HR – Finding ‘A’ Candidates

July 5, 2011

Source: Smart & Street, The ‘A’ Method, Ballantine Books 2009
HR mistakes happen when managers:

  1. Are unclear about what is needed in a job;
  2. Do not trust their ability to pick the right candidate from a group of similar candidates;
  3. Have a weak flow of candidates; and
  4. Lose candidates they really want on the team.

Solution? Seek ‘A’ players: those who have a 90% chance of succeeding at outcomes that only 10% of candidates could do.

Four steps/ parts of the hiring process: like all good decisions, a small educated team performs better

  1. Scorecard: mission, set of outcomes & competencies that fit with company culture & role
  2. Sourcing: before needing candidates
  3. Selection: structured interviews
  4. Selling: persuade to join, the right way

1. Scorecard. (p 23) Consists of:

Mission/ Aim(s): essence of job to high degree of specificity – an evolving document.
– set of outcomes, and
– competencies that fit with company culture & role.
Hire the specialist (to treat the problem), not the generalist (who who will point you to it).

Outcomes: what must be accomplished
– 3-8 in total, ranked in importance. Eg double revenue 3 years: scare off B & C candidates, attract A candidates

Competencies: Ensure behavioural fit
– how expected to operate in fulfilling the job and achieving outcomes

Critical ones:
– efficiency
– honesty/ integrity
– organisation/ planning, inc. Schedules & budgets
– Aggressive (?assertive)
– Follows through on commitments
– intelligence
– analytical skills: insightful
– attention to detail
– persistence
– proactive

Important ones:
– ability to hire A players
– ability to develop people
– flexibility/ adaptability
– calm under pressure
– strategic thinking/ visioning
– creativity/ innovation
– enthusiasm
– work ethic
– high standards
– listening skills
– open to criticism/ ideas
– communication
– teamwork
– persuasion
– coachable
– ego under control

Cultual competencies: ensuring fit

  • Evaluate company: what adjectives would you use?
  • Fire misfits
  • These fits matter for every job in the company!

From scorecard to strategy (p 39)
Scorecards link theory (strategy, plans) to reality (execution, outcomes) => create alignment of teams, culture, understanding.
– each management layer translates to those below: everyone has outcomes supporting strategy, and competencies that support outcomes & culture
– scorecards: set expectations, monitor progress, objectify reviews, allow rating of team(s)
– management makes consistent choices, employee is successful -> so is company

How to: mission (why role exists, 3-5 sentences), outcomes (3-8 SMART outcomes for an A performance), and competencies (role-based behaviours required, + 5-8 cultural competencies), ensure alignment with business plan and upstream/ downstream roles – and communicate.

2. Sources (p 47)

Referrals: professional & personal. Speak with the ten most talented people you know once per week. Set personal goal to recruit X per year, then keep in touch each period

– ask everyone, esp the above, ‘who do you know that would be a good fit for my company?’

– employee & ‘friends/ advisory boards’ referrals also, +/- reward (eg vacation/ financial benefit)

– becomes self-reinforcing

– External recruiters: need a scorecard.

CRM solution for candidates:
– allow 30 mins/ week for flow of candidates. Be proactive – ring and say (eg) ‘X recommended you and I meet. I am told you are great at what you do. I am always on the lookout for talented people and would love to meet. Even if you are quite content at you job, I’d like to introduce myself and hear about your career interests.’

Close with: You now know a little about me. Who are the most talented people you know that might be a good fit for my company?
3. Selection. (p 69)

A. Screening (20 mins). Review scorecard before calls. 20 mins to ask for information, then allow candidate to ask. Use ‘What’, ‘How’ or ‘Tell me more’ after each screening question below. Expect 10-20% to get through this telephone interview. Gut feeling useful for who not to hire (hit the gong fast).
– What are your career goals? Ideally reflect/ match company’s needs. Demonstrate passion – screen out those who repeat your company documentation. What are you really good at professionally? 8-12 characteristics, should match scorecard
– what are you not good at/ not interested in professionally? Want 5-8. Screen out strength masked as weakness.
– who were your last five bosses, and how will each rate your performance (out of 1-10)? <7 means 2, 7 neutral. Want >7’s. Review scorecard after call. Want to feel excited.

B. Topgrading (p 80, interview guide p 82). Use this face-to-face technique on the 10-20% that get through. Up to 3 hours (including followup/ reference check calls); do it with a colleague. Expect 1 or 2 candidates to stand out.

The Day’s Agenda: (p 104)

  • team brief (scorecard, resume, screening notes, roles/ responsibilities);
  • greet/ orient candidate to day (& company as required);
  • Topgrade (1.5-3-hrs);
  • lunch;
  • Focused interview;
  • thanks/ next steps;
  • team discussion (rate scorecard, strengths & weaknesses; -> go/ no-go reference calls

Ask these for the last 15 years’ jobs: (p 82)

  1. What were you hired to do? (try to build a mental picture of their scorecard)
  2. What accomplishments are you most proud of? (ideally matches the above scorecard, even better matches the new one. Red flag if no/ poor correlation)
  3. What were some low points during that job? Reframe until heard eg what went wrong/ biggest mistake/ done differently/ didn’t like/ peers stronger
  4. Who were the people you worked with? (threat of reference check, or TORC)

– what was boss’s name/ spelling? What was it like with him? What will (not would!) she say were biggest strengths/ areas for improvement? (honest with first Q = honest with second) to face/ reviews/ informally/ to his peers
– how would you rate the team you inherited (A to C)? What changes? Did you hire? Fire? Rating on leaving? Use TORC on team.

5. Why did you leave that job? Promoted/ recruited/ fired? Example given of an otherwise great candidate who slapped the boss at his last job, with the loss of $3M in entitlements

Continuously use ‘What happened/ how/ tell me more’, with every statement.

Have a simple script to start to set expectations (eg thanks, job chronology, five questions for each job, your career goals/ aspirations; if (mutual) decision is made to proceed then (we will be) perform reference calls; main focus is on more recent and relevant jobs; questions).

Master tactics:

  1. Interrupt every 3-5 minutes to keep on track with empathy/ enthusiasm, but new question
  2. Three P’s: compare with previous, with planned, with peers
  3. Evaluate Push vs Pull in achievements
  4. Paint a picture. Put yourself in their shoes to understand
  5. ‘Stop at the stop signs’: inconsistencies b/n body language and words

C. The Focused Interview (p 99, one day, or two half days)
– Often hire chosen now (by self and colleague), but extra step recommended with a new colleague, or by new colleague(s) – BUT still following script (without revisiting topgrading interview) – eg colleague 1 does sales/ margins; 2 does team attributes; 3 does everything else
– focused on the outcomes, and competencies of the scorecard (helps cultural fit)
– Request examples + what/ how/ tell me more:

  1. The purpose of the interview is to talk about the job outcome or competency eg grow domestic sales by 20% p.a.; maintain 45% gross margin; topgrade organisation (90% hires ‘A’; 90% teams ‘A’ within 3 yrs with hire/ coach; remove ‘C’ players within 90 days of ID); create sales strategy within planning cycle CEO approved; with eg aggressive/ persistent/ hires A players/ holds people accountable/ follows commitments/ receives criticism as competencies
  2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
  3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?

D. Reference Interview (p 105)

– pick the referees you want to talk to from the candidate’s answers (not the ones you are given)
– get the candidate to set up the calls
– do SEVEN (3 bosses, two peers/ customers, 2 subordinates): 4 yourself, three by colleagues. Ask:
1.     In what context did you work with X
2.     what were the biggest strengths? – Request examples + what/ how/ tell me more
3.     what were the biggest areas for improvement at that time? (liberates truth … implies not a problem now) – Request examples + what/ how/ tell me more
4.     rate overall performance 1-10; what about the performance makes you give that rating? (6=2, want >8 ratings)
5.     X mentioned you might say that X struggled with Y – can you tell me more? Uses the TORC (threat of reference check) example from candidate; italicised bit liberates interviewee (implies permission from candidate) eg ‘withholding information’ = back-stabber
– do informal checks with known colleagues (check labour laws)

Note: Hearing <> speaking – nobody nails someone in references. Limiting the reference to date confirmation is code for don’t go there, as is a ‘if … then’ couplet, or ums and er/ hesitation; faint praise is damning.

Decision .. Skill/ Will Bullseye (what they can do + what they want to do = scorecard) p 113
– rate the skills held against the scorecard outcomes (A, B or C)
– then rate the will (motivation and competencies) to match mission and role competencies

Red Flags .. 116
– past failures not mentioned
– exaggeration
– takes credit for others work
– speaks poorly of past bosses
– cannot explain job moves
– people important to candidate don’t support change
– never hired/ fired anyone (if a managerial candidate)
– more interest in compensation and benefits than job
– tries to look like an expert
– self-absorbed

Behavioural Warning Signs (Marshall Goldsmith … p 117)
– winning too much (insignificant wins?, or cost > benefit)
– adding ‘too much’ value (implying original idea not/ never good enough)
– starting a sentence with no/ but/ however during interview (may be combative)
– telling the world how smart we are (<> leader)
– making destructive comments about previous colleagues
– passing the buck
– making excuses
– excessive use of ‘being me’ (That’s just me, I’m xxx)

HIRE Decision
– review scorecards, update ABC ratings (given in interview from reference checks), data, interview team (opinions/ observations)
– no A’s? Restart at source
– one A – hire them
– multiple A’s – rank & hire the best

4. ‘Sell’ the job … p 123
5 F’s: put yourself in their shoes, care about what they care about. Be Persistent – you want the one that the team ranked highest.
Fit: company’s vision, needs & culture with candidate’s goals, strengths and values. Here is where we are going & here is how you fit in. What in it for you (as well as us)
Family: What can we make this as easy as possible for your family? = trauma of change. Eg spouse might be that nationality; also friends etc because candidate looks to them for the tough calls
Freedom: autonomy to make decisions (reassure not micromanaged). Use confidence to build competency .. extend trust .. occasionally extend friendship. In selling consider offering hirer references for the candidate to interview. Same for NFP’s
Fortune: company stability and financial upside If objectives achieved, eg you will likely make XX over 5 years. Internal and external benchmarking of compensation levels useful; link to scorecard
Fun: work environment and personal relationships … ability to structure job for the fun bits

When do you sell? Continuous process, before, during and after the hire:
at sourcing: helps identify which is most important to the candidate, and also opens the window into the candidate/ suitability
at interviewing: usu towards end (structured as we get to know you, then you get to know us)
between offer an acceptance: eg contract negotiations might backfire, might have a counter-offer. Undersell occurs >> oversell
b/n acceptance and day 1: family/ friends may seed doubt before starting
for the first 100 days on the job: buyer’s remorse can occur. Should be easy with info from above – otherwise might work with them for a year before getting insights

Posted in Blog by Douglas Fahlbusch