In his book “Topgrading: How leading companies win by hiring, coaching and keeping the best people” (2005) Dr. Smart talks about how important it is for a company to not only hire A level talent but then keep and retain them through the years. I have had the good fortune to work for a company that was very good at this and not only did they hire and retain A players they had a very good internal training program to make sure that the A players they hired were trained and taught the new roles they moved into in order to lessen the knowledge gap and learning curve for the new position. In this environment efficiency, streamlining, being agile, having solid and well followed processes were the norm. Needless to say this is a good environment for a talented knowledge professional to work and grow in. The basic idea was to hire and surround yourself with great and talented A performers and then allow them to make decisions and drive systemic change ongoing. To me this process of hiring smart and talented people and then promoting them as next step openings become available makes a lot of sense.
Unfortunately, throughout my professional travels what I have often observed is that even in companies with great training programs and who espouse the philosophy of growing talent from within there is a strong psychological tendency to seek outside for the next professional with a briefcase (J that’s an old joke about how your own company or organization never views you as an expert or qualified candidate, even if the rest of the nation views you that way), and bypass their internal talent pool.
What a lot of the VPs and directors who are hiring do not realize is that if you have an A player on your staff who is one level lower than the position you are filling they will succeed if you put them in the position, even if they have some knowledge gaps, that is pretty much what A players do. I know, a lot of you who are reading this are scratching your heads and thinking about all the times a resource is promoted beyond their ability and wondering how that fits in. The answer is simple, they weren’t an A player or they were an A player who, inherited all B and C players and wouldn’t aggressively cull the herd.
Both competent B and lower level C performers, especially ones that are non-performing destroy any possibility of creating a high performing team. These lower talented professionals don’t create this less than successful environment on purpose, it is just that they really don’t understand the higher level connections and thought process of the A player and they end up being more of a hindrance and distractor to overall success than they are a key component to the accomplishment of overall success.
There is research study after research study that shows if you have 90+% A players in your management ranks you will be extremely successful in your team and corporate endeavors. That being said I continue to scratch my head when I see organizations with A level talent who are available to move into a next tier open position go out on a public search to fill the position. A level talent is very hard to find, and to think that you are going to be able to search outside and find it more readily than you can identify and find it in the work force that has been with you for an extended period of time is simply naive. What typically happens is that an experienced director or VP is brought in from the outside and they end up after a short amount of time showing that they are a B or low level C talent. Even more mind boggling to me is that none of the people who were responsible for bringing this less than high end performer into the organization want to admit to making a bad hire so they live with the impact an under talented manager brings to their organization. The outcome of such a decision is that their true A players are driven from the organization and they take their talents to a competitor, where they are typically extremely successful working and managing at a level their previous employer would not promote them into.
Organizations really need to take a good look at their talent retention programs and give them more than just lip service and they also need to come to the realization that all forced ranking systems do is allow for the B and C players figure out sly ways to sabotage their talent pool of A players. Like Ken Blanchard says, organizations should help all of their “employees earn a grade of an A”, in my opinion the Blanchard approach to talent management will more readily allow you to identify and distinguish between the A, B and C players in your talent pool.
© Kevin L. McLaughlin, probably cited re-use is acceptable