June 1, 2017
Who: The A Method for Hiring
My favourite column in the New York Times business section is Adam Bryant’s “Corner Office.” It’s a Q&A where Bryant interviews CEOs across a broad spectrum of industries — and without fail, he asks a question I can’t get enough of: How do you hire?
The answers range as broadly as the companies represented: a few of the interviewees offer a go-to question, many speak to the importance of ‘gut instinct,’ and some even offer slightly unorthodox approaches, like “morning-after” tests. But there is one common denominator: all CEOs admit that predicting whether a candidate will actually be successful on the job is one of the most difficult challenges in business.
I can relate — nothing fills me with a greater sense of dread than having to hire someone. (Yes, even more than having to fire someone.) “How do you hire?”, and how to improve the hiring process, are questions that I am constantly asking.
Why is hiring so hard? Because it’s a process that seems so riddled with chance and saddled with so much risk. How do you know you’re talking to the best candidates out there? How do you know that the questions you ask are the right ones? How do you weed out the professional interviewees? How will they fit in with the team? And most of all, how do you do this without eating up the precious time you need to be spending on your clients? After all, I’m hiring because I’m busy!
That’s where Randy Street and Geoff Smart — two consultants with seriously apropos last names — come to the rescue with their logical, easy-to-follow guide to searching for, interviewing and recruiting candidates. In Who: The A Method for Hiring, they researched more than 300 CEOs, business leaders and investors. They asked them what factors contributed to business success.
And what they learned is this: “management talent” is more than half the equation. Get the talent side of the equation wrong, and you’ll spend all your time dealing with a torrent of “what” issues. Get it right, and the perfect “who” will take care of all those issues for you.
The first epiphany that Street and Smart offer is to seek out the “A Players.” Rather than an “all-round athlete,” we should be seeking candidates who can accomplish the specific goals the role entails. In other words, don’t hire a generalist. Hire a specialist.
But to do this, you need to create a scorecard. This may sound like a standard job description, but it’s actually much more strategic — a scorecard clearly outlines the mission for the role, as well as the outcomes and competencies for achieving that mission. This gives interviewers a checklist that keeps you from veering too far into the “voodoo” hiring practices I know I’ve been guilty of. (I’ll admit that I’ve learned the hard way that “must love dogs” is a flawed recruitment strategy.)
Street and Smart take the scorecard one step further by breaking down the interview process to get to the heart of assessing the outcomes and competencies identified — essentially, separating the specialists from the generalists. In addition to phasing out the interviews into four components (the Screening Interview, the Who Interview, the Focused Interview and the Reference Interview), Street and Smart provide very specific questions to ask, worded precisely to get the insights you need.
The interview questions are easy to remember and to administer, and you’d be surprised how such generalized questions can lead to a meaningful response that is pertinent to any type of role or business. In fact, when applied with Street and Smart’s follow-up questions — “What?”, “How?” and “Tell me more” — you can get to the specifics behind a response quickly. Who even includes a day-long itinerary for an extensive Focused Interview session with the team that can help identify whether your selected candidate is a cultural fit.
There are a lot of great tips for sourcing candidates to keep the pipeline full, so you’re not scrambling to find someone on short notice. Street and Smart emphasize the referral strategy, always making it plainly clear that you’re on the lookout for interesting, talented individuals to join the team. For many of us, working with a recruiter can add a layer of cost that isn’t always ideal, but if that’s the preferred route, Street and Smart outline good tips for working with recruiters, too.
The final section of the book focuses on “Selling” the selected candidate so you don’t lose them before you get them on board. The Who recruitment process includes an element of selling the role throughout the sourcing and selection phases, but Street and Smart recommend that you don’t stop selling the candidate until after 100 days of employment. This helps ensure you stay focused on on-boarding and integration with the rest of the team.
Who is a worthwhile investment for the scorecard, templates and interview scripts alone. Whether you’re hiring now or not, Street and Smart’s hiring process eliminates all the guesswork for who you need on your team to achieve your strategic objectives.
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