Many firms have a set of beliefs around what makes an exceptional employee or a so-called “A” player. For years high-tech firms, in particular, have only sought graduates of elite schools with high GPAs. Competition is high for these graduates, and salaries have been equally high.
This has spilled over to many other industries and has led to an inflation in job requirements. Positions such as secretary or bookkeeper, which used to require only a certificate or two-year degree, now require a four-year degree or more.
These requirements became associated with the so-called “A” players believing that they would outperform those with lesser credentials.
But research has shown that this belief is not accurate. Many other factors account for high performance and Laszlo Bock, former head of people operations at Google, did much to analyze and dispel these beliefs. His book Work Rules explains and document the research that led to Google removing the requirements for a four-year degree from many positions.
Many organizations have reduced their job requirements, and there seems to be a trend to focus more on specific skills than on degrees and experience, especially as the talent shortage grows. Skills such as communication ability, teamwork, and motivation are becoming more critical.
Lazlo Bock and others believe that “A” players more often emerge from within your organization or are made by it because of the systems and processes you have in place.
One characteristic of “A” players is that they do not always perform well, compromise well or blend in well with others. Jeffrey Pfeffer, the co-author of Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results With Ordinary People and a professor at Stanford, records that Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team. Other high performers have all sorts of issues regarding both performance and teamwork. Manfred Kets De Vries, an INSEAD professor, and leadership consultant, has written several books documenting the dysfunctional behaviors of top-level people. Great people are best scattered throughout an organization and surrounded by more ordinary “B” players who support their efforts and put their ideas into action. The difficulty is striking a balance and knowing who is an “A” player.
It is almost impossible to find “A” players outside your firm and then insert them successfully into it.
Historically, IBM and General Electric are companies that produced many competent employees who were sought after by everyone. These firms spent billions on development programs, established internal rotations, and encouraged employees to move internally to gain knowledge and exposure. When organizations combine rigorous development activities and provide continuous job opportunities to their employees, they produce many “A” players.
There are many analogies in the sports world. Many top major league players were considered poor choices or weak as rookies. They excelled, however, when challenged and when they were part of a well-functioning machine. On the other hand, companies that have spent vast amounts of money and time on competency analysis and developing complex selection systems, including a lengthy interview process, do not necessarily have creative or above-average workforces. Great players tend to emerge over time rather than appear fully formed at the interview.
Here are three ways to improve your hiring and development systems.
You Don’t Really Know Who’s the Best
Those you think are the best, the brightest, or the smartest may not be. The problem in looking for the best is that you are using suspect criteria. The fatal flaw inherent in all competency systems is change. What has been successful or what is successful in a particular place may not be in another. What was a winning competency set pre-pandemic, may be a losing one today.
Most performance management systems restrict creativity and reward only those who do yesterday’s work well. Reward systems that focus on team and workgroups, not individuals, encourage everyone to participate and grow. When this happens, unlikely people often emerge as the best.
Labels are Bad
Firms that take an open view of development and let people find their own level of competence and interest often produce “A” players from those considered “B” players. Provide development opportunities broadly for everyone and reward and promote those who take advantage of the opportunities. If we believe that talent often emerges where we least expect it, we cannot afford to limit development opportunities only to certain levels or types of employees.
Thirdly, have recruiters monitoring and sourcing internally aggressively.
Most of the very best talent comes from within and from below. We are all enamored with the outside “guru” and frequently pass on the person right in front of us who is equipped with the skills, the cultural understanding, and the motivation to exceed. Recruiters need to develop internal networks, referral programs and encourage and educate managers on the need to give people opportunities, even when the exact skills are not a match.
And finally, we need to look at selecting people for broad-based competencies.
We should be looking to hire people with motivation to learn, team experience and success, cultural compatibility, and a basic technical skill set that experiential opportunities and good mentoring can develop.
We need to move away from rigorous narrow competency definitions and reliance on experience as an indicator of performance.
Convert to a Paid Subscription
I was hoping you could do me a small favor and convert your free subscription to a paid one.
In 2022 we will add significantly more exclusive content, but, in the meantime, you can get immediate access to our 2022 trends report, previous podcasts, exclusive interviews, and white papers.
A paid subscription is only $2.50 per month/ $30 per year. Thanks so much for your help in offsetting my costs.
If you are already a paid subscriber, my deepest thanks and appreciation.
Future of Talent Weekly Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Need some consulting help or a Speaker for your event?
I work with many different firms to help improve their recruitment strategy, processes, and technology. I speak on topics similar to these articles and focus on future trends and issues recruiters face today and in the near future. I am available for consulting or speaking either in person or virtually. I am also available for webinars, workshops, and seminars. Click on the button below to find out more details, or email me directly at email@example.com.