Scaling Up Talent: Hiring A-Players

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. While many will marvel at the size of the payment, few will consider that under Welch's leadership, GE experienced unprecedented growth and profitability.

At the time, GE was a conglomerate made up of a number of different companies in a number of disparate industries. The links connecting these companies were mainly name only. But one of their core competencies was developing general managers who made these business winners.  In short GE, under Welch, focused heavily on people development. Hiring strong talent was key to their success.

Here is what Jack had to say about hiring 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.”

As a business leader, you understand how difficult it is to hire the right people. The hiring process feels like finding a needle in a haystack. The process is often tedious and filled with disappointment. And yet Welch and companies like GE build their empires off the foundation of hiring A-players. 

Wouldn’t you love access to some of their hiring best practices? We’ve got them for you. 

Welch’s hiring process was built on the Topgrading approach developed by Brad Smart, Chief Human Resources Manager at GE during Jack Welch’s tenure. 

The steps have since been refined by Brad’s son, Geoff Smart. This effective approach has been detailed in Who - The A Method for Hiring.  If you are familiar with the Scaling Up Framework, you’ll recognize the principles.

What is an A-Player and How Do you Identify Them?

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 critical traits: 

1) They do not need to be managed
When team members don’t need to be managed, it frees you and those around them up to focus on their own work. 

2) They consistently wow the team with results and perspective
A-players add value to your organization in every aspect of their jobs.

3) They model your values
A productive team member is only valuable if they are adhering to your culture guide and reinforcing the values that the company was built upon. 

Building Your Team: Hiring A-Players 

The Smarts created four sequential interviews, tried and tested by many of my clients, that provide a robust process to weed out C-players and help you hire more A-Players. When following these steps, not only will you feel more confident about the A-Players you’re hiring, but you will also inspire confidence in your new hires. 

The Screening Interview
The purpose of this phone or Zoom 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 3 to 5 bosses and how will they each rate your performance on a 1 to 10 scale when we talk to them?

An important part of the process is to make it clear you will be talking with references. You don’t want to waste your time with C-players who know the right things to say, but won’t back it up once employed.

The Who Interview
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.  This interview is best performed in person.

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 a more in-depth review process and is typically conducted by the hiring manager. Because of the more thorough nature of The Who Interview, this can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the position and the candidate's work history.  

Important: The Who Interview creates data points and patterns of behavior which empower a hiring manager to make predictions about how the candidate is likely to perform.

The Focused Interviews 

For those who make it through the Who Interview, they move on to Focused Interviews. These interviews cement your ability to predict whether you believe the candidate can do the job.
This interview is focused on 

  • Functional Accountabilities (The outcomes that define winning).
  • Competencies (The make-up of the person).
  • Values Fit (The culture fit of the candidate).

These are all components of a job scorecard.

View the webinar about Scaling Up Talent!

In short, Functional Accountabilities are the outcomes you expect, competencies are the skills required, and values are your firm’s core values.

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.  

Your questions should be open ended and force the candidate to provide a specific situation, the action taken, and the result achieved.  You should uncover both strengths and weaknesses through your questions.

Reference Interviews
The final step in the interview process is the Reference Interview. 

Use these questions when talking with the candidate's former managers:

  1. In what context did you work with this person? 
  2. What were their biggest strengths? 
  3. What were their biggest areas of improvement at that time?
  4. How would you rate their performance in the job on a 1 to 10 scale?  What about their performance causes you to give that rating?
  5. 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 hardhiring great people is brutally hard. This four-interview process, anchored by the job scorecard, will increase your chances while providing an effective measure of results.

Key Takeaways

  • Hire for A-Players
  • Recognize that finding A-Players requires a process
  • 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.

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