Who: The A Method for Hiring

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Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: 9/30/2008
In this instant New York Times Bestseller, Geoff Smart and Randy Street provide a simple, practical, and effective solution to what The Economist calls "the single biggest problem in business today" unsuccessful hiring. The average hiring mistake costs a company $1.5 million or more a year and countless wasted hours. This statistic becomes even more startling when you consider that the typical hiring success rate of managers is only 50 percent.

Book Summary - Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Key Insights

In this book, the authors argue that who you choose to hire can make or break your business, either costing or saving your company a fortune. They go on to explain how broken, outdated, but somehow still trendy hiring methods keep companies from finding the right people from the beginning and losing more with every inadequate hire. They propose their ultimate solution, the “A Method for Hiring”, which offers an organized way to find and recruit the best people for your company’s needs.

Key Points

Hiring errors can be extremely costly. Choosing the wrong person typically ends up costing 15 times their salary.

When looking for your next employee, you’re hoping to strike gold. You want to find the person that will perform exceptionally, a part of the top 10% performers who can meet all the outcomes you set for them.

You’re probably wondering why in reality, hiring managers end up settling for less. In fact, managers make 50% of their overall mistakes during the hiring process, says famed management consultant Peter Drucker, costing their team money and resources by choosing the wrong person.

Just how much do hiring mistakes cost a company? The authors found that it costs, on average, 15 times the hire’s base salary. Some of these costs come from the hire’s poor decisions on the job, but a majority come from the labor needed to fire, replace, and then onboard new talent.

In other words, a bad hire is never worth the consequences. To stop this cycle of trial-and-error, the authors recommend stepping back and taking a close look at your hiring process. How can you select a reliable candidate from the beginning and avoid these extreme costs?

Bad hiring happens because managers use inadequate and outdated techniques to select their candidates instead of an organized system.

Where are hiring mangers going wrong? They may not understand the demands of the job or feel none of the candidates in their pool of potential hires meets their standards. But most of the time, managers hire the wrong people because their hiring process isn’t systematized.

Instead, hiring managers rely on what the authors call “voodoo hiring methods”, or methods that rely on short-cuts instead of careful and balanced evaluation.

For example, an “art critic” manager expects to understand a candidate based on a short first impression, likely to be fooled by appearances like the candidate’s charisma. A “prosecutor” may ask indirect and tricky questions in interviews to try and get the candidate to slip up, putting the candidate on the defensive. A “fortune-teller” manager asks candidates about hypothetical future problems which have little to do with the candidate’s ability to handle the current problem of the company while an “animal lover” asks bizarre questions like “what’s your spirit animal?”.

Not only do managers lean on unhelpful interview questions, but they squander interview time. A “chatterbox” manager spends the interview making small talk while a “suitor” spends it trying to sell the company, instead of collecting information about the potential hire.

Even managers that test their candidate's skills can rely too heavily on the outcomes as predictive of the candidate’s fit. An “aptitude tester” uses job-skill aptitude tests without considering the candidate’s cultural fit. “Psychological and personality tester” managers use psychological tests to try and understand a candidate, despite their proven track record of poorly predicting performance.

Revamp your hiring method with the “A Method for Hiring”

How does systematizing your hiring work? The author offers their version of a system called the “A Method for Hiring”. The four-step method addresses hiring problems in order to help hiring managers understand who the “A players”, or top performers are, where to find them, and how to successfully recruit them.

Define your hiring needs. What results do you want from the hire?

Before you can hire your ideal candidate, you should know what they look like. In the first step of the hiring method, create a “scorecard” that defines your intention for the job position, and the qualifications needed for a hire to succeed. This isn’t just a list of job requirements, but a careful description of how you hope this new hire will fit in and contribute to the business.

The scorecard asks you to write about three core elements of the job: its mission, the expected outcomes, and the preferred competencies of the hire.

First, define the mission of the job. What are you trying to accomplish by filling this position? Maybe you need a beautifully designed website or a hilarious script for an advertisement, but be specific and detailed. This way, you understand that you need a candidate who can accomplish this specific mission with excellence, whether it be a seasoned web-designer or copywriter, instead of a generalist who is good at everything.

Second, describe the sort of outcomes and results you hope to see after the hire has completed their work. By defining the expected outcomes and the timeframe you need them finished by, unfit candidates may sort themselves out of the running.

Third, consider what specific competencies you think would help a candidate achieve these outcomes. These may describe the specific way you’d like the hire to achieve these outcomes. The authors give examples of the types of competencies exhibited by ideal hires. An “efficient” hire performs quickly and well without much distraction. An “honest” hire is truthful and sincere, straightforward about their mistakes. Other qualities considered competencies include: “organization”, “aggressiveness”, “follow-through”, “intelligence”, “analytical skill”, “detail-oriented”, “persistent”, and “productive”.

To find the best candidates, don’t wait for when you immediately need to fill the job. Keep a healthy pool of network referrals by offering employees incentives for tipping off great hires.

After you’ve understood who you’re looking for, you can start fishing for the best candidates.

The authors explain that as a hiring manager, it’s wise to maintain a pool of potential candidates even when there’s no immediate need to fill the job. An easy way to do this is by contacting great talents in your network each week and ask for referrals to another talent. The authors found this system of network referral to be an incredibly reliable way to find the best addition to a team. As a benchmark, keep a list of about 30 great people that you could offer the position to if it opened.

To encourage more staff referrals, companies can give bonuses to members who point you to qualified candidates. Similarly, your company could offer incentives to friends of the firm for referring good people.

Beyond referrals, recruiters can be an excellent way to search for talent. Both external recruits, who interview prospects, and recruiting researchers, who investigate the market and offer a list of names, can be incredible assets. Make sure, however, that they completely understand the needs of your business and ideally, the needs as detailed on your scorecard in step one.

To keep track of your talent pool, devise a system that keeps them all in order, whether it be a box of index cards with names of a high-tech database. Contact these strong candidates and note when you reached out. Following up keeps them interested and more likely to listen when you come to them with a job offer.

Select the perfect candidate by using a diligent interviewing system and pressing for the answers you need.

After you’ve assembled a reliable pool of candidates, it’s time to examine each person individually through a diligent interview process. The authors advise practicing a four-step interview process, progressively deepening your understanding of the person, and getting a sense of the candidate from all angles.

Start with a brief telephone call, or what the authors call a screening. This way, you can understand if the candidate is really interested and whether their career goals are aligned with the position. Ask them about their goals, their strongest professional skills, and how their previous five bosses would rate their performance. By directly asking them about their confidence in their performance, you can weed out candidates that don’t quite fit the bill.

The authors emphasize the next stage of interviews is essential. Every hour, they write, saves even more time later as you eliminate the candidates who cannot meet the requirements of the job.

In this interview, called TopGrading by the authors, you want to understand the complete history of the work candidate so you have all the information about who they are as a worker. Ask about each job in this person’s career, from the beginning to the most recent. Then, ask about what they were hired to do, and whether they feel proud of their accomplishments at each stage. Ask who they worked with, whether they liked it, and why they eventually left the job. By pressing for these specific details, you can learn everything you need to know from the candidates themselves.

Next, during an interview called Focus, conduct a third interview with at least three members of the team, each one lasting 45 minutes to an hour. In this interview, make sure to compare the candidate directly to the scorecard, looking for their competencies and experiences that demonstrate a match with the card.

When calling references, listen between the lines to understand how the candidate really performed in their past jobs.

Finally, if the candidate still seems like a good fit, check their references. Make sure candidates give their references a call beforehand to let them know that a call is coming. This way, references are more likely to be prepared for the phone call when it rings.

References are an excellent way to gather real information on a candidate’s ability to perform as asked. Don’t be afraid to ask for any excess information you need, even if it involves asking people unlisted as references but mentioned in the interviews. Ask references what context they worked with the person in, their biggest strengths, for a rating of their performance and why, and of any noticeable struggles the person had.

In all of these interviews, the authors suggest listening for subtleties in the answers— remember, faint praise can be a bad sign. Are the references praising the person mildly? Did the candidate exaggerate their successes or hide any large failures? This is your time to check for these potential red flags, which may otherwise be easy to overlook.

Don’t let the best candidates slip away. Sell the position by noticing what matters to them.

In the final step of the process, you’ve found your perfect employee, but they may not want to join your team. After all that work, it would be a shame if the candidate walked away. Now is your opportunity to sell the position to them by noticing what’s important to them and offering to meet those needs. Of course, by making sure supporting the candidate in this way, you eventually save more than having to deal with the financial consequences of an unqualified hire.

The authors recommend advertising the opportunity by choosing from five selling points: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun.

Does the opportunity to align well with the candidate's expressed a career path? Emphasize the fit of your position with their life goals. Do they want to take the position but find their spouse and children not wanting a lifestyle change? Ask about the family’s needs, whether it be relocation costs or schooling costs, and then address them.

Is the candidate worried about controlling management or co-workers? Offer them personal freedom in their work. Do they value a salary increase? Explain that you’ll pay for performance and consider going above the corporate guidelines for a truly stellar candidate. Finally, do they want their work to be a good time? Consider ways that the company culture can make the talent happy at work. Find ways to make it fun for them, whether it be retreats, free food, or any amenities that would make for a happier time.

If the candidate accepts the job, make sure to follow through with these promises, supporting them and their concerns for the process. Oftentimes, great candidates leave in the first months of the job if they find they aren’t growing. A large part of a successful hiring process is following it through these first moments at the company.

The Main Take-away

To find the ideal candidate and save your company money in the long run, standardize your interview process. The “A Method for Hiring” offers four steps to address all the needs of the employer, and adequately investigate candidates for fit and demonstrated potential to meet your goals. First, define the job and its qualifications. Then, look for the best candidates by asking proven talent for their recommendations and also using skilled recruiters to scout for the best people. Send all potential hires through a thorough interviewing process. Dig for details, as this is the most important stage. Finally, strive to keep the candidates that made it through the process by meeting all their real needs.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff Smart is the chairman and founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that serves Fortune 500 executives and their boards, billionaire entrepreneurs, and heads of state with its 12 offices in North America and Europe. He is the NYT bestselling author of Who, Leadocracy, and Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success. He holds his Ph.D. in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University where he was a student of Peter F. Drucker.

Randy Street is the managing partner of ghSMART. At the company, he helps executives find and develop top talent to join their teams and make a real impact on the world. A popular keynote speaker, he speaks on leadership topics to companies and executives. Prior to joining ghSMART, he was the EVP of Sales and Marketing for EzGov.


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