How to Hire A-Players: The Winning Formula for Building an All-Star Team

When Jack Welch retired from GE after 20 years as CEO, he received a severance payment of $417 million, the largest such payment in business history up to that point. You may wonder how you qualify for such a lofty payout? Here was Jack’s key to success…

At the time, GE was a conglomerate made up of a number of different companies in a number of disparate industries. One of their core competencies was developing general managers who made these business winners. In short, under Welch, GE was in the people development business. Hiring strong talent was key to their success.

Hiring is so critical to a successful business that Jack had this to say about the subject in his book, Winning:

“Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard. And yet nothing matters more in winning than getting the right people on the field.”

Wouldn’t it be great if you could borrow some of the strategies Jack Welch refined at GE? 

That hiring process, mastered by titans of industry like Jack Welch, delivers powerful results. Results that can scale your business to new heights. 

The success is built on the Topgrading approach developed by Brad Smart, Chief Human Resources Manager at GE during Jack Welch’s tenure. Brad’s son, Geoff Smart, has refined his dad’s work for scaleups and documented his approach in Who – The A Method for Hiring. These principles are at the very core of the Scaling Up framework.

Identifying and Hiring A-Players

Brad Smart defines an A-Player as someone in the top 10% of the available talent pool who is willing to accept your specific offer. A-Players share these traits: 1) Self-starters, they do not need to be managed, 2) Innovators, consistently wow the team with results and perspective, and 3) Like-minded, they model your values.

Geoff Smart lays out four sequential interviews, tried and tested by many of my clients, that provide a robust process to weed out inefficient C-players and help you hire more A-Players.

Screening Interviews

It starts with a short phone or video-based Screening Interview. The purpose of this interview is to weed out candidates that are obviously not a good fit and not worth your time. Sample questions include:

  1. What are your career goals?
  2. What are you good at professionally?
  3. What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  4. Who were your last three to five bosses and how will they each rate your performance on a one to ten scale when we talk to them?

It’s vital to this process that you make it clear your review will start with talking to their references. This serves as truth serum and will weed out C-players.

Who Interviews

Those that pass the Screening Interview move to the Who Interview. This is a chronological walk through of a person’s career starting with early positions, within the last 15 years, up until their most recent. Ask these five questions for each prior position:

  1. What were you hired to do?
  2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  3. What were some of your low points during that job?
  4. Who were the people you worked with – team and boss?
  5. Why did you leave that job?

The Who Interview is typically conducted by the hiring manager and can take from 30 minutes to two hours depending on the position and the candidate’s work history. The Who Interview creates data points and establishes patterns of behavior which empower a hiring manager to make predictions about how the candidate is likely to perform.

Focused Interviews

The Focused Interviews are for those who make it through the Who Interview. This interview cements your ability to predict whether you believe the candidate can do the job. At this stage of the hiring process, your team is focused on identifying Functional Accountabilities, Competencies, and Values Fit. These are all components of a job scorecard.

Learn more about the Job Scorecard in this webinar replay.

In short, Functional Accountabilities are the outcomes you expect, competencies are the skills required, and values are your organization’s core values. All three combine to be vital cogs in a well-oiled machine. 

When conducting Focused Interviews, it’s important to ask behavioral-based interview questions about each Functional Accountability, Competency, Value, and other potential areas of concern. Focused Interviewing can happen in one meeting or be spread out across multiple meetings with multiple interviewers contributing. 

This step is not complete until the hiring manager can place a score (based on a scale of 1-10) on each functional accountability, competency, and value. 

Dive deeper with these concepts by watching the Scaling Up Hiring Webinar Replay

Reference Interviews

The final step in the process is the Reference Interview. Use these questions when talking with the candidate’s former managers:

  • In what context did you work with this person? 
  • What were their biggest strengths? 
  • What were their biggest areas of improvement at that time?
  • How would you rate their performance in the job on a 1-10 scale? What about their performance causes you to give that rating?
  • The candidate mentioned they struggled with <BLANK> on the job, can you tell me more about that?

As Jack Welch said, hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard. This four-interview process, anchored by the job scorecard, will increase your chances at finding winning team members while providing an effective measure of results.

Key Takeaways

  • Hire for A-Players
  • Recognize that finding A-Players requires a process; learn more about that process in the Scaling Up Hiring Webinar.
  • The threat of a reference check will serve as truth serum and weed out C-Players
  • Master the four types of interviews
  • Be diligent during the reference checking process.

Okay, now what?

Have some thoughts or feedback about these concepts? Send me an email, I’d love to hear them!

Schedule a Call

Get in touch

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.