Building An 'A' Team: It Starts With The Hiring Process

Steve Jobs was a master at many things. He built Apple into a multi-billion giant, and he did it in large part because of the people he hired. His goal, he said, was to hire people who were creative, wickedly smart, and slightly rebellious to help him build "the company that would invent the future."

To say that he met his goal would be a gross understatement. In Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson quotes his subject as saying, "I've learned over the years that, when you have really good people, you don't have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A-plus players like to work together, and they don't like it if you tolerate B work."

Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D., echoes that view in his book, Top Grading. He defines "topgrading" as an organization with A players.  That, he adds, usually involves removing chronic B and C players, those employees who don't put forth an effort to become A players. "Companies packed with A players mercilessly annihilate companies burdened with B/C players," he writes. "It's inevitable, and it's happening at an accelerated pace."

Take a minute and look at the people around you. Are they A players? Or are they B and C players? A players are motivated, creative, and have high expectations for themselves and for others. B and C players, on the other hand, often do just enough to get by and to be paid for it.

The question now becomes, how do you find and hire A players? Service leaders typically hire one out of 50 people they interview; they are very selective. Too many organizations are in a hurry and don't want to spend any more time than necessary interviewing and hiring employees. They conduct one interview with a candidate before making a job offer.

I recommend that you involve other people in the interview process, especially if they're going to be working with the new hire. This is a critical for two reasons. It gives you their input, and it gets their commitment to the success of the person you hire.

Ron Johnson, former senior vice president of Retail Operations for Apple, Inc. and recently named CEO of JC Penney Company, says that in order to find mission-driven employees you should conduct as many as eight interviews. I wholeheartedly agree. And Vernon Hill, former CEO of Commerce Bank and co-founder of Metro Bank London, says he never moves to a second interview if the applicant didn't smile during the first one. "The strategy," he says, is to hire outgoing people pleasers; then we train, train, and train."

So what should you look for during an interview? Look for people who smile, are enthusiastic, and have a good attitude and a neat appearance. Develop a list of questions to use during each interview, so you get answers that are easy to compare and evaluate among applicants.

Ask questions that require more than "yes" or "no" answers, ones that will require applicants to share real experiences. What are your strongest points--and your weakest points? What was your biggest failure, and what would you have done differently? What do you think you can bring to this position? Describe a situation, and then ask the candidate to explain how he or she would handle it.

If you want to be a service leader and reap the financial rewards that designation brings with it, pack your organization with A players. They will drive your organization to new heights.

John Tschohl, the internationally recognized service strategist, is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a "customer service guru," he has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer-service programs that have been distributed throughout the world. John's monthly strategic newsletter is available online.

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