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Hire “A” Players (and let the others go)

dreamstime_m_49788963If your goal is to create an exceptional organization of engaged employees – to go out and win the championship – then you have to get one thing right: hiring. The good news is that most (if not all) of your competitors are getting it wrong.

Mark Murphy, author of Hiring for Attitude tracked 20,000 new hires and found that 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. Which begs the question:

Are You Hiring the Right People?

Despite such research, most organizations today make hiring decisions based on job skills. Even conversationally we tend to consider positions in relation to the person’s “qualifications.” Whether those doing the hiring don’t know how to measure attitude or they simply can’t recognize it in the process, outstandingly good hires must offer more than the ability to perform the job function. The goal of every hiring decision is to find that rare “A” Player.

“A” Players are performance-driven team members. They are motivated, engaged, innovative, and effective. They believe in self-development and maintain exceptionally high expectations of themselves and others. This, along with their proactive, self-sufficient, never-afraid-to-take-the-initiative attitude, makes them both a joy and a challenge to manage. “A” Players are the All-Star, the innovator, the “jack-of-all-trades,” the “Renaissance Man,” or whatever cliche your industry or sector uses to describe the team member that routinely achieves the outcomes that others only rarely attempt.

Regardless of circumstances, “A” Players have an exponential impact on your business. They are critical to start-ups and change phases because they can create momentum from nothing. “B” Players are, by contrast, those that do enough to be paid for it. They do what’s necessary but tend to focus more on office politics, self-image, hoarding information, worrying about hierarchies, keeping the “B” Players and beyond down, and the “A” Players in their corner. The “C” Players… well, you get the idea.

“I’m Going to Take My Talents to South Beach.”

 As LeBron James famously taught us, talented people want to play with other talented people. Even the most talented, well-paid, big-fan-base players have performance objectives – in LeBron’s case, championships – and they produce high energy, competitive environments, where others succeed. Every All-Star you add to the team raises the collective performance of those around them. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

Jeff Holdon, an ex-Amazon and -Groupon executive who is currently the Chief Product Officer at Uber, notably explains that “A Players hire A’s and B Players hire C’s.” Brilliant – but also troubling because most hiring practices are procedural not conative in nature. Sourcing practices are relatively uniform, screening processes are often alike, resumes are read 5 minutes beforehand, and the interview is predictable no matter how many “novel” questions get included. The result: Hiring managers often assess job skills but clearly (and consistently) miss the mark on cultural fit. The alternative:

Get Your “A” Players Involved

Without A Players governing the hiring, the capabilities of the organization get further diluted with every new hire. In a conversation with Peter Diamandis (founder of the X-Prize), Holden described his solution: Identify A Players (performers with high standards who will ruthlessly protect the culture), include them in every interview, and give them veto power over everyone. Not only will these A Players become passionate advocates of your culture, they will be culture leaders in sustaining it.

Holden summarizes a second, equally as powerful lesson by referencing the quote:

“Wars are Won by Patriots, Not Mercenaries.”

Mercenaries fight for personal gain. Patriots fight for something more important than themselves. Team members who aren’t passionate about the mission (in other words, not “A” Players) will never behave like owners (of your brand, product, vision, people, mission, etc.) and are all but guaranteed to abandon the cause when things get tough or setbacks occur. Mercenaries prevent sustainable growth.

It’s often difficult to spot a mercenary because they’re good at looking and sounding the part.

“Adequate Performance Gets a Generous Severance Package”

These are the words of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who clearly expects all-star performance from his employees. And when the performance isn’t all-star, when it’s simply adequate, then it’s time to make a cut. Sometimes it’s not the people you hire, but the people you don’t fire that impacts the organization most.

Two factors stand out for me here: 1) Firing may be the most-procrastinated task in business; and 2) Invariably, the person with the authority to fire someone is the last to know. As I’m writing this line, I’m reminded of one of the best posts I have ever read related to cutting non-performers by the blogger Rands (who’s real name is Michael Lopp of Apple and Palantir fame). As Rands puts it:

“Then There’s Jeff”

“If you’re at a growing startup, you probably already know him. He’s not a bad person. He’s not doing anything illegal or even anything blatantly wrong. But there’s something off. He’s not productive. He’s not a culture fit. He’s simply not right for your company right now. Whatever it is this person is doing it’s costing you, often much more than making a change.”

“If you’ve gotten to the point where your Jeff has become a real and recognizable problem, the bad news is it’s probably your fault.”

 “If you’re lying awake at night thinking, ‘God, Jeff is pissing me off,’ your chance at a low-cost solution probably came about three months to a year ago,” Rands says. “You had the chance to improve things but you sat and waited until it actually started to hurt.”

 “But you’re not thinking about all the other people on your team who have problems with Jeff  –  Angela and Frank who know Jeff is a problem but every day see you not doing anything about it. I guarantee you, whatever you believe Jeff is costing you, it’s really three to five times that. The non-obvious cost is all the credibility you’re losing as a leader.”

The unfortunate truth is that people who are not appropriate to your culture are ballast and they are weighing you down. When they are removed, the collective energy of the team is lifted and performance improves. Alternatively, if you release the wrong person, more ballast is added and the energy of the team sinks.

Release “Jeff” – Hire LaBron

The quality of the people you hire and keep will determine your organization’s capacity to deliver extraordinary value. Winning your championship requires highly skilled, extremely passionate, and exceptionally motivated, “A” Players. Anything else is ballast.

What are you doing to attract “A” Players? Share in the comments below.

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