Podcast EP 129 | How to Identify A-Players During an Interview

There is no substitute for A-Players. ​​The higher the percentage of A-Players on your teams, and the longer you keep them, the greater the chance of success. But how do you know when you’ve got a potential A-Player on your hands?

​This week Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence discuss the four things you must know to identify A-Players during an interview – and how to reinforce their potential after that.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Brad Giles  00:13

Hi there, and welcome to the Growth Whisperers where everything we talk about is building enduring great companies. My name is Brad Giles. And today as always, I’m joined by my co host, Kevin Lawrence. Hello, Kevin. How are things?

Kevin Lawrence  00:25

Things are great. Coming into winter things. Life’s good.

Brad Giles  00:29

Good to hear. Good to hear. We’ve got an interesting topic today we’re talking about how to identify A players during an interview. Something that’s pretty timely at the moment.

Kevin Lawrence  00:41

We’ve got some great stories of what happens when you don’t.

Brad Giles  00:49

We’d like to start with a word or phrase of the day. Kev, what might you have today?

Kevin Lawrence  00:54

Competition. Oh, I just over the weekend. And I’ve shared before but my passion for racing and finally back into full blown competition. Two races on the weekend. First time in a long time. And I got to get back to there’s one thing driving a race car and learning how to drive it and mastering on a race track. And it’s another thing to compete on a big road, we do road courses like you would see for f1. This track and just the thrill of the battle, it’s kind of it’s the feeling kind of like, must have been like for cavemen. And cave women out there hunting, trying to get dinner, just the amount of adrenaline pumping through your system. And we have an amazing group of guys in this race group that were part of and when I was like 16, or 17, in less than a week, and it was just amazing. And I forgot how much I loved it. And so competition and that thrill of the challenge and the chase, and and the high stakes and great people I was so that’s my competition.

Brad Giles  02:07

Yeah, mine is a bit the opposite to that. Mine is mine is a word which is onboarded. So last week, I got the first physical copy of my new book Onboarded, which for those rationalizations, thank you those on YouTube, you can see just there. And that’s due out on the first of November, that’s the release date. The onboarding, how to bring new hires to the point where there they are effective, faster, so that having got that first physical copy, it’s a great milestone couldn’t go past that as a word of the day. So let’s say you stitch those together.

Kevin Lawrence  02:46

Not a chance. What I will say what I will say is, you know, and for those who have read, early work, the brad did on his onboard book, he put a lot of thought into mastering that part of the hiring a person. So I know there are a lot of great insights in it. And it’s damn important. Yeah, you know, if you don’t onboard people properly, a lot of stuff gets missed, decreases your chances of success. I’m sure what I was telling my team about it tonight, Brad and our team meeting. I showed them the book and told them all about it and told them be a great resource for all of our clients.

Brad Giles  03:24

So sweet. So we’re having to do a little bit of work on that in the lead up to that book launch. Maybe a few subjects to talk about. But today we’re talking about, you know, what we got, we got a question from a listener, which we loved. Didn’t we love that? So it’s from David, from Virginia in the USA from a company called Meridian bird removal. had a look at their website. What an awesome business. So yeah, a great business meridian, bird removal. They all across the US and they that if you need to get rid of birds, they’re the people to talk to. So this is this is Dave’s question. For context, I’m wondering about spotting talent, there’s a training opportunity for hiring managers, a player’s and not terribly common, how to attract young professionals who have this profile, also how to help hiring managers pierce the veil of the 60 to 90 minute interview to see who possesses the character drive and potential to be truly exceptional and who doesn’t. Historically, we’ve not emphasized this nearly enough, we don’t necessarily understand it well enough to be able to emphasize that we’ve relied on traditional HR processes which are pretty good for core values and core cultural alignment that fall short of helping us accurately identify true a pliers. Thank you for your consideration on this topic. So, thank you, Dave, if anyone else has questions, we love questions, it gives us some great topics to discuss. So please send those through. So Kev, how to identify A players during an interview? This is how we’ve interpreted that question for sure.

Kevin Lawrence  05:22

We know it’s there, it’s hard to find them. And, you know, the reality is there’s tools where people go wrong is first of all, let’s define a player’s in our world that we as a player is someone who would score an A, just like in the old report card system in school, an A on culture fit, being consistent on harmonious and the culture of your company, living your core values and aligned to your purpose. And an A on performance in Canada, you know, in a starts at 85%, I think in the US, it’s 90. So it’s a very, like very good on culture fit and very good on performance. That’s the person we’re looking for. And you know, and most companies have 25 to 30% of these awesome humans, that kind of make up the top 10% of people available, whatever it is, you’re going to pay for that job. And, you know, we we push to get companies a lot higher, because you know, the better your team, the better at work. So, so that’s kind of set in a table for it. But finding these people, it’s tough, we use tools, like that’s, and you know, there’s all kinds of tools out there, and voodoo hiring techniques and all kinds of fun stuff. What we generally look for is one, knowing what a performance is, and be, let’s see if the person matches what we need. But just it’s being just super thorough when most people are in a super hurry when they’re trying to hire and that’s our party. And we asked her about the 60s 90 minutes. And as you and I know, 60 to 90 minutes is a good start for an interview. But it’s not gonna get you there. So a lot of it requires changing your perspective and truly, investing a bit more energy upfront. So you have less headache on the back?

Brad Giles  07:19

Yeah, yeah. There’s no substitute for a team of A players. Yesterday, I did a quarterly planning workshop with a team, they’ve bonafide got 90% A players and I’ve had it for three or four years. And it’s just a fantastic environment producing great momentum. There’s no substitute for that. Right? The higher the percentage of a player’s for longer, the greater the chance of the team’s success. So how do you know if you’ve got an A player or an A potential on your hands, it really comes back to what you said, which is, you’ve got to know, you’ve got to know what is success look like in the role? And often times, we kind of know we’re hiring for somebody, we know what the title is. But do we really actually understand what success means in that role?

Kevin Lawrence  08:14

Yeah, so I was talking to at the racetrack on the weekend talking to a guy who is an X-Games athlete, and started his own construction company, we got talking about business and he’s getting going and I just kind of explained it to him. Pretty, straightforward is that, you know, if you’re gonna go and build a winning hockey team, where you can kind of go and grab people at the local rec center and grab who you can get, and you’ll have some fun and play. But if you want to win that we call in Canada, the Stanley Cup, which is the top ward for the top teams in the National Hockey League, you’re going to need different strategies and different approaches. And it’s not rocket science. And I was just share with him when he was kind of a young entrepreneur and his partner is somebody that I know from the racetrack as well. We’re talking it’s not rocket science. It’s just staying focused on the this is a talent game. And you got to approach it with a talent mindset. And I said for him, it’s like for him and his background as an athlete is the same thing. When you’re looking for top athletes, we naturally have this kind of mindset. And we put the energy in the time into it seems to be more hiring human beings in the business we don’t give that same level of scrutiny, but we naturally would do it. If we owned NHL hockey team, we would naturally do it if we’re building a team of you know, freestyle motocrossers. And yeah, but but but we often fail to think that way and as a result, we end up with a lot of headaches and also hurt people by putting them in jobs. They could never ever be successful. That’s the part that I’m just like, take these awesome loyal people, and we destroy them and stress them out by putting roles that they’re not ever they’re not suited for at least at this point in time. And sometimes maybe never. 

Brad Giles  10:07

The challenge here is that a players are hard to find, okay. Managers often aren’t also skilled in recruiting in how to find the right people. Yes. So, they might have done a bit of it, but we say go and do an interview, because I’m too busy manager, don’t do an interview, and see how you go. And then we just say, if you’re, if you’re owning the role, then you need to interview people yourself, but they might not really know what that is. And they might not know what success looks like in the role.

Kevin Lawrence  10:37

Yes, and that’s the key piece. So, you know, example we hired a head of marketing for a company that I work with. And this person was skilled, had amazing experiences, all this stuff. Unfortunately, in marketing, there’s two very distinct branches of marketing. Yeah, there’s brand, which is the big picture look and feel of an older one feels about a company. And then there’s lead generation, they’re dramatically dramatically different ones kind of, like if it was cars, like one’s like a luxury car, and the other is kind of like a truck for hauling gravel, you know, they’re very, very different. And if you’re going to buy a luxury car, a good travel could travel truck isn’t going to do. So they hired a brand person, in a company that does a tiny bit of brand, and almost all lead generation, like direct response marketing. I like the person try, but they couldn’t, they couldn’t have one. It’s it’s not. It’s not fair to the person, obviously, it’s hard for the company. But because they weren’t clear enough on what the job was, they were just hiring a director of marketing. But they hired the wrong kind. So of course, the person couldn’t succeed, it wasn’t good for them wasn’t good for the company. And it’s just like, so the up front, and I call it the engineers a spec for the job. Like, if we’re going to build a bridge, we’re gonna get the, we could draw a little drawing, or we can get the engineers to do the proper drawings of the proper materials and the proper everything. And then when someone goes to build it, they’ll build the right kind of bridge. But if you don’t have proper engineer drawings, you just send some people to go build a bridge, you’re asking for trouble. So the engineers drawing up front is like, quadruple ly important. And it’s where a lot of hiring processes fall apart.

Brad Giles  12:44

Yeah, yeah. See, what we can have is what I call candidate lust. And this is in a completely professional way. Let me just flag that up. Right? Because the manager goes into the interview. And they’re like, they look at what the person is doing. The capabilities of that individual, they get to the point of the interview, and like, we’ve just got to get this person, let’s just get him my life is going to be so much easier. And that speaks to a bigger problem. Because I they’re going to simply try to get that person on board and not follow a process. But what they’re doing is they’re looking at hiring as the be all and end all they’re looking at hiring as a deal. Imagine that you walked into a car lot, and you’re looking at a car, and you’re like, Oh, I love this Lexus this Lexus. You’re getting like car last right? I love this Lexus. I really want to get it. And what does the salesperson say when you walk up and you’re enamored with the car. He says to himself, this is all house her. So this is the best. This is the best situation that I can hope for. Take it for a drive, we’re going to say to you at the full sticker price. But instead of that, what we want to do when it comes to hiring is we want to think about it as hiring. It’s not the deal is done when we sign the employment contract. That is only the beginning of us validating whether or not we have an A player. There are three major steps three major steps that we’ve got to think about. The first is the roll scorecard. Okay, so this is how do we define success in the role? So for David, who sent us in this question, first of all, are the do the managers really, really clearly understand what success looks like in this role? To the point where it’s not possible for them to misunderstand when they’re looking at candidates they know exactly what it is. So, first of all, is that that is the whole hiring process from go to whoa advertisement to signing the contract. Right. And then after that we’ve got an onboarding process, which typically might be about 90 days. And at the end of that hiring part of the onboarding process, we take someone who is a potential fit from the hiring process. And we’re able to define, Is this person a successful or not a successful fit?

Kevin Lawrence  15:22

The definition that engineers spec for the job that for our clients that we do this, we just had one of our clients doing it for President role. We used, we worked with the top grading group and Christmas saw that we do a lot of work with, he helped to define this role for one of our clients. And so we densify, the prod the president role, I worked with my client as well, just to double check some of the stuff that’s a four or five page, thorough document with a lot of data, and measurable things that are required for someone to be successful in that role. Interesting what the CEO said, Hey, now that I got those done, I’ve met three people. I got; I liked them all. And then I went back and read the scorecard, I think, come down to one. Because he because he The role was so clearly specified, he could compare his initial conversations with the person against that scorecard, and have a very good opinion, or at least a filter of the ones who weren’t a fit, there’s still a deeper process to go through for the ones that could be. So that definition is critical. People slip on that, then obviously, the assessment and that’s the thorough interviewing portion, doing some assessments, doing some testing of skills for certain jobs, like if they’re gonna be a writer, set them down, let them do some writing. If they’re gonna be accountant, set them down on licks, let them fix an income statement. Like some you know, this. And then for sure, speaking to References, we had one horrible hire who was a very nice person, but they just made a mess. Finally, we’re in the meeting. And I asked the CEO, I said, Well, did somebody check the references? He’s like, he calls HR. Nope, he goes, he steps out the CEO steps out, goes and starts making calls to confirm the references. He got a hold of, I think he actually he called the executive wasn’t available. He called asked for the CEO, spoke to the CEO, asked a few questions said, thank you very much walks back in the room and says, the person’s leaving tomorrow. Because and there’s a How the hell they came into our company, I don’t know, I spoke to the CEO of the company they came from, they said that they explained all the issues they had had, and it’s the identical issues we’re having. You know, it’s just it’s just, it’s, it’s, but that’s, that’s a tight process of evaluating. So it’s like, it’s like, if you’re buying a used car, get a darn inspection, to make sure it’s not going to fall apart when you drive off the lot. And if you you know, this is that’s discipline. And people just often don’t have that rigor. And then you get to the point of, if you do that, right, now you could onboard well, and unfortunately, sometimes people do all of that. Right. They onboard poorly, and then it falls apart too.

Brad Giles  18:26

I think I think it depends on the role. So for our listener, David, he’s he might be hiring for someone who isn’t an executive. And that’s, that’s fine. So a full on, on a full on top grading part of me a full on top grading process may not be appropriate in that scenario, but he’s going to have a rigorous hiring process number one, again, that does check references 100%. It starts with a job scorecard. The point that you made earlier, Kev, was that during the hiring process, you refer back to the job scorecard to know whether or not we’ve got the right person. Well, that’s why the job scorecard comes at the beginning, not afterwards, so that we can avoid that candidate lost so that we’re not adapting it to suit the people that we’re looking at. Then we go, this is what success looks like, then we’ve got to have a rigorous hiring and then we’re going to have a rigorous vetting and onboarding process to make sure that 90 days after we’ve signed a contract, we know, we know exactly whether or not this person is successful fit in the organization, or they should exit.

Kevin Lawrence  19:41

Exactly. And that’s and that’s the thing at the 90 day point, and especially, again, we’re kind of getting past the hiring piece. But you know, basically, if you have a less than perfect hiring process, if you get 90% A players coming in and you onboard them well, you’re gonna Have at least you know, at least 90%. At the end of that 90 days, if your hiring process is weak, well, then you’re gonna, at the end of the 90 days have a little bit more decision, more decisions to make about the people who aren’t making it. And that’s what’s critical. But the key is to be able to make that decision that 90 days, so they’re not getting too embedded in your company, building relationships with people and, and getting entrenched if the if they’re not going to be staying long term, the sooner the end, so it’s better for them. And it’s better for you as well

Brad Giles  20:30

But I think that’s the point is that how do we know if we’re looking at an A player? After a one hour interview?

Kevin Lawrence  20:38

We never will. We won’t. It’s not possible until ones that aren’t. To know from the ones that look good and seem like they’re close to truly prove it out. You need you need you need more than more than an hour. In some cases more than a month, you need multiple things to help you get there. And that’s why it’s called rigor.

Brad Giles  21:12

So we want to be sure. I mean, let’s just analyze what we’re saying, Well, we know this person is going to be the top 10% of available candidates. At the pay rate that we offer after one hour, there’s just no way. Right. So we take the best that we use a good filtering process and reference checking, and a good job scorecard. And then we signed a contract knowing that within 90 days, Asterix get your own legal advice within the within 90 days, there’ll be an a probation period where if they’re not a good fit, a successful fit, you can exit them. And then we rely on that that 90 day process to get there.

Kevin Lawrence  21:50

But I want to be clear. Ideally, we enter hiring with 90% success rate on picking a players to hire that’s the key. Right? And when you’re hiring people fresh out of college and one of my companies down us the hire a lot of college grads, you know they can’t with college grads, it’s hard because some of them are even figuring out who they are. But the key is, the filter is before the job offer. The insurance or the double checking comes with the onboarding, want to make sure we’re saying the same thing and not confusing people.

Brad Giles  22:21

Yeah, we definitely got we’ve got to have a good hiring process. There’s no doubt about it.

Kevin Lawrence  22:27

And you want to you want to maximize the disruption by not bringing in people who aren’t going to be A players in that role to do the best job. And one more example, I’ll share a very common one that I have seen. And normally it’s people who have profiles I call a high are very influencing personalities. I don’t my is quite high. I don’t remember how high yours is Brad. But I’m the type of person I can make a very good first impression if I choose to. And the number of people that get hired that are very charming, is incredible. I remember once I had a CEO, a very successful guy that’s going back like 15 or 20 years ago, and love the guy, really enjoyed him. And I just met this woman to have to replace his EA as executive assistant. She was amazing. I hired her on the spot. And I’m like, but please tell me you didn’t give her the offer? Yeah, yeah, I did. She was so good. I’m like, I’ve been involved in a lot of hiring of administrative assistants, and profiled a lot of them over the years. And the number one thing is the best ones often don’t make the best first impression. Because they’re grinders, and they’re protecting your schedule and organizing things. And the ones who make amazing first impressions, high percent, and many of them flamed out. So it didn’t mean that the person was bad. It just means if you feel compelled to hire on the spot, they were incredibly charming. And once we get charmed, we forget to validate for skills and ability and all those other things. But in terms of this one lasted like three weeks, but because they were all charm, they didn’t have capability. It’s not that you can’t be charming and capable. But the administrative assistant role requires a lot of rigor, discipline, precision, and charm in his particular case, charm was not a charm made him feel good, but he needed a lot of discipline, rigorous work done. So again, there’s, it’s hard, it’s hard. But if you’re clear up front of what you’re looking for, you’re thorough in the process and you look for the patterns. Yeah, if you look for the patterns, I mean, you know, our show next week is about level five leadership and and becoming and finding level five leaders Anyone has a couple of great questions you can ask actually about to help identify if people are true level five leaders, even from what you can dig into. And we watch for that stuff, right? We just watch for the people that are going to come in and just either not do well in a job because they don’t fit or not do well in the culture because they’re there, they’re going to be disruptive.

Brad Giles  25:21

Okay, so maybe let’s move on to some key points here. Okay, so what we’re saying, if we go back to the original question, how do we identify a player’s during an interview? Well, overall, to bring people on, you’ve got to have a rigorous process, right, we’re suggesting a three step process with a great role scorecard, a great hiring process, and an effective onboarding process. So we start with the role scorecard to understand what success is or an A player actually looks like this is before you’ve made any candidates or placed a job advert then during recruitment interviews during recruitment. Start with your scorecard understand what success looks like. And actually looks like then during recruitment interviews have something to compare against. Before we placed the job advert, we want to have clear understanding of success. And as Kim calls it, an engineer spec for the role assessment. So the hiring process ensures that the person is a great fit for the role. Okay, but that’s not the end. That’s our, what we get then is we believe this person is a potential fit. There’s a 90% chance of success is what that’s saying. And that’s theory, sometimes theory doesn’t work in real life. But that’s what we’re kind of advocating here. Leaders problem is that they expect perfection from the hiring deal. It’s like the deal is done, let’s move on. If this person is a good fit, they’ll work out, right. But good fit is actually the problem here. We’re not looking for good fit, we’re looking for a successful fit. So when we’re making the decision, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve checked references will get the right compensation that would clarify the expectations of the role, the person understands that. And then after we’ve signed the employment contract, we transition to onboarding. And then if we believe we’ve got a potential a player onboarding, should validate that, okay. And after 90 days working in the business, we should be really confident this person is going to be a star here. It tells us if the person out of the hiring process, who is a potential fit becomes a successful fit. And now the work begins. So we’ve now got to begin to work through with the individual what are the understandings that person needs to have to become a successful fit the cultural understandings the managers understandings and the technical and process understandings. And then by the time 90 days, occurs, the end of the onboarding, we forced that decision. Is this person a successful fit, or an unsuccessful fit? And then that is the manager’s job, not hrs job. So we got a few episodes to look through here, Episode 100. Top grading high with 90% success, Episode 89, the four different types of a player’s Episode 88, the hidden cost of not having a team of all a players and number 53 What is the top grading scorecard? And how do you use it.

Kevin Lawrence  28:47

That’s it. That’s the show. This is not rocket science, who said it’s discipline and my favorite quotes from Jim Collins is no greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out is largely conscious choice and discipline. And that’s all this is deciding you’re gonna have a great team. So that’s top that top grading and that’s the growth whispers for this week. Thanks for joining us. If you want more episodes, you can go and look for the growth whispers and subscribe and please rate us and give us a great rating if you think it’s valuable. If you’ve got questions like today, please send those in. For the YouTube video go to youtube gmail.com and search for the growth whispers Brad’s got a great newsletter and great resources on his site and you can get a hold of them at evolution partners.com.au And for myself at Lawrence and Co our firm has we have a great newsletter and also resources. Lawrence and co.com Hope you have an awesome week and good luck finding the talent that you want.