6 Ways To Hire and Keep Great People (Especially During Challenging Times)

As a successful entrepreneur, you know the key to growth is stacking your team with high-performing A Players in roles across your organization.


Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Does your company have trouble identifying and hiring A Players? Despite best intentions, most companies only succeed in hiring A Players 25 percent of the time. That means 75 percent of their teams are lower-performing B and C Players.


As I like to say, “Create a team of high performers, and you’re likely to succeed. Keep a lot of low performers, and you’re more likely to fail.”


Topgrading’s golden formula empowers companies to identify, vet, hire, and retain high-performing A Players 85 percent of the time. These high performers are the growth fuel to achieve next-level results.


How do we do that? First, I’ll explain what Topgrading is, and why our process is the key to increasing your organization’s success.


First, what is Topgrading?

The Topgrading hiring methodology helps companies build and maintain high-performing teams through proven strategies.


Our philosophy is to pack your team with almost all “A Players” ― people in the top 10 percent of talent available for the role you’re filling and the salary you’re offering.


A Players are high performers who fit your culture and values and who you can afford to hire. It’s always a best practice to hire the best team members you can afford.


Let’s examine the characteristics of A Players.



What are the qualities of A Players?

An A Player differs from company to company and from role to role within each company, but they have common characteristics. A Players tend to be:


  • Smart: both in intellect and business savvy
  • Driven to succeed, passionate
  • Trustworthy
  • Consistent high performers
  • Adaptable; able to work with many different personalities
  • Surrounded by other high performers
  • Very hard workers
  • Resourceful; capable of overcoming obstacles
  • Effective leaders
  • Down-to-earth, well-grounded, self-aware, humble
  • Fitting your core values and culture
  • Someone you would enthusiastically rehire

Consider this as a Red Flag list. If a candidate shows weakness in any of these areas, the probability they are not an A Player increases.


If you’re wondering whether a current team member is an A Player, ask yourself: Would you enthusiastically rehire them? If the answer is “yes,” then they are!


How do A Players Benefit Your Company?

Think about what your business would be like if everyone in the organization exhibited these characteristics. Companies with high percentages of A Players enjoy:


Strong Results

A Players dramatically outperform B Players and C Players.

Reduced Costs

Companies with high percentages of A Players need fewer people to deliver the same or even better results than companies with Mixed Players. For example: A team of seven (six A Players and one B Player) will far outperform a typical team of 12 (three As, six Bs, three Cs) ― at a lower overall salary cost.


A Players prevent problems and find solutions.

Energy and Fun

A Players have it, and it’s contagious. They energize others and make work fun.


A Players attract A Players. The more you have, the easier it is to attract them.



What’s the True Cost of Hiring Mistakes?

A hiring success rate of only 25 percent A Players is costly.


Here’s why: For entry-level jobs, the cost of mis-hiring is about 1x that position’s annual pay. However, at the executive level, the role’s impactful decisions and strategies mean that mis-hires can cost 24x the position’s annual salary. That’s an expensive mis-hire!


Another factor is the time wasted – by both you and your employees – each week a B or C Player occupies a role. You lose time fixing mistakes, repairing relationships, and convincing other A Players not to leave. Multiply the hours you’re losing per week by the number of weeks that person was in the role. That’s how much time you lost.


If you’re a growth-focused leader with a team of mostly B and C Players, you’re not working at the optimal strategic level for growth. And you’re also not developing your A Players ― which offers a far higher ROI than cleaning up a C Player’s messes.


So, why do companies limp along with B and C Players, wasting time and talent? Let’s examine the most common hiring mistakes and how Topgrading solves them.


How Topgrading Addresses Four Common Hiring Mistakes

Most companies — yours likely among them — use hiring processes developed in the 1960s. How can you expect to hire today’s A Players using outdated methods?


With low levels of operational excellence throughout the hiring process, it’s not surprising that most companies only get hiring right 25 percent of the time. Implementing Topgrading processes and tools can help dramatically increase the hiring success rate, doubling or even tripling the percentage of A Players you hire.


Here are the four most significant hiring problems—and how Topgrading addresses them.



Problem #1: Unclear Target

Most companies use vague position descriptions with few specifics about performance expectations.

Topgrading Solution: The Job Scorecard provides a clear, highly detailed picture of the A Player for your role.


Problem #2: Questionable Candidate Data

It’s difficult to discern an A Player from a C Player using only a resume. Intentionally or not, resumes often do not tell the whole truth. They’re a highlight reel.

Topgrading Solution: We procure reliable information by motivating candidates using a time-tested technique to be open and transparent throughout the interview process.


Problem #3: Shallow Interviews

There’s very little structure in the typical interview process. It’s likely one of the only company processes where the manager in charge has free reign.

Topgrading Solution: The Topgrading interview is an in-depth, chronological review of a candidate’s education and work history, giving a comprehensive picture of each candidate.


Problem #4: Weak Verification

Many companies don’t even check references.

Topgrading Solution: Candidates arrange reference calls with former managers.



By fixing those four problems, hiring results improve dramatically!


Topgrading case studies show the average improvement for successfully hiring A Players goes from 26 percent before Topgrading to 85 percent after implementing our processes.


Let’s dive into the six Topgrading methods that will make you a hiring expert.



Method 1: The Topgrading Job Scorecard

The Topgrading methodology will significantly improve your hiring success rate with tools engineered and proven to improve hiring results. The first such tool is the detailed Job Scorecard.


The Topgrading Job Scorecard describes precisely what an A Player looks like for your specific role. It includes:


  •  Key criteria and technical skills for applicant screening
  • Measurable accountabilities the candidate must deliver to be considered an A Player
  • Company core values to ensure culture fit
  • Key and important competencies an A Player in the role must exhibit

A finalized Job Scorecard includes every requirement a person must meet to be considered an A Player for your open role. This is extremely helpful if multiple people are screening for the position because the Job Scorecard tells them precisely who they’re looking for.


Method 2: Ensuring Reliable Candidate Information

Now that you know who you’re looking for, let’s inject some truth serum into the process. We do this in two ways.


  1.  Candidate-Arranged Reference Checks. Candidates know early in the process that they will be asked to arrange reference calls with former managers. It’s like magic: Low performers drop out, while high performers happily arrange the calls. We can then rely on what candidates tell us because they know it’ll be verified.
  2. Full Education and Career History. We ask for the candidate’s complete education and career history before the Topgrading Interview. This history must include the company and position title, manager information, starting and final compensation (where legal to do so), start and stop dates, manager performance ratings, and the reason for leaving every role in every company they’ve worked for since high school. This sets you up to conduct a thorough interview.

Method 3: Finding A Player Candidates During the Pandemic

Successful business leaders always have an eye out for A Players. If you’ve seen them in action or a trusted source refers them, in effect, they’re pre-screened.


My highest recommendation for finding A Players is to recruit from your networks. Especially in times of global uncertainty, that’s the most effective way to connect with passive candidates.


The A Players you’re looking for most likely still have jobs. Companies tend to be thoughtful about layoffs, working hard to keep their best people. A Players who are working may be less motivated to actively seek a new job now ― even if their job isn’t a perfect fit.


If you post a job opening online, you’ll receive more applicants than before the pandemic, but as a percentage there will be fewer A Players among them.


That’s why it’s critical to get connected with passive candidates. Work your networks!


Once you identify two or three people who make it through your screening steps and still have a high probability of being an A Player, it’s time to slow the process down and get to know your candidates deeply with a tandem Topgrading interview.


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Method 4: The Tandem Topgrading Interview

How do you decide which of your final candidates will become your next high-performing team member?
By learning their behavior patterns and performance indicators. The tandem Topgrading interview is the ideal tool for discovering these.


The candidate’s education and career history serves as the outline for your tandem Topgrading interview. This is a chronological, in-depth, structured interview that enables you to truly know a candidate by revealing behavior patterns across many years. You’ll gather thousands of data points by using the Job Scorecard to rate their competency.


This interview method requires two interviewers. One asks questions and takes some notes while the other takes a lot of notes and offers follow-up questions in four areas: education, work history, plans and goals for the future, and self-appraisal.


We talk through the candidate’s entire work history during the interview, starting with questions about high school and proceeding in chronological order. We ask several questions about each former role, exploring high and low points, relationships with their team and managers, and what they liked or disliked. We move quickly through the early years, then go in-depth about the past 10 years.


Why chronological order? Because it’s easier to understand their patterns of behavior, decision-making process, and whether they’ve closed competency gaps apparent in their earlier career.


The Topgrading interview provides more than a thousand data points about a candidate, revealing very accurately whether or not they have the skills and competencies to be an A Player in your open role.


If you’re confident that your candidate is an A Player, ask them to arrange reference calls with former managers.


Why We Ask Candidates To Arrange Reference Calls

Once we know the candidate well and believe their behavior patterns point toward being a high performer, we need to verify what we’ve heard.


In Topgrading, we ask candidates to arrange reference calls with former managers from the past 10 years. Because these managers expect your call, we have an 85 percent success rate in connecting with references.


The interviewers must conduct the reference checks themselves because they heard the details about each former role. You might mention that the candidate shared a mistake they made to help references open up about gaps or weaknesses.


If all goes well, you’ve identified an A Player, verified their story, offered them a job, and they’ve accepted.


Now what?

Method 5: Onboarding A Players

How do you properly onboard an A Player? The Job Scorecard is, once again, your go-to tool.


It describes everything an employee needs to do and how they must behave to meet or exceed expectations in their role.


Ideally, on your new hire’s first day, sit down and talk through the Job Scorecard. Address areas of weakness, discuss competency gaps, and lay out a development plan. A Players appreciate clearly articulated expectations.


Follow-up regularly to discuss their progress after one week, two weeks, 30, 60, and 90 days, and quarterly thereafter. Nip any competency gaps in the bud immediately. Your goal is to get that person performing at their highest level as quickly as possible.


There’s one more method we want to share with you. While it’s new territory for most of us, the hiring experts at Topgrading have decades of experience with it: How to successfully conduct a virtual interview.



Method 6: Virtual Interview Best Practices

Many of us never conducted a virtual interview before 2020, but with no end to the pandemic in sight, it’s a skill worth learning. Following are our best practices to help you ace this new way of getting to know your candidates:


1. Establish a Plan B. Exchange cell phone numbers so that if technology fails, you can reconnect.
2. Prepare properly. Read their resume, review the Job Scorecard, and share the interview length, including scheduled breaks, with the candidate. Provide guidance on attire by saying something like, “I’ll be in business casual attire.”
3. Look professional. Make sure your background is professional: No spouses, kids or pets wandering around. Position your web camera at eye level in a setting with good lighting.
4. Connect through small talk. This is the most significant difference in virtual interviews: You have to make more effort to connect through small talk. In person, small talk opportunities abound, but they don’t always happen virtually. Be thoughtful about it before the interview commences and before resuming after scheduled breaks.
5. End on a high note. Closing a virtual call can seem abrupt. Cushion it a bit by letting the candidate know the next steps and expected timing for your next communication.



After the Hire: The Topgrading Advantage Continues

The Topgrading methodology takes the guesswork out of hiring. As you hire more A Players, you attract even more A Players. Teams of A Players with fewer members outperform mixed Player teams with more members.


Your employee costs go down as growth spirals upward.


But that’s not the end of the Topgrading advantage. Once you learn to hire well, you can promote well. The detailed Job Scorecard for every role in your company will empower you to manage performance well and become a much better coach – accelerating growth even further.


And thanks to Topgrading, you and your team packed with A Players are well on your way to next-level success!



Triple Your Success At Hiring High Performers In Just 8 Weeks!

Your organization is only as strong as its people. That's why even a few critical mis-hires can cost you millions in wasted money and thousands of wasted hours! 


We've teamed up with Dr. Brad Smart to give you Topgrading methodology — regarded as the most effective hiring method on the planet — in the form of the Topgrading Master Business Course!

This program is designed to help you make the best decisions in your search for the best people at key roles in your business.


You'll accomplish greater hiring success rates and more in just 8 weeks of in-depth coaching and instruction!


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Learn how the Topgrading Master Business Course can walk you through the best methods to pack your team with A Players, today!