FAQ Categories

All questions are answered by Brad Smart, founder of Topgrading, Inc.

  • Topgrading Definitions
  • Q:  What exactly is Topgrading?
    A:  Topgrading is the practice of creating the highest quality workforce by ensuring that talent acquisition and talent management processes focus on identifying, hiring, promoting, and retaining high performers, A Players, in the organization at every salary level.  We created the word Topgrading to encompass the world’s most proven, most effective hiring methods, but more:  It’s also the best practices for promoting people, coaching, and retaining top talent.

    Q:  What is the Topgrading Vision?
    A:  Our vision is to Topgrade the World.  Our goal is for Topgrading to be the accepted Best Practice for hiring and promoting people throughout the world. Perhaps the world’s businesses and non-profits would perform better, grow more, hire more people, and contribute to stronger economies.  We see the use of our 12 Topgrading Hiring Steps, what problem they solve, and what skills solve them, as key to our success. 

    Our second vision is to see you, assuming you are a hiring manager, to improve your success picking talent so that your career, your organization, your balance in life, will all be a little bit better.  Topgrading Pprofessionals continue to be used to offer “second opinions” on positions reporting to the CEO, but for more than 10 years my vision has been to make Topgrading Professionals’ interviews unnecessary for 95% of all jobs.


    Q:  How do you define success by hiring using Topgrading methods?
    A:  Hiring success means achieving 75% (preferably 90%) high performers in every job. About 15 years ago, thanks to the work I did with several Global 500 companies, we proved that managers like you can be almost as good as Topgrading Professionals when hiring and promoting people.  Since my profession for three decades had been interviewing candidates for hire or promotion, I effectively put myself out of the screening business (and into the training business). Experienced Topgraders frequently say that Topgrading is just “common sense,” but it’s not common sense to:

    Use two interviewers, using a four-hour chronological interview as the major practice in hiring, promoting, and auditing talent. After all three applications are part of a company's culture, with up to 90% of those hired and promoted turning out to be high performers, of course such rigor seems "obvious."  And when managers want to do a talent inventory, an audit to figure out who are their A, B, and C Players, and who has the greatest potential, it seems "obvious" to use the same technique as used for hiring and promoting!  (The only difference between hiring and promoting or auditing is that external references are checked for hiring, but the Topgrading interviewers actually talk with internal bosses, peers, and subordinates when using Topgrading for promoting or auditing.) These methods require rigor; 90% hiring and promoting success has only been achieved when the interviewers are trained and follow the Topgrading interview guides.

    Measure percent high performers hired and promoted, or measure costs of mis-hires and mis-promotions. Although business people say, "If it's important, we have to measure it," and "talent is our most important asset," no company we have ever seen, surveyed, or heard of has systematically measured how successful they were at hiring and promoting people.  In a meeting of Global 100 heads of HR, only Topgrading companies disclosed rigorous methods for measuring success.  And when asked, the Global 100 heads of HR admitted that 75%+ of the people they hired or promoted into managements jobs were mistakes.

    Expect candidates to arrange personal reference calls with former bosses (and others). After all, most companies prohibit their people from even taking reference calls.  But the simple truth is A Players do get their former associates to accept those reference calls.  Why does it work?  Former bosses of A Players are not at all worried that because they might say something negative about their former A Player, that A Player won't get a job and sue.  Fact: In 30 years and hundreds of companies performing this step, 40+ Topgrading Professionals have never heard of any legal issue. None!

    Expect managerial candidates for hire or promotion to participate in a four-hour Topgrading Interview. High performers love the chronological interview, the walk down memory lane in which they are asked to describe all their wonderful successes and triumphs.  In addition to the ego trip, they understand that by participating in the thorough Topgrading hiring or promoting steps, there is a very good chance they will succeed in the job (if offered, obviously), and with the huge amount of information about them their new boss will be able to coach them to a) assimilate smoothly into the job; b) perform well; and c) continue a career development process right now — within weeks of joining the company.

    Be able to keep in mind and rate candidates accurately on 50 competencies. If you're not a Topgrader, you know you wouldn't be able to track 50 competencies, right?  But in two-day Topgrading Workshops every manager actually does it. How can this be possible?  Because in the Topgrading Interview there are thousands of data points.  For example, when the person describes a success 10 years ago, more than a dozen competencies are revealed.  "I got the President's award for pulling off the project," and in explaining how she did it, she shows teamwork, intelligence, drive, dedication, analysis skills, leadership, stress management, etc.

    Learn enough from a competed Topgrading Career History Form to screen out most weak candidates for hire and screen in only the best.  In our Topgrading workshops people analyze the completed form of a real person (names have been changed).  They then guess at how the fellow's real boss rated him on all 50 competencies.  People amaze themselves because most are "off" only an average of 2 points on a 10-point scale and some, without even seeing the candidate, were off by only 1 point. This fun little exercise convinces everyone that a) they can track and rate 50 competencies; and b) this Topgrading Career History Form is the best pre-selection tool on the planet.

  • About Us - How Topgrading Works
  • Q:  How do companies, hiring managers, and human resource managers benefit from Topgrading?
    A:  Let’s start with companies.  The focus of companies is to maximize benefits for shareholders:  Make more money and increase profits.  Almost all of our case studies have CEOs who say that Topgrading is a major reason why their company as a whole is actually doing better.  As for hiring managers, the benefits are that almost all high performers reporting to them perform better.  Those managers get promotions faster.  And finally, our experience over the years has shown that Topgrading managers enjoy a lot better balance in life.  How?  Because they can delegate to high performers.

    Q:  What is the evidence that Topgrading hiring methods truly are the best?
    A: The 3rd edition of Topgrading release has 40 case studies and the average improvement was from 26% to 85% high performers hired and promoted throughout the company.  In Chapter 5, well-known CEOs had to personally verify the authenticity of the data on their Topgrading success — typically 25-30% hiring and promoting success improved to 85-90%.  Topgrading case study CEOs say in their own words that Topgrading made their company more successful. No hiring methodology can point to a fraction of Topgrading’s proven, documented success.

    Q:  Why do Topgrading hiring methods work so much better than any other methods?
    A:  We’ve identified 12 steps to success in the Topgrading hiring process:
    1.  Measure company hiring success and the cost of mis-hires to your company.
    2.  Create a Job Scorecard for measurable accountabilities.
    3.  Recruit from ads and referrals from A Players in your network.
    4.  Use the Topgrading Career History Form.
    5.  Conduct Telephone Screening Interviews.
    6.  Conduct one-hour competency (behavioral) interviews with finalist candidates.
    7.  Conduct Topgrading Interviews — our “holy grail” for determining A Player candidates.
    8.  Master Advanced Interviewing Methods.
    9.  Write an Executive Summary.
    10.  Candidate arranges Reference Calls with bosses.
    11.  Coach your new hire in an on-boarding process focused on long-term growth.
    12.  Company measures hiring success one year later.

    Q:  Are Topgrading methods useful for small companies with just five employees?
    A:  Topgrading is more important for small companies than large ones.  Ninety percent of startups fail in the first year, and one bad hire can kill a company.  All the Topgrading methods work as well or better in small companies.

    Q:  How can Topgrading methods be used for entry-level jobs?
    A:  Topgrading works at all levels, even entry level.  For three decades I just focused on refining the methods to hire upper-level managers and it worked.  With General Electric (and Jack Welch) as the laboratory, we developed the Topgrading methods that enable any manager who is not a C Player to hire not just “okay” people, but 90% high performers.  But clients asked us to simplify the methods for mid-managers, and then individual performers, and, most recently, for entry-level employees.  The early case studies confirm that Topgrading methods are the best on the planet for hiring entry-level employees.  Hire more high performers and you can achieve high performance with fewer employees.  Bill McGill, CEO MarineMax, said, “When a prospect enters a MarineMax store, eager to buy a yacht, the receptionist must be an A Player, friendly and professional.  We’ve Topgraded the Receptionist position as diligently as every other job.”

    For a year we worked with Roundy’s, a Midwestern grocery chain, developing methods in anticipation of their opening Mariano’s Fresh Market, their new concept.  Don Rosanova, EVP Operations, said, “Some of the most frequent comments we hear about the store are, ‘your people are great!’  Using the Topgrading process really made a difference on how and who we hired. My thanks to you (Brad) for pushing and guiding us in the right direction.  It made the Mariano’s Fresh Market come alive.”

    Mike Mellinger runs one of Home Instead’s 800 caregiver franchises, and worked with us to develop a Caregiver Scorecard, Caregiver Career History Form, and Caregiver Topgrading Interview Guide.  Mike said,  “The early results are that we are doubling our hiring success!”

    Q: How do I implement Topgrading?
    A:   For individuals, consider attending our quarterly two-day Topgrading Workshop.  For small companies, send all key managers to our Topgrading Workshop.  If you are a large company, send two key managers to our Topgrading Workshop, and then run internal workshops conducted by Topgrading Professionals.  In addition, consider our new Topgrading Toolkit model in which internal trainers use the toolkit.

    Every organization is unique, and we are poised to explore the most cost-effective approach for you and your company.  Arrange for a call with Brad Smart or another Topgrading Professional by calling 847-244-5544.

    Q:  What are common roadblocks to implementing Topgrading?
    A:  The single biggest impediment is a boss who lets people compromise on the high performer standard.  Another roadblock is C Players, who will quietly undermine Topgrading. C Players who never exhibit much creativity on the job for some reason sense that Topgrading could be a threat to them and so they huddle together and find all sorts of creative ways interfere with the implementation of Topgrading.  Of course we have some ways that we recommend that you use in order to combat the C Players.

    Q:  I’m a huge supporter of Topgrading, but my company won’t embrace it; what do I do?
    A:  Stealth Topgrading!  You have several options:

    1. Consider the ultimate “stealth” Topgrading action – quitting.  If you stay in a C Player company, with a C Player CEO who won’t even permit a Topgrading beta test, you will be forced to hire and promote mediocre people and you’ll be stifled every time you try to replace a low performer with a high performer.  Your performance will suffer, you’ll spend dozens of hours every week sweeping up after low performers, and your career will be less successful.

    2. Ask to conduct a Topgrading "beta test."  First, focus on your A Players, who will quickly embrace the chance to excel at their jobs. To initially expose them to the ideas, get them to download the free 50-page eBook,Topgrading 101: Avoid Costly Mis-Hires. Next, consider sending a couple of A Players to a quarterly Topgrading Workshop. Finally, consider a pilot project launched with an internal workshop, or roll out Topgrading throughout the organization if a critical mass of A Players is supportive. As a manager, you can Topgrade your team and you will find your life improves dramatically, because your team no longer drags you down. And, as it becomes obvious to others that your team is functioning much better than others’ or than it used to be, you’ll find your peers asking you for advice on how to improve their teams.

    3. If all else fails, quietly use Topgrading methods as best you can.  If you can’t get permission to even try the Topgrading Career History Form in a beta test, too bad – you’ll be wasting a lot of time screening people from their resumes, and C Players always hype and fudge their resumes.  But sharp managers have said that they have at least been able to “get away” with conducting the Topgrading Interview, the most powerful Topgrading tool.  Companies almost always schedule a series of one-hour competency interviews, and the stealth Topgrader quietly pairs off with another A player and they perhaps go out for a long lunch to conduct the full tandem Topgrading Interview.  All they did was “continue asking the candidate questions over lunch.”  And after the tandem Topgrading Interview, if they want to move ahead and the candidate does, they will ask the candidate to arrange personal reference calls with former bosses.

    Q:  How do you integrate the company’s core values into Topgrading?
    A:  As you create job scorecards, just include competencies representing your core values.

    Q:  How are A Players different from B and C Players?
    A:  An A Player is someone who is in the top 10% of talent available for the job – “available” meaning at a certain comp level, in that location, in that industry, and reporting to that manager. B Players are in the next 25%, and C Players are in the bottom 65%.

    Q:  How can you tell if someone is an A, B, or C?
    A:  Ultimately you have to follow Topgrading hiring methods so you interview and reference check finalists to be sure of how much talent is “available” and willing to take the job.  Another indicator is a pattern in which the person has consistently received top performance ratings.  A third indicator is if the person is tops on key competencies.  For example, the following chart separates A, B, and C Players.

    Summary

    Q:  What is the #1 weakness of A Players?
    A:  The #1 flaw, shortcoming of most leaders is mediocre listening.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that improved listening is the single most powerful improvement most leaders can make.  Why?  Because when leaders progress from mediocre to very good listeners, their team considers them much improved as leaders overall, and specifically as motivators, team players, coaches, developers of talent, and yes — better Topgraders! Let's tweak that.  Most leaders need to improve at active listening.  Listening is just grasping what the other person said.  Active listening is playing back to the person what you heard, engaging in a dialog to really understand not just the words but what the person really meant to say, and the feelings, emotions, and passion underlying what is said.

    Q:  How can A Players fail?
    A:  Even a super A Player can fail because of:

    Bad luck.  As you know, business involves taking risk. A Players can do all the due diligence in the world to mitigate risk, but they can still fail. There are plenty of A Players at Bear Stearns, UBS, Citi, and Merrill Lynch who got terrible results and were tossed out onto the streets because of the sub-prime crisis. Hey, they all didn't cause the mess!  Bad luck comes in the form of new competitors, economic blips, terrorist acts, some country overprotecting competitors in your industry, Congress withdrawing subsidies, Supreme Court vagaries, your coming down with a nasty disease, etc.

    Bad boss(es).  I've assessed/coached 6,500 executives, each with an average of 10 jobs, and so I've asked all the Topgrading questions about all their jobs— how they succeeded/failed/made decisions/etc. I've accumulated 65,000 of those case studies. Since a high percentage of executives I interview are A Players, I've heard hundreds of examples in which really sharp executives were hindered because the boss imposed a futile strategy, refused to listen to good ideas, failed to Topgrade the rest of the team (so peers were C Players), or felt threatened and actively undermined the A Player.  Well, you say, aren’t A Players sharp enough to do due diligence and not take a job with a lousy boss?  Yes, but in a lot of cases they worked for a good boss for a couple of years and it’s when that boss left and the lousy boss was imposed on them that they could not succeed.

  • Mis-Hires and Mis-Promotions
  • Q:  What is a mis-hire or a mis-promotion?
    A:  Topgraders have quite a high standard – a good hire or promotion is someone who, after a year or so, is deemed to be an A Player, a high performer.  If someone is just “okay,” that’s a mis-hire or mis-promotion.  Typically in companies that perform talent assessments, 80% of the people are considered “good enough” not to be replaced, but upon scrutiny they are B and sometimes C Players.  When studied, many companies concluded that 75% of the people they’ve hired and promoted were mistakes – neither A Players nor A potentials.

    Q:  With Topgrading, how are people fired?
    A:  Good question, because Topgrading should never be a transitive verb, something you “do” to chronic underperformers.  Topgrading includes hiring and promoting with a Job Scorecard, with all the work accountabilities and minimum ratings on competencies, so if someone is falling short, they know it.  Then they should be given a chance to succeed. But if they fail – they fail, and most chronic low performers find another job before they are fired.  The right language is this: With Topgrading, underperformers fire themselves.

  • 12 Topgrading Hiring Steps
  • 1. Measuring Hiring Success

    Q: Are companies good at measuring the quality of the people they hire?
    A: No, they are terrible at it. Peter Drucker used to marvel at how companies are so good at measuring everything, how they say talent is their most important asset, and how they don’t measure it honestly. Most companies measure speed and cost to fill jobs, but that only means they mostly mis-hire people … but they do it fast and cheap. An American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) two-year study of quality of hires found only one company that did it well – Lincoln Financial, a Topgrading company.

    Q: Why don’t companies measure quality of hire?
    A: Honestly, the answer is that when they try, the results are so awful – typically 75% of people hired and promoted turn out to be disappointments. I met with just the #1 Human Resources executives of the largest 100 companies in the world, and they said only 20% of the managers they hire turn out to be the high performers they wanted expected, and felt they paid for … and 80% were disappointments.

    Q: What are ways to measure quality of hires and promotions?
    A: There are two simple exercises that produce compelling “guestimates,” and there are objective, accurate ways. In workshops the average attendee concludes, “Wow, every time I hire someone, including bad hires and good hires, using Topgrading methods I’ll probably put an average of $250,000 on the bottom line and I’ll perform better and get faster promotions.” Here are the exercises that lead to that conclusion:

    Exercise #1: Estimate the percent high performers hired in recent years. Ask yourself, “What percent of the people hired turned out to be high performers, A players — what was expected, with the only other category mis-hire?” Our research over the years shows the average rate of good hires to be 25%. Of course, if you include disappointing but adequate performers, the hiring “success” is probably closer to 80%. But Topgraders set the bar high, and if 75% of hires turn out to be disappointments, that’s typical, and you have a 25% success rate.

    Exercise #2: Estimate the costs of a typical mis-hire. (The Topgrading Cost of Mis-Hire Form is available in the Topgrading Workbook.) This is the most widely referenced cost of mis-hire form, and in only 15 or 20 minutes the high costs of mis-hires becomes clear. In our Topgrading books we show the costs to range, for various jobs, from 5 to 27 times base salary.

    An objective way to measure quality of talent. A systematic, objective way to set a baseline before Topgrading, to really measure quality of hires (or promotions), go back three years, and study people hired three and two years ago – when they’ve been on the job at least one year. Assemble a quartet – boss, someone else at that level familiar with the person measured, and two HR people familiar with the person. Pull out all measures of job performance and demonstration of competencies (competency surveys, for example) and in an hour decide if the person is an A Player, A Potential, or Non-A.

    2. Create Job Scorecard

    Q: What is the advantage of having a Job Scorecard over a job description?
    A: Job descriptions are so vague neither candidates nor hiring managers are clear about what it will take to perform at the A level. Job Scorecards include both the measurable accountabilities and the minimum acceptable ratings on competencies in order for someone to be deemed an A player on the job.

    For example, suppose the job is Vice President Sales with a different company than the previous example. The job description might be four pages long, but essentially says the job is to boost global and domestic sales, launch some new products, and achieve profitability goals. This is a vague job description, and the President really was most interested in boosting global sales because their #1 global competitor was declining, the VP Manufacturing was most interested in keeping the domestic plants closer to full capacity, the VP Marketing was hired because patents are running out and the company had no future without new product launches, and, of course, the VP Finance wanted profitable sales.

    A year later the new VP Sales felt quite frustrated, having been jerked in many different directions and at best ended up satisfying one of the executives who had a real stake in the job.

    A Job Scorecard would have nailed down measurable accountabilities such as boosting global sales 10%, boost domestic sales 15%, launch three new products on time/on budget and maintain profit margins of 7% … or whatever. And if would have stated the minimum ratings (in surveys) on key competencies (so, for example, someone cannot produce the numbers and destroy teamwork and be considered an A Player). But without measurable accountabilities, the executive team and the new hire were all confused as to what the job really was, and the chances of a costly mis-hire are very high!

    3. Recruit From Networks

    Q: Is there one best way to recruit A Players?
    A: Yes – recruit from your networks. Using recruiters, posting jobs, using executive search firms, and running ads all have their place.  Recruiting from your networks involves learning to build and maintain lists of about 20 A Players and 15 “connectors,” and that takes a bit of effort. But the advantage of recruiting from your networks is that it is faster, better, and cheaper than running ads or using recruiters.

    Exactly what are the networks you should be tapping? Suppose you have a job opening for a software programmer; you pick up the phone and call three A Player software programmers you worked with at other companies, and you hire a terrific person in a couple of weeks. Perfect – that’s the essence of recruiting from your networks. So, one or your networks is A Players you’ve worked with in the past. This network can also include A Players you know through professional associations, your neighborhood, or other places, but these can be such casual associations that you really don’t know if they are A Players. If you really are confident someone is an A Player, you probably worked closely with them.

    The other network is connectors — people who know a heck of a lot of A Players, and you trust your connectors’ judgment. So if you can’t hire an A Player you worked with in the past, next contact your connectors to see if they can produce A Player candidates. And if your networks don’t produce your A Player candidates, it’s time to hire a recruiter or advertise online.

    To put recruitment in perspective: In my 65,000 oral case studies of total job experiences, I always ask about talent – “In that job, how many A, B, and C Players did you inherit, what did you end up with, and what happened in-between – training, coaching, hiring, firing, etc.?” The managers who said they ended up with mostly A Players almost all had recruited from their networks. Two dozen billionaires interviewed by Topgraders said this was their favorite and most successful way to recruit, too.

    4. Screen with the Topgrading Career History Form

    Q: What are the best methods to pre-screen people before interviewing them in person?
    A: We are confident we have the most powerful pre-screening tools in the world – the Topgrading Career History Form and its one-page summary, the Topgrading Snapshot. The Topgrading Career History Form becomes a company application form, requesting the usual information but also requesting all the information you want but resumes never contain – full salary history, boss ratings of overall performance and key competencies, likes and dislikes in jobs, the real reasons for leaving an employer, and a self-appraisal.

    All of those data requests would be worthless because candidates could lie … but the Topgrading Career History Form contains a powerful truth serum: Right there in the Instructions candidates are told in bold letters that to get a job offer, eventually they will have to arrange personal reference calls with bosses. We call it the TORC Technique – Threat Of Reference Check. C Players see that, read it twice, and drop out – they know they can’t get former bosses to talk to you and they wouldn’t want them to talk to you because they might say negative things. Perfect – they won’t waste your time! But high performers are happy to arrange calls with bosses, thinking they will be praised … which is true.

    The standard process to use the Topgrading Career History Form is this: If candidates come through networks, John will call them, discuss the job, see if they are interested, and if so, ask them to send a resume and complete the Topgrading Career History Form. If a candidate comes from ads, resumes will be looked at and the candidates with the best-looking resumes will be emailed a note asking them to complete the Career History Form.

    Resumes, as you well know, are too often full of fiction. Studies show most resumes contain deliberate falsehoods, and almost all resumes are incomplete and contain significant hype. You can’t tell which are the resumes of A Players or C Players because almost all resumes look great. If ads were used, you can screen resumes and just send the Career History Form to some candidates. Delegate to an assistant to email all the candidates the same message:

    “Thank you for sending your resume in response to our ad for Chief Talent Officer. In order to continue the hiring process, please complete the application form (attached) and email it back. Thank you.”

    When candidates know they might get caught in lies, when they know they will have to arrange reference calls with bosses and others, they become motivated to tell the truth.

    When the Topgrading Career History Form is completed online, you (the client) immediately receive it, but you also get a one-page “snapshot” of all the key information. With just a little experience you can decide in 5 seconds if you want to proceed with a candidate. (See Topgrading Snapshot on home page.)

    5. Conduct Telephone Screening Interviews

    Q: What is the best way to screen candidates on the phone?
    A: Use the Topgrading Telephone Screening Guide, with the completed Topgrading Career History Form at hand, with candidates who truly look as though they could be high performers. Analyze the Topgrading Career History Forms and Topgrading Snapshots, and only invite the ones who really appear to be A Players for face-to-face interviews following the telephone screening interviews. These tools work, so you should only meet in person those candidates who are sharp – not necessarily A Players for this job, because a lot more interviewing and reference checking will be needed to be that certain. But these Topgrading tools let you save time and only meet candidates who are pretty good or better.

    6. Conduct One-Hour Competency Interviews

    Q: Brad, you say competency (behavioral) interviews produce 75% mis-hires. Why do you suggest including them?
    A: First of all, let’s define the term. What are competency interviews? They are interviews in which different interviewers spend one hour with a candidate, asking questions about one or more of the key competencies that were identified and listed in the Job Scorecard.

    Why include competency interviews? A Player candidates have complained to a lot of companies that they had to push too hard to get to talk with as many people as they’d like and to get their questions answered. Topgrading methods are to create a competency interview guide and conduct the interview allowing 15 minutes for candidates to ask questions about the job, the organizational culture, how decisions are made, what the manager is like as a boss – whatever. Topgrading thoroughly vets candidates, and A Players expect to be thorough in their due diligence on the job. It’s a two-way street. Strong candidates demand to have their questions answered and we totally respect that. This is one step that helps meet that need.

    7. Conduct Tandem Topgrading Interview

    Q: What is a Topgrading Interview?
    A: Formerly called the CIDS (Chronological In-Depth Structured Interview), the Topgrading Interview is a structured interview using the Topgrading Interview Guide. The process is a chronological interview starting with education years and then asking up to 16 questions about every full-time job, plus follow up questions, starting with the first full-time job and coming forward to the present job. Then there are questions about goals and a self-appraisal.

    For management jobs there are two interviewers, known as the “Tandem Topgrading Interview.”  Interviewers conduct a two-hour interview for individual performers, or a four-hour interview for managers.

    Q: How important is the Topgrading Interview?
    A: Whether you use it for an entry-level job in a one-hour interview, or use a Tandem Topgrading Interview for a manager, this is the one most important Topgrading step – the one that truly reveals what a candidate is like on as many as 50 different competencies.

    Q: How does the Topgrading Interview reveal so much accurate information?
    A: It starts with the Topgrading Career History Form with the truth serum. Then during the Topgrading Interview the interviewer(s) see patterns of how the candidate evolved over the years. Every time a candidate shares a success, failure, or key decision the interviewers get deeper and deeper insights into what the person is like today. And finally, reference checks arranged by the candidate confirm the interviewer conclusions.

    Q: Is the Topgrading Interview too time-consuming?
    A: Yes … but emphatically no! For each hire there is more time spent in Topgrading interviews, but when success in hiring doubles and triples, the total time spent filling jobs with A Players is a fraction of what managers experienced when only 25% of their hires turned out to be high performers.  The amount of time also depends on the level.

    TGMethods

    8. Master Advanced Interviewing Techniques

    Q: How does Topgrading improve managers’ interviewing techniques?
    A: The answer might surprise you – Topgrading interviewers get coaching on their interviewing techniques from their tandem partner after every Topgrading Interview.  The vast majority of interviewers have never taken an interviewing course, but Topgraders typically attend a two-day Topgrading Workshop, the second day of which they spend interviewing and getting feedback and coaching from Topgrading Professionals and their tandem interview partners, using the Topgrading Interviewer Feedback Form.

    We’ve surveyed thousands of managers who say they think the vast majority of managers, including those who have taken a standard interviewing course, do a Poor or Very Poor job of interviewing, noting reasons like, “Poor preparation,” “No structure – just wander,” “Dumb questions like ‘tell me about yourself,” “No notes taken,” “Interviewers talk way too much,” “Interviewers arrive at conclusions in minutes, based on intuition and not data,” and … you get the picture. And when asked if they have ever given feedback or constructive suggestions to poor interviewers, the answer is no.

    And finally, here is the Topgrading innovation: After every Topgrading Interview the tandem partners simply pull out the Topgrading Interviewer Feedback Form and give each other a couple of minutes of feedback and suggestions.

    9. Analyze All Data; Write Draft Executive Summary

    Q: Ugh! Do I really have to write reports on candidates?
    A: Ugh, yes! But with Topgrading, you get such clear insights into candidates that reports write themselves!  Simply put, you have a Job Scorecard with Competencies, and after each Topgrading step you write in pencil your best guess rating of the candidate. By the time you’ve done a Tandem Topgrading Interview and reference checks, it’s pretty easy to write the report.

    10. Candidate Arranges Reference Calls with Bosses

    Q: How can reference checks be made useful?
    A: Your question makes a lot of correct assumptions – that too often reference checks are worthless, because you don’t talk with bosses, companies prohibit managers from taking calls, and you end up talking with golfing buddies who exaggerate the candidate’s strengths and conceal weaker points. At each step in the hiring process candidates are told that to get a job offer they must arrange personal reference calls with former bosses. That’s the “truth serum.” After the Topgrading Interview the interviewer(s) pick which bosses and others they want to talk with and the candidate arranges the calls. There’s no telephone tag, bosses do take the calls, and the reference calls are honest, accurate, and helpful in confirming the quality of the candidate.

    Q: What if a candidate refuses to let you talk with prior bosses?
    A: The candidate has plenty to hide, so eliminate the candidate.

    11. Coach Your New Hire

    Q: In Topgrading hiring, when are newly hired people coached?
    A: Within weeks of starting the job. Why wait, when A Players are eager for feedback, want to be productive as soon as possible, and want to develop themselves for promotion.

    Q: What is the Topgrading coaching process?
    A: It’s simple – the Topgrading Interviewers sit down and share all the notes and the new hire does the work of creating an Individual Development Plan, using a Topgrading template.

    12. Measure Hiring Success Annually

    Q: Why measure quality of hire or promotion annually?
    A: To keep the organization motivated to Topgraded. Without annual measurements there can’t be real accountability for quality of hires and promotions … and without accountability, even the best of best practices wither and die on the vine. So Step 12 is systematically measuring percent high performers hired and costs of mis-hires pre- and post-Topgrading. There are some skills to learn, but they are simple conceptually – how to make these calculations.

    Companies performing these calculations hire better because everyone knows who is Topgrading and who isn’t, and the peer pressure to Topgrade mounts. Individual managers are held accountable to achieve at least 75% high performers on their team. Topgraders so obviously perform better, get promotions faster, and get bigger bonuses, so Topgrading becomes expected not as a program but as part of the DNA of the company.

    The simplest way to perform this step is to identify the managers who fully used Topgrading methods … and the percent of their hires turned out to be A Players or not. And the other category is managers who did not fully use Topgrading methods, and the percent of their hires who turned out to be A Players … or not.

  • Return on Investment (ROI) in Topgrading
  • Q:  What is the ROI of Topgrading?
    A:  To get to a bottom line, in workshops the average attendee concludes, "Wow, every time I hire someone, including bad hires and good hires, using Topgrading methods I’ll probably put an average of $250,000 on the bottom line and I’ll perform better and get faster promotions."  Here are the exercises that lead to that conclusion:

    Exercise #1:  Estimate the percentage of high performers you’ve hired in recent years.  This exercise takes less than a minute.  Just think: What percent of the people I’ve hired turned out to be high performers, A Players, stars, what I expected, with the only other category is a mis-hire.  Our research over the years shows the average rate of good hires to be 25%.  Of course, if you include disappointing but adequate performers, your hiring "success" is probably closer to 80%.  But Topgraders set the bar high, and if you are disappointed (or worse) with 75% of your hires, you’re typical, and you have a 25% success rate.

    Exercise #2:  Estimate the costs of a typical mis-hire.  (The Topgrading Cost of Mis-Hire Form is available in the Topgrading Workbook.) This is the most widely referenced cost of mis-hire form, and in only 15 or 20 minutes your doubter will be amazed at the high cost of a typical mis-hire.  In our Topgrading books we show the costs to range, for various jobs, from 5 to 27 times base salary.  And your doubter will be amazed at how time consuming it is to sweep up after a typical mis-hire (200 hours, typically).

    Q:  What is the ROI of Topgrading for sales reps?
    A:  My co-author for Topgrading for Sales, Greg Alexander, put quite an elaborate ROI model together. Clients have plenty of data showing improved hiring, but Greg did such an elaborate analysis, we made it a separate appendix. Here’s one part of the analysis, edited a bit for brevity.  Let’s take a hypothetical company’s income statement:  A lot of companies are getting killed in the recession, but this article shows how Topgrading can produce record sales and profits even in a recession.  The company happens to own restaurants, but the Topgrading principles apply to all industries.

  • Talent Auditing and Promotions - Best Methods
  • Q:  How important is the Topgrading Interview?
    A:  Whether you use it for an entry job, in a one-hour interview, or use a tandem Topgrading Interview, for a manager, this is the one most important Topgrading step – the one that truly reveals what a candidate is like on as many as 50 different competencies.  It starts with the Topgrading Career History Form with the truth serum. Then during the Topgrading Interview the interviewer(s) see patterns of how the candidate evolved over the years. Every time a candidate shares a success, failure, or key decision the interviewers get deeper and deeper insights into what the person is like today.  And finally, reference checks arranged by the candidate confirm the interviewer conclusions.

    Q:  How does Topgrading improve managers’ interviewing techniques?
    A:  The answer might surprise you – Topgrading interviewers get coaching on their interviewing techniques from their tandem partner after every Topgrading Interview.  The vast majority of interviewers have never even taken an interviewing course, but Topgraders typically attend a two-day Topgrading Workshop, the second day of which they spend interviewing and getting feedback and coaching from Topgrading Professionals and their tandem interview partners, using the Topgrading Interviewer Feedback Form.

    We’ve surveyed thousands of managers who say they think the vast majority of managers, including those who have taken a standard interviewing course, do a Poor or Very Poor job of interviewing and they list reasons like, “Poor preparation,” “No structure – just wander,” “Dumb questions like ‘tell me about yourself,” “No notes taken,” “Interviewers talk way too much,” “Interviewers arrive at conclusions in minutes, based on intuition and not data,” and … you get the picture.  And when asked if they have ever given feedback or constructive suggestions to poor interviewers the answer is no.  And finally, here is the Topgrading innovation:  After every Topgrading Interview the tandem partners simply pull out the Topgrading Interviewer Feedback Form and give each other a couple of minutes of feedback and suggestions.

    Q:  How can reference checks be made useful?
    A:  Your question makes a lot of correct assumptions – that too often reference checks are worthless, because you don’t talk with bosses, companies prohibit managers from taking calls, and you end up talking with golfing buddies who exaggerate the candidate’s strengths and conceal weaker points.  At each step in the hiring process candidates are told that to get a job offer they must arrange personal reference calls with former bosses.  That’s the “truth serum.” After the Topgrading Interview the interviewer(s) picks which bosses and others they want to talk with and the candidate arranges the calls.  There’s no telephone tag, bosses do take the calls, and the reference calls are honest, accurate, and helpful in confirming how good the candidate is.

    Q:  What if a candidate refuses to let you talk with prior bosses?
    A:  The candidate has plenty to hide, so eliminate the candidate.

    Q:  How do Topgrading hiring methods get candidates to tell the truth?
    A:  The answer is pretty simple.  Back in the 1970s a very successful executive explained that he told candidates that in order to get a job offer, they would have to arrange personal reference calls with former bosses and others.  He said that weak candidates would drop out, but the stars would eagerly do it.  High performers, A Players, tend to be quite honest and the difficulty is that job hunting books teach C Players how to look like A Players by hyping positives and concealing and downplaying negatives.  We call the truth serum the TORC Technique, Threat of Reference Check. It works. So, to motivate all candidates to be truthful, Topgrading companies tell candidates that they arrange personal reference calls with former bosses and others, then follow through and conduct reference checks this way.  When the word gets out that this is your company’s approach, C Players indeed do stay away, and As are attracted to your company.  A Players want to work with A Players.

    Q:  Doesn’t Topgrading hiring/promoting take more time than other methods?
    A:  Yes and no.  The amount of time also depends on the level. For each hire there is more time in Topgrading Interviews, but when success hiring doubles and triples, the total time spent filling jobs with A Players is a fraction of what managers experienced when only 25% of their hires turned out to be high performers.

    Q:  Can I become a certified Topgrader?
    A:  Yes! We certify people within single companies; they are trained to run Topgrading workshops and provide Topgrading assessments and coaching, but only within that one company.  To become a Certified Topgrading Coach, submit a marketing plan and, if accepted, attend one of our quarterly Topgrading Workshops and purchase the Topgrading Toolkit.  By attending a workshop, you can attest that you have been trained by Brad Smart and embrace Topgrading methods.  In addition to the Toolkit, you will need to purchase a license for Topgrading forms, guides, Career History Form, etc., to augment your certification.  For more information, contact Chris Mursau at 847-244-5544 ext. 365 (Chris@Topgrading.com)

  • Topgrading Not-for-Profit Organizations
  • Q:  How can not-for-profit organizations Topgrade?
    A:  Not to be a wiseguy, but they should do it exactly the way for-profit companies do it. It’s a shame that so many not-for-profits figure that because they don’t have big budgets, they have to hire mediocre people.  But people who “believe in our mission," like Cass Wheeler, former CEO of American Heart Association, destroy that view.  He Topgraded AHA and said, “Topgrading saves lives!”  In his great book, Have a Heart, Cass spells out how Topgrading and other best business practices can and must be used in not-for-profits.

    These days people who give to charities are particularly keen to see that the money is used well.  Cass Wheeler makes the point that you can pay business-level comp and hire one A Player, or pay lower comp and hire two or three B/C Players.  You know what he recommends!

  • Testing & Forced Ranking
  • Q:  What is your opinion of the use of tests?
    A:  In graduate school I studied all the tests and in my first job all the psychologists used them.  There are now over two dozen Topgrading Professionals, most with a Ph.D. in psychology, and we’ve all abandoned the tests.  That doesn’t mean we’re against companies using them.  Some companies want to be sure they hire brilliant people and some intelligence tests are useful to them.  A lot of companies use tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, not for selection, but for onboarding and for workshops to help people with different styles work more effectively together.  Personality tests seem to have some value, but our recommendation is to not have a cutoff score that eliminates candidates.  Instead use the profile as an additional piece of information.

    Q:  Is Topgrading forced ranking?
    A:  No.  There’s a bit of history explaining the confusion.  Years ago I introduced Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric, to the forced ranking concept, and he rolled it out at GE, but his version is not what I recommended to him and not what I recommend to you.

    The goal of Topgrading is to have all high performers, so if you force rank your team and have A Players at the bottom, you celebrate, and you don’t fire them!  "But Jack Welch is always saying you should force rank teams and dump those at the bottom," you say.  "And Brad, you introduced forced ranking to GE, didn’t you?" 

    Yes, I did; so now you need to understand what I recommended to Jack and many other CEOs.  Years ago Jack asked, "Brad, what are we not doing that we could do to improve talent at GE?"  I said, "Jack, the president and VPs of a small client in Minneapolis annually take two days and force rank the next lower 30 managers from the best to the worst.  They take half an hour to discuss each; as it turns out, the bottom 10% seem to be C Players, year after year, and the force ranking discussion makes it obvious that those C Players should either become high performers fast, or leave.  So, the executive team asks the C Players’ bosses to put them through a Performance Improvement Plan, with specific goals and timeframes for achieving those goals. Those bottom-ranked people always seem to miss the goals, and can’t find another job in the company in which they could be an A Player, so they leave the company."  Well, Jack always seems to put a good idea on steroids, so he rolled forced ranking out at GE, requiring all managers to force rank their teams and really focus on those ranked at the bottom.  Everyone was told his ranking.  I got dozens of calls!  "Is Jack telling us to fire the bottom-ranked people even if they achieve high goals?"  Of course not. And to this day I’m not aware that any high performer at GE was ever fired because of a low ranking.  "But on TV I see Jack telling managers to force rank their people and dump the bottom 10%!" 

    In my experience almost all teams have lousy performers at the bottom and they should be replaced.  Jack doubts that any management team that has been in existence even three years does not have 10% chronic low performers.  When Jacques Nasser was Chairman of Ford he tried to copy a lot of things Welch did, but he messed up on forced ranking.  When it became obvious that even high performers ranked at the bottom could be fired, Ford managers sued and the company lost and paid over $10 million to settle.  So their version of forced ranking was abandoned; it never should have been rolled out!  I’ve been told that this was the "final straw" for Nasser and his head of HR, David Murphy; at any rate, both were replaced.  All I know for sure is that Nassar/Murphy called me several times, inviting me to consult on this project, but they always wanted me to start that week, and my calendar was too full.  I regret that; I think I could have helped them succeed.  Fortunately they did not call their talent methods Topgrading.

    Bottom line: Force rank your team, don’t tell anyone, embrace your top-ranked people, and carefully consider whether your bottom-ranked people should stay.

    Q:  Wasn’t the big Ford law suit about Topgrading?
    A:  Absolutely not!  In Topgrading, I explain it all in a section entitled, How NOT to Topgrade.  The short version is this:  Ford’s head of HR several times contacted me and asked that I consult with them, but we could never match calendars, and I never offered advice in any form.  In my opinion, Ford implemented a crazy forced ranking system that goes against everything I’ve recommended.

  • Validity of Topgrading
  • Q:  Is Topgrading valid?
    A:  Of course.  When I completed my Ph.D. in 1970, I had read every study on interviewing validity, and the results were pathetic — interviews did not predict job success. In preparation for my 1983 book, research continued to show interviews to be invalid; they still did not predict job success. And yet, I was sure I had created a magic bullet.1 I was sure that the Topgrading Interview could achieve 90‑95 percent "good hires." Beginning around the early 1980s, research began confirming that interviews not only can be valid, but done properly can be the most valid predictor of job performance. Research, for example, showed job analysis is essential. During World War II armies (literally) of psychologists took job analysis to stratospheric heights. At lower levels of organizations, job analysts, industrial engineers, and systems professionals joined with compensation specialists to promote efficiency and productivity. Years later job evaluation specialists such as Hay Associates, who became quite proficient at assigning pay "points" to job "grades," found themselves competing with McKinsey MBAs looking to reengineer processes. But, somehow, job analysis rarely crept into the most senior management positions. It is still a casual undertaking in most compa­nies. Nonetheless, all current research supports the importance of pinning down exactly what the job is (through job analysis).

    "State of the art" today is commonly a process consisting of a job analysis, behaviorally anchored competencies, and then some sort of semi-­structured interview format, so that questions focus on what is important to do the job. Topgrading offers even better approaches, but in most companies assessment continues to consist solely of invalid, unstructured interviews. Unstructured interviews include one or more of the following characteristics: lack a question format, short (less than an hour), casual questioning ("Tell me about yourself"), unplanned (no job analysis, no job description, no written competencies), and no systematic analysis of data (the hire/no hire conclusion is made in minutes). In 1988 Weisner and Cronshaw2 found structured interviews over three times more valid than unstructured, in a review of 150 studies. Structured interviews are most valid when interviewers are trained, according to Pulakos et al.3 Psychological testing is less valid than structured interviews, according to Van Clieaf.4

    A study by McDaniel et al.,5 analyzing 86,000 interviews by leading researchers in 1994 concluded, "Structured interviews were found to have higher interview validity than unstructured interviews." My graduate school colleague Frank Schmidt was an author of this study; he has done many meta-analytic studies of interviewing and tells me that the jury is definitely in: Interviews must be structured if they are to predict job performance. Perhaps you "wing it" in interviews because a tightly structured inter­view seems unbecoming, not as collegial as top‑level interviews should be. Trouble is, the "wing it" interviews can’t address all of the competencies, so 250 of such interviews might be necessary for valid conclusions about a sin­gle interviewee!

    Let me cite two more studies. Pulakos and Schmitt6 found historical, experience‑based questions ("What were your accomplishments and failures in that job?") to be better predictors of job performance than hypothetical sit­uational questions ("How would you restructure the finance department here?"). The Topgrading Interview approach does both, and why not? Campion, Campion and Hudson7 report a respectable validity coefficient (.50), with a 30‑item interview, half‑historical, half‑future questions. An interview consist­ing of 30 questions could take half an hour. Add half an hour to "sell" the can­didate, and the interview would take an hour, which is the length of time scheduled for 90 percent of all management interviews. The one‑hour time frames exist because interviewers don’t know how to interview and because lawyers have frightened managers into avoiding so many questions. The Topgrading Interview approach, originated over 30 years ago and described metic­ulously in the two earlier versions of this book8 can easily ask 200 questions. In this book I argue that there are more than four dozen competencies necessary (not just desirable) in any management job, so asking a lot more than 30 questions is necessary.

    The tandem interview has yet to be researched to any degree.  Having discussed the tandem approach, my opinion is that a "solo" Topgrading Interviewer who is very experienced is apt to be more valid than a tandem of moderately experienced interviewers. Pulakos et. al. found multiple interviewers to reduce harmful effects of inter­viewer bias, but only if the interviewers did not share the same biases.

    1 One book on interviewing influenced me early‑on: The Evaluation Interview, Fourth Edition, by R. A. Fear and R. J. Chiron, McGraw‑Hill, 1990. It’s still a classic, but seri­ously flawed. For example, whereas I might recommend a four‑hour interview, Fear says one and one‑half hours is too long, producing "a lot of unnecessary and irrel­evant information" (p. 71). Furthermore, by discouraging asking about performance appraisals for every job (p. 107), Fear misses the most powerful lever for under­standing negative – the TORC technique.
    2 W. H. Wiesner and S. F. Cronshaw, "A Meta‑Analytic Investigation of the Impact of Interview Format and Degree of Structure on the Validity of the Employment Interview," Journal of Occupational Psychology 61(4) (1988), pp. 270‑290
    3 E. D. Pulakos, N. Schmitt, D. Whitney, and M. Smith. "Individual Differences in Interviewer Ratings: The Impact of Standardization, Consensus Discussion, and Sampling Error on the Validity of a Structured Interview," Personnel Psychology 49(1) (1996), pp. 85‑102.
    4 E. D. Pulakos, N. Schmitt, D. Whitney, and M. Smith. "Individual Differences in Interviewer Ratings: The Impact of Standardization, Consensus Discussion, and Sampling Error on the Validity of a Structured Interview," Personnel Psychology 49(1) (1996), pp. 85‑102.
    5 E. D. Pulakos, N. Schmitt, D. Whitney, and M. Smith. "Individual Differences in Interviewer Ratings: The Impact of Standardization, Consensus Discussion, and Sampling Error on the Validity of a Structured Interview," Personnel Psychology 49(1) (1996), pp. 85‑102.
    6 Pulakos, Schmitt, Whitney, and Smith, op cit.
    7 M. A. Campion, J. A. Campion, and J. P. Hudson, "Structured Interviewing: A Note on incremental Validity and Alternative Question Types," Journal of Applied Psychology 79(6) (1984), pp. 998‑1002.
    8 Bradford D. Smart, Selection Interviewing: A Management Psychologist’s Recommended Approach (John Wiley & Sons, 1983), and Bradford D. Smart, The Smart Interviewer.’ Tools and Techniques for Hiring the Best (John Wiley & Sons, 1989).

  • Legal Defensibility
  • Q:  Is Topgrading legally defensible?
    A:  Yes!  In the 3rd edition of Topgrading, employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw updated the 55-page assessment of legal viability of Topgrading originally published in the 2005 edition.  Bottom line – no problems!  They have offered that opinion for the United States and for many countries (UK, France, China, Japan, Mexico, and Germany) relying on their partner firms in those countries. Partner Eugene Jacobs states:  “Follow recommended U.S. Topgrading practices for hiring and you will operate legally in most other countries.”  

    In four decades of Topgrading methods being used by hundreds of companies in the US and elsewhere, I have not heard of a single legal challenge to any Topgrading method. Not one. Bottom line, all the laws on discrimination are supportive of what Topgrading is all about — clear Job Scorecards with measurable accountabilities and competencies spelled out, structured interviews with interview guides (and we have them for phone screens, competency interviews, the Topgrading Interview, and reference check interviews), note taking … and generally having everything job related. To repeat:  I have not heard of any legal challenges.



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