Book Reviews

Book Reviews


Book Review. Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street


By Stephen Northcutt
book_review_who_postOn the flight to Seattle, I finished Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. It is about one subject only, hiring. Easy read with a nice blend of research (and it is well researched) and stories to drive home the points. The basic concept is to focus on hiring "A" employees; the best and avoid "B" and "C" employees for the critical jobs.

Key points:

  • Don’t do anything till you know what the job position “looks like”. A job description is usually not enough, our organization owes potential applicants an understanding of what success looks like. They call it a scorecard. Scorecards set expectations, give a basis to monitor progress over time, define objectives for annual reviews, can be used at the team rating level as well (how many A players do we have). We fill out the scorecard throughout the process. This helps when you have to decide between two qualified applicants, which one is really best. A scorecard has the mission (why the role exists), outcomes (3 – 8 specific, measurable), competencies (not just skills but cultural stuff as well - people have to “fit in”), test to make sure scorecard is in alignment with other business plans.
  • Source. We have to find a pool of applicants, what is the quality of the pool (how many potential A players). Referrals have the highest degree of success, every executive should spend some time building a professional and personal network. Sometimes a reward system for employees to find talent can work. Discussion on hiring outside recruiters and researchers for high end jobs, it will only work if they “get” the culture.
  • Select as many as four interviews for “ball handling positions”. Yes, it takes a lot of time, however, how much time does dealing with a loser take after going through the effort of hiring, training and then terminating and replacing?
    • First is a screening process, weed out applicants that can’t succeed. Don’t hire a generalist, hire a specialist who can do the specific job you need done. Send “B and C” players home unless this is a repeatable task type job (B players are preferred if 90% of the job is making system backups, A players will get bored and leave). Questions: What are your career goals; what are you really good at professionally; what are you not so good at, or not interested in professionally; who were your last five bosses and how will they rate you on a 1 – 10 scale WHEN we talk to them. Probe throughout the interview -“tell me more”, what, how. Hit the gong quickly if you realize this is not going to be a fit, terminate the interview (story about a guy how hit his previous CEO in the face which is the reason he is looking for a job, in his life he is most proud of being the leader in penalties for his hockey team; thank you very much, and goodbye).
    • Topgrading interview, focus is on finding the A player. What were you hired to do in your last job? What accomplishments are you most proud of in previous jobs? What were some of the low points during that job (and don’t let them off the hook, there are always low points). Who were the people you worked with by name? What will they tell me about your strengths and weaknesses? If you were a manager, how would you rate the team when you took over and how would you rate them when you left? Did you fire anybody? Why did you leave that job? Be certain you can answer the three Ps, Performance, output compared to Plan, Peers.
    • Focused interview, a deeper dive into potential A candidates. This is usually to explore one or two competencies or outcomes that best describes success in the job position being filled. More discussion on accomplishments and past mistakes, anyone that is not willing to talk about past mistakes probably has an ego problem. Also, some significant effort to explore the cultural fit.
  • Sell, in the sales interview, keep in mind that A applicants probably have options other than your organization, you have to sell the job. Proper compensation is important, but it is probably not the deal breaker. For instance, the authors have found relocating to be a bigger issue, family has ties to the area, kids are in school, etc. Sell can’t begin at the job offer point, in some sense you have the selling part all the way through the process. Sell the fit between applicant and job and organization. Sell the freedom, we do not micromanage A players. Sell family, we are aware you have a life and respect that. Sell fortune, not just initial compensation, but what success means in five years, variable comp, etc. Sell fun, a talented person in a good fit in a great organization is going to be fun.
  • Work with HR, know the law, do not ask illegal questions, but push hard. Use standard questions that are relevant to the targeted job position.
  • Beyond hiring - don’t just hire and forget, follow up.