountability and fit.

  • A job scorecard is very different than a job description.
  • Defines key accountabilities that define an A-level performance
  • Defines competencies that define a good fit
  • Most job descriptions are just a list of tasks, without accountability or metrics.

Ch 6: Strength your virtual bench.

  • Always be talent scouting, all the time, everywhere.
  • Always be developing relationships with potential A players.
  • Don’t rely on recruiters, though they can be useful in a pinch.
  • Don’t rely on HR to source A players.
  • Start today by asking every A player to introduce you to an A player they know.
  • Your virtual bench can grow cold if you don’t keep it warm.
  • Stay in touch with your virtual bench, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly.

Ch 7: Interview to identify performance patterns.

  • Topgrading interviews are not like conventional interviews.
  • Topgrading interviews are carefully sequenced, tightly structured, and aimed squarely at topics with the richest information payload.
  • Most people need to conduct at least a dozen Topgrading interviews to become proficient.
  • Screening interviews > Topgrading interviews > Reference Check interviews

Ch 8: Screen A’s in, screen out B’s and C’s.

  • Screening interviews take about an hour.
  • Screening interviews start with a good job scorecard.
  • A carefully crafted resume can hide gaps and red flags.
  • A career history form requires a candidate to account for every year and month since the person has been working full-time jobs.
  • A career history form asks for compensation history (base, bonus, other), supervisor information, education, strengths/weaknesses.
  • A career history form sets the tone for a rigorous selection process, which A players will appreciate.
  • Four questions to ask:
  • 1. Candidates career goals
  • 2. What the person is really good at professionally
  • 3. What the person is not good at or not interested in doing
  • 4. Last five bosses, what each would say is candidates strengths/weaknesses and overall rating
  • Screening interviews are done over phone/video.
  • If screening interview indicates an A player is not interested in the position now, add them to virtual bench.

Ch 9: Use Topgrading interviews to explore candidates strengths and weaknesses.

  • Don’t skimp on the Topgrading interview.
  • Four important areas: school, work history, career goals, competencies
  • Past performance is the best predictor of future performance.
  • Ask about high school and college.
  • For each job ask:
  • 1. What were you hired to do?
  • 2. What were your accomplishments?
  • 3. What failures or mistakes were made in this job, and what did you learn from them?
  • 4. What talent did you inherit (A’s, A potentials, and Non-A’s), what changes did you make to this talent mix, and what talent did you end up with?
  • 5. What were the people like that you worked for, and how would they rate you?
  • 6. Why did you leave?
  • At the end, spend 10 minutes asking about career goals: next job, next company, next boss, next 5-10 years.
  • After that, ask more specific questions about competencies.
  • Save the selling for later.
  • Expect up to four hours for a Topgrading interview.
  • Because interviews can be exhausting, tandem interview with a partner.

Ch 10: Use Reference Check interviews to test your opinions.

  • Traditional reference checks are a waste of time.
  • In Topgrading reference checks, you decide who to contact, you choose the questions, the candidate sets up the interview.
  • No references, no job offer.
  • Ask references:
  • 1. The situation or context they worked in with the candidate
  • 2. The candidate’s strengths and weaknesses (with examples)
  • 3. How they would rate the person’s overall performance in that job
  • 4. Further elaboration or insight regarding something specific the candidate admitted to struggling with in that job (a creative way of gathering more information about weaknesses)
  • A players tend to stay in touch with their previous bosses. Even if they’ve lost touch, they’ll be resourceful enough to find them again.
  • You’ll probably have better luck if you contact the reference person at home, preferably on the weekend.

Ch 11: Redeploy chronic B and C players.

  • Redeploy B and C players to another role in the company where they can be A players, or redeploy them to another company with severance and outplacement counseling.
  • Four redeployment strategies:
  • 1. Hatchet
  • 2. Ostrich
  • 3. Topgrader (decide professionally, redeploy professionally)
  • 4. Wimp
  • Genuine sympathy + quick but fair decisions

Ch 12: Coach and keep A players.

  • Keep A players challenged, happy, and engaged.
  • Because your B and C players take up most of your time, don’t forget to appreciate your A players.
  • Invest more of your time in developing A and A potential players.
  • A players will automatically work on their strengths, so spend majority of your time helping them on their weaknesses that could sabotage their career success.
  • Some competencies are easy to improve on then others.
  • 1. Relatively Easy to Change: Risk taking, Leading edge, Education, Experience, Organization/planning, Self-awareness, Communications–oral, Communications–written, First impression, Customer focus, Political savvy, Selecting A players, Redeploying B/C players, Coaching/training, Goal setting, Empowerment, Performance management, Running meetings, Compatibility of needs
  • 2. Harder but Do-able: Judgment, Strategic skills, Pragmatism, Track record, Resourcefulness,, Excellence standards, Independence, Stress management, Adaptability, Likability, Listening,, Team player, Negotiation skills, Persuasiveness, Team builder, Change leadership, Inclusivity (diversity), Conflict management, Credible vision, Balance in life
  • 3. Very Difficult to Change: Intelligence, Analysis skills, Creativity, Conceptual ability, Integrity, Assertiveness, Inspiring followership, Energy, Passion, Ambition, Tenacity

Ch 13: Overcome obstacles to Topgrading.

  • Objection: “I can’t get my B and C players to hire A players.” Solution: Topgrade from the top down.
  • Objection: “We think we’re hiring A players, but they turn out to be B or C players in disguise.” Solution: Perform more accurate assessments using the Topgrading interview, preferably in tandem.
  • Objection: “We can’t afford to hire A players.” Solution: There are A players at every salary.
  • Objection: “I don’t want to fire loyal B and C players.” Solution: redeploy them to another role, with a narrower set of responsibilities and lower pay.

Ch 14: Take ten steps to implement Topgrading successfully.

  • 1. All managers read Topgrading and work through the self-paced Topgrading DVD.
  • 2. Senior managers participate in a Topgrading Workshop.
  • 3. Human Resources participates in a Topgrading Workshop
  • 4. All managers who have participated in a Topgrading Workshop use tandem Topgrading interviews, Career History Form, Reference Checks.
  • 5. Topgrading consultants sometimes conduct a “second opinion”.
  • 6. Topgrading professionals or internal Topgrading interviewers assess senior managers using Topgrading interviews and 360s and prepares a professional development plan.
  • 10. Topgrading assessments (using tandem interviews along with 360s) are used before every major promotion.

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