Topgrading® is a recruitment and interviewing philosophy developed by Bradford D. Smart.
It is a highly structured approach which is designed to ensure that only the highest performers – what Smart calls “A” players are hired. According to Smart, Topgrading is “the practice of creating the highest quality workforce by ensuring that talent acquisition and talent management processes focus on identifying, hiring, promoting, and retaining high performers, ‘A’ players, in the organization.” When you Topgrade, you are packing your organization with high performers at every level.
In surveys, companies report that only 20-25% of their hires are high achievers. By design, Topgrading is designed to improve this to 90%. From an organization’s standpoint, that is a huge difference. For a typical medical practice, if each staff position was filled with an “A” player then patient care, employee satisfaction, and financial returns would be significantly enhanced. Topgrading has been used for years in organizations like GE, Honeywell, and the American Heart Association.
The language of Topgrading refers to A, B & C employees. An “A” player is defined as someone who is in the top 10 percent of the talent available for the job; “B” players are the next 25 percent; and “C” players are in the bottom 65 percent. The reality is that “A” employees won’t work for long for “B” and “C” players, if at all. Therefore, you need to make sure your leadership and hiring team are “A” players themselves.
Smart’s book “Topgrading” is a 650 page fact and example filled read. His son, Geoff who works with him, has written a more easily digestible book called “Who.” In this book, Smart and his co-author Randy Street lay out their process for hiring “A” players. In this disciplined approach, there are four key components –
(a) Creating a scorecard for performance for the role
(b) Sourcing for the slots to fill
(c) Selecting the right employee through structured interviews
(d) Selling “A” players on the opportunity.
In developing a scorecard, you want to define the mission of the job. This is an executive summary of the job’s core purpose. The scorecard should also define the outcomes which define what must get done by the person in this role. This is like a job description but focuses on outcomes versus activities. Finally, the scorecard details out the competencies needed in the job which define how you expect a new employee to operate in fulfilling the job and achieving the outcomes. This process should also include an analysis of the culture of the organization so you know if someone is going to be a good fit.
Sourcing quality candidates is a key component of Topgrading. The first choice is to source through your personal and professional networks. “A” players know other “A” players so ask them first. Smart and Street encourage employers to make sourcing of quality candidates part of the responsibilities of employment. This helps turn your team into talent scouts. Smart and Street also encourage employers to think about their sourcing on a regular basis. Like many other things in life, if you wait until you need it then you are probably too late!
The interview process itself is obviously a key part of the Topgrading methodology. Smart and Street recommends in “Who” a four step process of a screening interview, a Topgrading Interview, a focused interview, and a reference interview. This is a very structured process. For example, in the screening interview, Smart recommends the following questions: (a) What are your career goals? (b) What are you really good at professionally, (c) What are you not good at or doing professionally? and (d) Who were your last five bosses and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale and when can we talk to them?
One of the key aspects of this system is that you ask interviewees to coordinate reference conversations with prior employers. This creates a reality check and it allows you to actually get meaningful information from prior employers versus the typical employment confirmation only. This “threat” of reference check helps ensure honesty in the interview process.
Smart and Street suggests that after your interviews you want to decide if you want to continue with the interview process. They recommend evaluating candidates on both their skill and their “will” for the job. They suggest that you know you have the right hire when (1) you are 90 percent or more confident that a candidate can get the job done because his or her skills match the outcomes on your scorecard, and (2) you are 90 percent or more confident that candidate will be a good fit because his or her will matches the mission and competencies of the role.
Finally, you sell the potential “A” employee on the what Smart and Street call the 5 F’s of selling – fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun. They encourage employers to make sure that they are consistently selling potential “A” candidates through the process and are purposeful in what they are communicating about the opportunity.
While all of this may seem time intensive, it is consistent with the philosophy of “hire slow and fire fast.” In reality, we tend to do the opposite. We have an interview or two, maybe check a reference, and hope for the best. Once hired, even “C” employees tend to linger around because of the headache involved in firing people. In your business, every role is important, regardless of wage. I encourage you to learn more about Brad and Geoff Smarts’ work in Topgrading and invest the time and energy and creating an all-star “A” team.