The Best Way to Hire Star Performers

Dave Logan

Here is an article written by Dave Logan for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

*     *     *

At least once a week, someone contacts me about a great new method of finding star performers.  Most turn out to be rehashed old news that is both boring and ineffective.  When I met with the author and organizational psychologist, Brad Smart, I learned about TopGrading, I took notice.  Brad is onto something.

I’ll say from the start I have no business interest in Brad or his company, and my only motivation in writing about it here is to share something truly effective with the BNET community.

Brad’s system has a lot of working parts, but here’s the gold I took from it:

1. Identify the areas in which you need the candidate to be a star.
2. Identify candidates through your networks of people.
3. Ask each one to say how his/her past supervisors would rate his/her effectiveness in each of those areas you identified.
4. Ask the candidate to arrange for those past supervisors to call you, and in those chats, ask about the candidate’s abilities in each of the areas.

Although I’m a leadership guy and not an HR specialist, I’ve been to my share of training on how big companies stay out of court.  One of the best ways to avoid getting sued is to never give any feedback about past employees. I pointed out the objection to Brad.  “Why would any past employers ever agree to that,” I asked him.

In response, he asked me a question: “What if someone who used to work for you–an absolute star–asked you to do them a favor and call a potential employer.  Would you do it?”  The answer for every star I had worked with: “absolutely.”

He wasn’t done.  “But what if a B or C player asked you do it.  Would you?”  I’d been snared by his logic.  “Probably not.”

“And what would you say to the past employee,” Brad asked.  “I’d say it was against policy.”

There’s a lot more to TopGrading, but this little bit can save you headaches.  Stars can get past employers to tell you about their performance.  It’s a red flag if the employer’s evaluations are considerably different from what the candidate said.  You might be dealing with a lack of self-awareness, or an inability to assess feedback.

It’s a bigger red flag if the candidate can’t arrange these calls.  It may mean you’re dealing with a B player.  It may also mean the past employers aren’t willing to say anything good.  Either way, passing on the candidate now is better than having to deal with a problem employee tomorrow.

Ever thought you hired a star and got a turkey instead?  If so, I hope you’ll share the experience below.

*     *     *

Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He has served on the USC faculty since 1996, and teaches leadership and management at the Marshall School of Business. From 2001-2004, he was Associate Dean of Executive Education. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997. The firm consults with dozens of Fortune 500 companies, major nonprofits, and governments worldwide. He has a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School at USC. Learn more about Tribal Leadership by clicking here. Follow Dave on Twitter @davelogan1.


Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.