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Jun 22'

How to Recruit Top Performers – Summary of the book “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Speak to anyone in business and it won’t be long before they start to complain about how hard it is to find good people. And they’re not wrong. No matter how big it is or what it does, the number one challenge for any organization isn’t about strategy, product, or processes - it’s about finding the right people and placing them in the right roles. 

Yet despite their undoubted importance, most organizations are still failing to effectively attract and employ top talent. 

Indeed management guru Peter Drucker suggests that more than half of all hiring decisions are mistakes while recruitment expert Charles Handler believes a similar number (45%) leave within the first six months. Given that some estimates place the average cost of a new hire at more than 15 times their annual salary - getting recruitment wrong could be costing businesses big. 

Help is at hand

Given the statistics, you’d be forgiven for wondering how you can stand a chance of solving your organization’s recruitment problem. But the good news is that help is at hand in the form of “Who — The A method for hiring”, a book that’s become something of a bible for the world’s top-performing firms. 

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Published in 2008 by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, it explores some of the common pitfalls that companies fall into when recruiting, before laying out some key considerations and techniques that hiring managers can use when looking for top performers. And though the book’s now more than a decade old, its lessons are just as relevant to businesses today as it was when it was first published and provides an employee retention solution.

You are who you hire

One of the biggest takeaways from the book is that leaders all too often focus on the “Whats” in their organizations - the strategies, systems, processes and actions that they believe will lead them to success. However, without putting the right people in the right places - the “Who” of the book’s title - they will never truly fix their organization’s problems. 

To put it simply, your success as both a manager and an organization is largely dependent on the quality of people you hire around you, and not your actions. That means that if you hire the wrong people, the C and B grade talent, your company will never break out. 

However, if you hire A Players, people who Smart and Street define as “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,” then your organization will have a surefire recipe for success. 

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How to avoid common mistakes

Hiring candidates is hard, hiring the right candidates is even harder. Yet despite its importance, recruitment is something that most of us have little or no training in. As a result, we tend to fall back on traditional techniques, which are often ineffective and lead to bad hires.

In the book, Smart and Street call these “voodoo techniques” and they range from people who rely on incessant testing to those who ask trick questions in an effort to trip candidates up, all the way through to people who hire on nothing more than gut instinct. 

The problem with these techniques is that they have very little to do with whether a person can actually do the job you’re asking them to do well. In order to explore this problem further the authors spent more than 1,300 hours interviewing hundreds of executives, CEOs and entrepreneurs. 

What they found is that almost every bad hire stems from one of four key mistakes:

  • • Lack of clarity on what the job requires
  • • Lack of good candidates
  • • Inability to choose the right candidate
  • • Losing the selected candidates

Avoiding these mistakes is the first step in reducing the number of bad hires in your organization. But in order to truly turbo-charge your business, you don’t just need to avoid common recruitment problems, you need to find and hire A-list talent. 

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How to hire A players

We all want to hire A Players, people who will not only fit your company culture but can also perform their role to high standards. So how do you find them? 

In their book, Smart and Street outline a simple four-step method for hiring the right people. Known as the A Method it can be used to hire anyone from a CEO to a sales rep, and if followed correctly can help organizations to achieve a 90% success rate when it comes to hiring A Players. 

Step 1 - Scorecard

The scorecard is designed to describe exactly what you want a hire to achieve. It’s not a job description. Instead, it describes why the job exists, what success looks like, what the key deliverables are, and how the job should be performed within the company culture. It’s a set of outcomes and competencies that is to hiring what a blueprint is to the building process. 

Step 2 - Source

Part of the problem with hiring great candidates is that managers aren’t proactive. So Smart and Street lay out a framework for constant systematic sourcing in which you’re constantly on the lookout for talented people irrespective of whether you have a hiring need or not. It’s all about building up a network of referrals and introductions that enables you to form a talent pool that you can dip into when the need arises. This not only ensures you have a constant drip-feed of quality candidates but also speeds up the hiring process. 

Step 3 - Select

The select step of the A Method is all about interviewing well. Smart and Street recommend a series of clearly structured interviews in order to avoid the “voodoo hiring methods” that all too many managers fall into. Each interview in this step is specifically structured to help you learn everything you need to know about a candidate in relation to the scorecard you put together in step 1.  

Step 4 - Sell

Once you’ve identified great people the final step of the process is to sell them on your organization to avoid them taking their talents elsewhere. One of the key takeaways from Smart and Street’s book is the importance of putting yourself in a candidate's shoes. You have to care about what they care about and sell them on how your company and their role within it will help them to achieve that. 

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Putting it into action 

Recruiting the best talent isn’t easy, but by following the A Method you can ensure that you are not only finding great candidates but giving them the opportunity to succeed. It takes time and effort but the results are well worth it. After all, who doesn't want their organization to be filled with top-performing talent that will help to shape the company culture and breed long-term success? 

If you’d like to find out more about how the A Method can help your business, click here to see our latest webinar in which we discuss how you can implement Smart and Street’s work within your organization. 

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