Chat With a Topgrader: Eric Magnussen of Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Every person in business will find this transcript of interest because of over a thousand cancer treatment facilities in the United States, CTCA is #1 in patient satisfaction, with 96% approval.  CTCA is the perfect example of a company truly putting its customers first AND Topgrading so that their customers are served by all…you know…A Players!

Brad Smart:  Eric Magnussen has an interesting title — Vice President of Talent for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA®). CTCA has done just a super job of serving their customers who are their patients.  If you walk into any CTCA hospital, every single person is positive and upbeat, and they just empower the patients unbelievably — and it works.  You know this in the sense that patients treated so well tell others and their family and friends and so forth; they recommend CTCA. I met Dick Stephenson, the founder, probably 10, maybe 12 years ago and they’ve been involved in Topgrading ever since. The quarterback of Topgrading is Eric.   So let me pass the baton to you, Eric, and if you would, tell the Topgrading story and fill in anything you’d like about CTCA.

Eric Magnussen:
  Thank you, Brad. Cancer Treatment Centers of America was founded in 1988 by Richard Stephenson after he lost his mom to cancer.   And as Brad indicated, Dick and his family went through a really horrible experience, and if any of you have had family members or friends who have fought cancer you know personally what that experience is like.

Unfortunately, Dick’s mother passed away and he – at the end of that journey – felt like there had to be a better way for hospitals to rally around the patient to deliver a whole person care experience.   And in Dick’s experience and his mom’s experience he felt like treatment options were not offered to her.   Things she valued such as nutritional support, spiritual care, herbal medicine; those things were not offered.   They weren’t available and after she passed, Dick started to do a lot of research into cancer care and saw a huge opportunity to create a hospital that put the patient at the center of the entire model.

He founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America in a little town called Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago.   Since then, we’ve expanded to a five-hospital system with hospitals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Phoenix, Arizona and Newnan, Georgia which is just outside of Atlanta.

At CTCA we really have a huge focus on talent.   That comes directly from our Chairman, from Richard Stephenson, and it’s also reinforced by our President and CEO, Steve Bonner, who is a tremendous advocate for talent.   But the basic premise is clear.   Anyone can build a beautiful hospital; anyone who has the type of funding available can invest in the latest and greatest technology; but it’s the people who create the care experience. At CTCA we call the experience that we deliver “The Mother Standard of Care.”  We want to treat every single patient the way we’d want our own mother, brother, father, loved one to be treated.   And in order to do that we have to ensure that we have healthy, loyal, fully performing employees whom we call stakeholders in every single role in the organization.

So our stakeholders create and deliver “The Mother Standard of Care” to our patients extremely well.   That’s what distinguishes CTCA and that’s why we’re so committed to building a talent-based culture.   As Brad alluded, Dick Stephenson and Steve Bonner both were looking for tools that CTCA could use to enhance the way that we select talent and discovered the Topgrading methodology and Brad.   And for us it’s been a tool that we find very, very useful.

But I think evidence of the fact that it works is just looking across CTCA overall.  Our turnover rate is low compared to our competitors.   We run a 10% turnover rate and at the executive level it’s far less than 10%.   So to us that indicates that we’re finding A players and then once they’re engaged in the culture here we’re keeping them engaged, because the thorough assessment that we’ve done means that we’ve identified someone that wants to always make a growing contribution to the organization.

Brad Smart: Patient care is obviously important to every employee. No one is role-playing, saying, “Thank you for using CTCA” the way you hear, “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart.”  Never, never! It’s all from the heart and you’ve done a wonderful job of using Topgrading to extract the values from candidates, to pick those whose values are consonant with the company.

Eric Magnussen:  I think probably in any organization the challenge is alignment and making sure that from the executive level of the organization on down that everyone understands why it makes so much sense to invest the amount of time that it takes to conduct a Topgrading interview.   That’s a challenge within CTCA, because we’re a very patient-centered, patient-focused organization, and any time people are away from the patient they ask themselves, “Well shouldn’t we be investing that time to spend more time with patients?” I think for us that’s been the biggest challenge — really helping people understand the value of investing four to five hours to conduct the Topgrading interview. We found it helpful as we took people through the training process: It’s one thing to talk about Topgrading and get it on an academic level; it’s a very different thing to experience Topgrading for yourself firsthand.   And so we found it effective to take our executive teams through the Topgrading training process because during that process you actually conduct a Topgrading interview. You can discover for yourself the power of the interview and the information that it can uncover.

Brad Smart: Eric, what is the cost of mis-hiring a nurse?

Eric Magnussen:  At least ten times their base salary.

Brad Smart: How long does it take for Topgrading to take hold in a company and see measurable productivity gains?

Eric Magnussen:  Well, I think it’s a journey really. Topgrading was introduced 12 years ago and I think it takes a leader at the top who consistently communicates the importance of talent to the organization and is willing to reinforce that by demonstrating that they’ll conduct these Topgrading interviews themselves so that they can be role models.  Once we conducted those Topgrading workshops across CTCA, the managers trained started using Topgrading methods.

Brad Smart: Someone from Dallas asked what’s the best way to sell the idea of Topgrading in an organization that hired based on urgent need instead of waiting for the best candidate for the job and company.   Tough question, Eric, we’re desperate; we have to have a sales rep for this region or some of our best customers are saying they’re going to go with our competitors.   And we have some B’s and we’re certainly not going to hire any C’s.   What do we do?

Eric Magnussen: If you bring someone into your culture who is not aligned with the way that the organization thinks or is not aligned with your company’s mission or vision for a purpose-driven company like CTCA, that’s poisonous.   So we’re always quick to say, “I’m feeling pain right now, because I don’t have someone in this role; but I’m willing to hold out for the right talent, because we recognize that in our business we don’t get any do overs.”

Brad Smart: Eric, someone asked what do you do at Cancer Treatment Centers prior to the Topgrading interview?

Eric Magnussen:  We’ll conduct an initial screening interview and that would involve a telephone interview.   We then bring the person in for a face-to-face interview with the hiring manager if they pass that screening interview.   If we think that the individual is still a strong candidate we have another assessment tool that we use to assess the individual.   That gives us a read of their talent and then we apply the Topgrading interview as a part of the final round of group interviews that someone completes.   So we do a Topgrading interview coupled with face-to-face meetings with the hiring manger or the other managers that are a part of the group, and for senior-level positions, that will involve everyone including the CEO either of the hospital or of the entire organization.

Brad Smart: What are some of the best ways to integrate Topgrading into performance management?

Eric Magnussen:  What we find helpful is really when you focus on those competencies, identifying competencies that you can tie into performance. At CTCA we’ve defined a set of performance standards for each level of the organization starting with managers of self, managers of others, managers of managers, function managers, and business managers.   So each of those leadership levels within the company has a set of performance standards.   And those define how you should be doing the work.   So those are helpful for us to look at especially when we’re doing the Topgrading interview because we can test for that in the competency section.

Brad Smart:  The Job Scorecard really becomes a basis for performance management.   If we really nail down all of the competencies, the numbers to be generated as well as the soft competencies such as team player, you make all of those measurable and it’s the basis for measuring someone’s performance. It’s when there’s a vague job description that there’s more of a problem there.

Eric Magnussen:  Brad, I think that’s a key point, because we really do invest a lot of time building the Job Scorecard, what we call the Job Profile at CTCA.

Brad Smart:  How important is having two interviewers?

Eric Magnussen:  We use tandem Topgrading interviews at CTCA. We find that very valuable, because it gives the hiring manager as well as the person within the talent function the opportunity to be at the same table and to listen to the candidate as he or she progresses through the interview. That’s valuable to us, because one person hears something, another person hears something else.   And afterwards you can work together to confirm and validate what you heard in the interview.

Brad Smart:  Someone asked if rolling out Topgrading scares people: Does it hurt the organization’s culture?

Eric Magnussen:  For us it’s been energizing. I think we’re blessed by the fact that we have a very strong culture where all of our employees (we call them stakeholders) – if you were to walk up to a stakeholder in the hallway randomly and say what’s CTCA all about, I guarantee you they’d say we’re all about serving patients.   So we’re crystal clear on that. For us, whenever we identify something that gives us an opportunity to improve the way that we deliver care and service to patients, that’s exciting to us.   So when we did all the management training – Topgrading training at CTCA – we had a lot of very positive feedback and people were energized because they really want to find the best people to come in and help take care of patients.

Brad Smart:  What criteria do you use to determine if you’re going to use Topgrading in a position?

Eric Magnussen: We started using Topgrading as an executive assessment tool and so the criteria that CTCA uses today are we’re looking at director level and above positions which are executive level positions within the organization.   However, the exciting news is we’re expanding it into the nursing ranks of the organization.   As Brad discussed, you can use Topgrading for every level of the organization.

Brad Smart:  Okay, Eric, as you’re looking to the future, what are your thoughts about Topgrading and what you’re doing, or how do you keep it going?

Eric Magnussen: That’s actually a great question because the talent team from around CTCA is going to be in Chicago next week and we’re going to be having our annual planning process. That’s precisely what we’re going to talk about – the selection process at CTCA and where we want to take Topgrading in the organization.   So I think we certainly have an opportunity to expand the use of Topgrading from the executive level to other levels of the organization.

Brad Smart: How important is top-level support for Topgrading?

Eric Magnussen:  It’s imperative to have CEO support or executive support for the program.  HR is crucial, but would be less effective without CEO support.

Brad Smart: Thank you, Eric, for your insights and wisdom!

Eric Magnussen:  Thank you, Brad; thank you everyone.  Take care.

Published April 23, 2013

Topgrading CEO Tortured

Of my almost 7,000 Topgrading Interviews, this is one of the strangest!  This is a compelling Topgrading Tips article of a highly resourceful bad guy. The client name and industry have been changed for anonymity.

Juan headed a global financial services company generally considered to be the most innovative in the world. As a child, Juan was reared to prepare to overthrow his company’s dictator, and at 20 years of age, he made the attempt, but failed. The dictator captured Juan and a friend, strung them up, and sliced off his friend’s private parts.  When the dictator was about to do the same to Juan, he urinated in the dictator’s face. Or so he told me.

Rather than immediately kill Juan, the dictator decided to torture him, putting Juan in a box similar to a coffin, where he was kept barely alive. An artist from Juan’s country painted a picture portraying Juan in his coffin, with the lights of truth and freedom cascading off of the box, and I bought the painting (which is now in someone’s basement). The dictator was overthrown six months later; Juan was hospitalized another six months; then 20 years later founded his company, with offices in 150 countries. To emerge from the torture box to mold a respected global company as CEO must have required resourcefulness, drive, brains, and guts. You’re thinking, “Brad, this guy sounds like a hero, so where’s the negative?” You’ll see. Juan hired me to help Topgrade the top three levels of his company, a three-year project. Juan was the only senior executive not to go through the Topgrading process with me. I advised him that he should go through the Topgrading process so I could help build teams that would work best for him. “You might find out something I don’t want you to know, Brad,” he said. Indeed!

Early in my consulting engagement Juan invited me to Las Vegas, promising that we’d make $250,000 his “secret way”.  He hinted we’d have fun (“private jet, penthouse suite, no wives—just the guys, heh-heh”). I’d heard Juan “fooled around a lot,” but not with women inside the company. I was curious as to why Vegas hotels would pay all our expenses and then write us checks for $250,000, but when asked, Juan simply said, “You’ll see.”

Needless to say, I declined Juan’s offer and he never asked me again. It didn’t occur to me that Juan had a gambling addiction, because he had shown me his net worth in an estate document — a half-billion dollars.

Juan had a huge personality and ego. I witnessed his ordering a U.S. senator to “get your ass over here now.” I sat in on a meeting with 50 board members and eight translators, and Juan masterfully molded the opinions of the group so that he would get exactly what he wanted. In a champagne event where anyone else would toast three heads of state with grace, sophistication, and poise, Juan got away with an outrageous dirty joke. I would have loved to put Juan though a Topgrading Interview and talk to people who had known him over the years, because he was unique and fascinating. But it never happened. The Topgrading engagement was packing the organization with talent and Juan was doing well as the leader, so it didn’t occur to me that Juan’s idiosyncrasies might include stealing from the company. When the Topgrading engagement was over, we had a final dinner in Washington, D.C., at the Watergate Hotel. We toasted each other and said good-bye, with my wondering what the heck I didn’t know about Juan.

Two weeks later the FBI marched into Juan’s offices, and just as in the first Wall Street movie, he did the perp walk. Juan had bribed 10 consultants, contractors, and others to give him kickbacks on their contracts, apparently to support his gambling habit. He’d take them to Las Vegas, get them girls, and persuade them to participate in kickback schemes. The consultants didn’t do much work, which caused them some legal problems. I was the only one of the consultants and contractors who was never even called by the FBI — I suppose because there were so many of my reports that showed I actually did the work for which I invoiced the company.

Juan tried to frame someone to take the fall for stealing, but it didn’t work. Juan went to jail, was released three years later, returned to his home country, came back to the U.S., and was arrested and jailed again for additional illegalities.

Phew! Why, when I suspected that Juan was a sociopath, didn’t I walk away from the engagement? I didn’t know he’d bribed anyone, taken kick- backs, or had broken any laws, and I’d only heard vague rumors of the details of his Las Vegas trips and his marital difficulties. And as mentioned, he showed me the figures in the huge estate he managed. But somehow, when the truth came out, I wasn’t shocked. I wonder how much of Juan’s darker side I might have seen had he participated in the full Topgrading process.

Topgrading Principle
This is just more than a really odd story about a really unusual man; it’s somewhat of a Topgrading parable:

Resourcefulness is the most important of all competencies, but it doesn’t come with a moral foundation.  Just watch American Greed on TV to see plenty more smart, resourceful “doers” who “did” what they did illegally.

Never cut corners on reference checks.  Had Juan been a candidate for hire, the standard Topgrading approach would have had Juan arranging reference calls with all bosses (four in his case), three subordinates, and three peers – picked by me!  I’d bet that there were plenty of indications of his dishonesty that thorough reference checks would have disclosed.

Recommended Resource:

Add the 3rd Edition of Topgrading to your library. By purchasing the book from our website, you will also receive an Implementation Manual.

Published April 16, 2013

How to Measure Hiring/Promoting Success

PRE-WORK: Why Measure Success Hiring and Promoting People?
  • Everyone knows that in business, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” or, “what is measured is what you get,” because key measurements are what people are held accountable for. Companies say, “Our most important asset is our people,” but most don’t measure hiring/promoting success. If they did, goals to measure success hiring and promoting would be set for managers of companies each year. According to our research, if these goals were set and measurements had been collected, the results for the last 4 decades would be very disappointing. If these results had been tracked, best practices would have been investigated (such as Topgrading), and managers would have been held accountable for the less-thandesirable hiring/promoting results.
  • It’s necessary for accountability: Topgraders shine and non-Topgraders don’t. Topgrading should be added to every manager’s Job Scorecard, including the CEO’s. When results are fed back to managers, peer pressure is intense for non-Topgraders to embrace the methods. (“Hey, VP Sales, 75% of the sales reps you hire fail and if you don’t do a lot better in sales, none of us will get a bonus!”).
  • It provides an opportunity for senior management to reinforce the commitment to Topgrading. Outstanding Topgraders are not only praised, but are typically so successful they get more promotional opportunities for themselves and their employees.
  • The value of the company is related to Topgrading. The 3rd edition of Topgrading has 40 case studies and CEOs state in their own words that Topgrading made the company more successful.
  • Showing reduced costs of mis-hires makes all managers want to be better Topgraders.
PRE-WORK: How to Start Learning; How to Measure Hiring/Promoting Success

Read the measurement sections in the 3rd edition of Topgrading. They thoroughly explain hiring steps #1 (Establish a baseline – percent hiring success prior to Topgrading) and #12 (Conduct annual measurement to show Topgrading success…or not). These sections are on pages 62 –77 (Step #1) and 175 – 178 (Step #12). Experiment with the four useful Topgrading Calculators. Someone involved with measuring hiring/promoting success can “play with” these revealing calculators to quickly develop an intuitive sense of how powerful Topgrading is…and why measurement is so crucial. It’s simple to perform the calculations that will anchor your talent perspective in reality. All of these calculators are at, where you can enter your information and get the results immediately. The four Topgrading Calculators are:

  1. Baseline Hiring Success Calculator. Calculate your pre-Topgrading percentage of high performers hired and promoted. (This is a quick version of hiring Step #1).
  2. Topgrading Talent Projection Calculator. Calculate how many people you’ll have to hire and fire (the mis-hires, the low performers) in order to achieve 90% A-players hired, given your present success rate. (This usually shows a LOT of mis-hires before there is a good hire/high performer, making you want to calculate just how costly those mishires are.)
  3. Topgrading Cost of Mis-Hires Calculator. Calculate your typical cost of mis-hires, and your typical number of wasted hours sweeping up after a mis-hire. (This calculator makes filling out the Cost of Mis-Hires Form a breeze.)
  4. Topgrading Organizational Cost of Mis-Hires Calculator. Calculate the costs of mis-hires in money and time, depending entirely upon your success rate. Using these estimates, pinpoint how much it will cost you to “live with” those underperformers (to replace underperformers with your current methods) with your current success rate which is probably low. You will see how much money and time you’ll save if you replace underperformers with Topgrading methods.

Summary: It’s important to accurately measure your Topgrading success. It’s simple if done the recommended way. Following are more detailed methods to measure hiring and promoting success, and to estimate the ROI of transitioning to Topgrading methods.

For Real: Measure Your Success Hiring Prior to Topgrading: Your Baseline

Topgraders eventually measure success hiring/promoting for all jobs; even jobs where Topgrading methods are not used. Why? Topgrading results for even the entry level positions are spectacular. Even if Topgrading is started at high levels within the organization, you’ll want to eventually roll it out for all jobs.

For purposes of explanation, let’s use a scenario that assumes there are 20 managers in your organization. Suppose you are the CEO and you have completed performance reviews for your managers. You believe that 50% (10 of them) are high performers. Not satisfied with 50%, you decide to attend a Topgrading workshop with your 2 vice presidents to launch Topgrading. If I asked you, “What’s your success hiring and promoting the people in those 20 managerial jobs?” you would likely tell me 50%, but you’d probably be wrong. Why? A couple of your managers are new, and you probably should not count them as definitely good hires until they’ve been on the job one year. Also, you had a bunch of mishires and mis-promotions and you replaced them…so 50% is not your success rate; it’s your percent high performers after that revolving door. More on that later.

So, the first measurement step is to validly measure your baseline, your success rate hiring or promoting for whatever group you focus on. This is your measurement of your pre-Topgrading success. For purposes of explanation, let’s discuss how to measure success for managers.

In our example, you’re the CEO and you have 20 managers, some hired externally and some promoted. Make a list of all managers hired and promoted during the 2+ year period from 3 years ago until one year ago. Why? Because you need managers to be on the job at least one year before you determine whether they were a good hire (high performer or potential to be a high performer), or a mis-hire (not a high performer and do not show the potential to become one). You can go back as many years as you want in order to have larger numbers of managers included in your research. Just remember you want everyone included to have been in the job for at least one year before you rate them a good hire or mis-hire.

Suppose you go through your records and see that 20 managers were hired/promoted from 4 years ago to one year ago. Write down their name, job title, and the date they were hired or promoted. Rate their performance today:

  • Pull out performance appraisal records
  • Ask the hiring manager and HR or peers who have worked closely with the manager to rate the person either a 1)High Performer/High Performer Potential; or 2) Mis-Hire.

Question: What if the person was hired as a sales rep 3 years ago, and was rated a high performer in that job, but 1 ½ years ago was promoted to Sales Manager not using Topgrading and has failed in that job?
Answer: Count that person a mistake, a mis-promotion into management.

Suppose currently you have information on 20 managers hired pre-Topgrading and 6 managers are now rated High Performer or High Performer Potential, leaving 14 who are rated Mis-Hire (i.e., mis- promotion or not a High Performer). Take the total number of High Performers/High Potential Performers (6) and divide by the total number of managers hired/promoted (20), and Your pre-Topgrading management hiring success rate has been 30%.

Common Mistake: Recall that “revolving door” scenario? It’s such a common mistake; let’s explore it a bit more. Companies sometimes say things like, “The day we started to roll out Topgrading we had 20 managers and half were High Performers, so our pre-Topgrading hiring/promoting success was 50%.” Probably not! To make the point, let me demonstrate how only a 10% success rate can convert to 50% high performers today. Let’s suppose that years ago when the first 20 managers were hired or promoted, 18 were terrible performers, a 10% success rate. Darn! Suppose all 18 were fired, and only 10% of the 18 replacements were successful (2), so you’re up to 4 high performers (20%) on the team. Suppose the 16 low performers were fired and 10% (2) turned out to be a high performer. Now you’re up to 6 high performers and…you get the picture! In this case there was a revolving door (at warp speed) but just because the company had 50% High Performers the day they launched Topgrading does not mean it experienced a 50% hiring success rate. It got to 50% despite a 10% success rate by replacing 90% low performers time and time again.

The correct measurement method to calculate pre-Topgrading success is to go back to when all those managers were hired or promoted and record the name/date/title of everyone hired/promoted…and replaced…up until a year ago. And don’t forget – be sure the manager was hired/promoted at least one year ago to be included in your data.

For Real: Measure Success Hiring and/or Promoting Since Topgrading Methods Were Used

As soon as managers are trained and begin using Topgrading methods, start recording all management hires and promotions for the next year, and then wait one full year after each manager was hired before measuring their performance. At that time you should rate them High Performer/High Performer Potential or Mis-hire/mis-promoted (not a High Performer). So if it is January, 2014 and you hire 1 manager, you can measure that person’s performance in January, 2015.

To measure hiring/promoting success using Topgrading methods, write the name/title, and the date the person was hired or promoted. Annually look at the success rate, but only for managers who were hired/promoted at least one year prior (have completed 12 months in the role). If you have a small company, it might take you 2 or 3 years to have enough managers hired/promoted over a year ago in order to conclude how successful you’ve been with Topgrading. If in the past only 1 in 4 was successful and you’ve had 3 high performers out of 4, that is likely to be convincing to you.
Measure percent of High Performers on the management team.
Although the percentage of high performers in management or in all jobs within the company is not the statistic showing your hiring/promoting success, those stats are still very important! Every Topgrading company, including all that have been case studies, want to show NOT just their baselines for hiring and/or promoting success pre-Topgrading and since Topgrading, but they want to declare the extent to which they have packed their team with high performers. Theoretically you could enjoy 90% success hiring/promoting and yet have a team of 20% high performers. Huh?! How? Again – theoretically – your top managers are so lousy they can’t retain high performers…who quit…leaving mostly low performers.
Topgraders brag that they have 75% or even 90% high performers in management and/or throughout the company. In case studies they explain that in addition to enjoying a high rate of success hiring/promoting people, they:
  • retain them by creating a terrific culture within their organization,
  • reward high performance (with promotions and pay),
  • redeploy underperformers into jobs in which they are high performers,
  • replace underperformers, and
  • do not replace some underperformers who are released, finding that 5 A Players can do the work better than 2 As, 5 Bs, and 2 C Players, for example. 
Note: Topgrading is top-down, with senior management Topgraded before middle management, which is Topgraded before lower management, so it is common that lower levels temporarily show less success than upper levels.

For Real: Chart Declining Costs of Mis-Hires

If you used the Topgrading Calculators, you’ve estimated the costs of mis-hiring people who are your current employees. These are not scientific calculations but are usually the management team’s best guesses. Now it’s time to make those guesses more educated.

Measure the costs of every mis-hire and mis-promotion. Use the Topgrading Cost of Mis- Hire Form by sitting down with the hiring manager and one or two others who worked closely with the mis-hire to perform a very thorough performance review. Most companies start by doing this just with managers…and later add individual contributors, and gradually go down through the company as Topgrading takes hold. The motivation to continue these measurements comes from looking at the declining costs (in money and time) of mis-hires year after year. If the company is growing, the numbers have to be altered to reflect information that is more meaningful and measurable, like the average cost of mis-hire per employee, for example. Then add the chart to your company dashboard.

Every manager uses the Topgrading Cost of Mis-Hires Form (Step #1) whenever there is a mishire, and these costs of mis-hires can be aggregated across the company, and disclosed to all managers annually.

In real life the results are always the same: Topgraders increase their percent high performers hired and promoted, from 25% to 50%, 60%, and steadily toward 90%, and the high costs of mis-hires goes down, down, down year after year. Every manager sitting with HR to analyze the costs of every mis-hire by reviewing the total hiring file on the mis-hire or mis-promotion, sees that cutting corners on Topgrading methods is foolish because it is too costly.

For Real: Measure Success Using Topgrading Online Solutions (TOLS, including the Topgrading Snapshot)

Measure prescreening time pre-TOLS and since using TOLS. Early indications are that someone screening from Topgrading Snapshots cuts screening time 90% (whether or not an Applicant Tracking System – ATS – is used).

Measure the improvement in quality of those screened on the phone…and later interviewed in person. One key number is percent of those phone screened who are invited in for face-to-face interviews. Another is the percent interviewed in person who are offered a job.
Measure turnover before and since using TOLS to hire entry levels jobs.
Companies so new to Topgrading that they don’t perform the Topgrading hiring steps beyond screening candidates for interviews (i.e., they don’t conduct Topgrading Interviews or reference checks organized by candidates), should still measure hiring/promoting success pre-TOLS and since using TOLS using the methods explained above. There will definitely be an improvement in hiring and promoting, which will motivate management to learn more Topgrading steps.

Listen to this Topgrading Tip from Brad Smart on audio

Six Tips for Recruiting A Players

Summary:  If you had a 100% foolproof method of hiring, it could fail miserably if you did not have enough candidates to pick from.  Topgrading IS the most proven and effective hiring method BUT … unless you have at least 30 and preferably 50 candidates to choose from, even Topgrading will probably not produce an A Player … except … EXCEPT if you recruit A Players from your network.

This happened recently:  A Topgrader head of Human Resources complained to me that the online Topgrading hiring instruments failed.  Huh?  Everyone loves these hiring tools – the Career History Form produces the Topgrading Snapshot, making screening super quick and accurate, and the Topgrading Interview Guide is a breeze to use, because it contains all of the honest, complete information from the Career History Form.   The head of HR said there were three candidates for a sales rep job and two of the three failed to even complete the career history form.  And the one who did was a terrible job hopper who recently had been fired.  Hence, he said, Topgrading hadn’t produced an A Player to hire.

Good grief!  A random pick of any three candidates for any job almost certainly has no A Players, because the vast majority of people who send their resume would be low performers for you.

Topgrading cannot turn C and B Players into A Players.  Expect that C Players will start completing the Career History Form and read the “truth serum,” that THEY will eventually have to arrange reference calls with former bosses, and when they realize they will never get former bosses to talk, OF COURSE they drop out.  Good!

Here’s how the Topgrading magic works:  50 candidates send you their resume and you email all 50 a thank you, inviting them to complete the Topgrading Career History Form.  Twenty-five mediocre candidates drop out because they realize they won’t get former bosses to talk to you and they realize that Topgrading will show how fictitious and deceptive their resume is.   Again – Good!  You didn’t want to interview them anyway.

You review the 25 Career History Forms and Topgrading Snapshots and 5 candidates look good – they are NOT job hoppers, their comp is in the right range, and their bosses would give them high performance ratings.  You screen them on the phone, bring three in for Topgrading Interviews, decide one is an A Player, ask the candidate to arrange reference calls with bosses, conduct the reference calls, and you hire an A Player.  Viola!  Topgrading has produced an A Player, but only because you recruited many candidates to choose from.

How to Recruit Dozens of Candidates:  Unless you can pick from the best of 30 – 50 candidates, you might not have any A Player finalists.  So, here’s how to recruit LOTS of candidates:

1.  Recruit from your network of A Players.  You don’t need 50, 30, or even 13 candidates if you recruit A Players you or someone you trust has worked with.  Your company should be offering terrific monetary and appreciation awards for A Players who refer A Players.

2.  Ensure your company LinkedIn profile is 100% up-to-date and advertise open positions on LinkedIn.

3.  Use Social Recruiting, notably Twitter and Facebook.

4. Make the Careers section of your corporate website exciting and attractive.  If you’ve received honors such as being listed among the Best Companies to Work For in your area, brag about it!

5.  Advertise on major and/or industry specific job boards. 

6. For high-level positions, engage an executive search firm, but require it to use Topgrading methods; its reports should show failures, not just successes, and what bosses will say are candidates’ weaker points, not just strengths.

Conclusion: Recruit a LOT of candidates in order to allow Topgrading to work its magic:  90% high performers hired.

Published 14, 2014

Maintain Control of the Interview (Part I)

Just about every book on how to get a job says that interviewers are so bad at interviewing (that’s generally true) that to get a job offer, interviewees must take control of the interview to tell interviewers how good they are. And the books advise candidates to prepare self-promoting sound bites. Those books advise that, just like a politician on TV, candidates should answer the questionsthey want asked, which will not be the ones interviewers ask.

Fortunately, most candidates preparing for a Topgrading interview go to, learn about the chronological interview, read that they will be able to talk about all their successes, and see that they will have to arrange calls with former bosses as a final step in hiring. Sharp candidates realize that if they take control and avoid answering questions, they won’t get a job offer. But…even ‘A Player’ candidates usually have some failures they’d prefer not to talk about and instinctively try to manipulate their interviewers.

There are three key ways to take back control if the interviewee either tries to take over or just wanders off on topics not of interest to you:

  1. The first time you need to regain control, be gentle, but interrupt and restate your question.
  2. The next time interrupt and explain, “Pat, our Topgrading process involves asking a lot of questions about a lot of jobs, and I’d really appreciate it if you focus on the question asked.” Or, “Your running marathons sounds fascinating, but I’m concerned we won’t have time to complete this interview if we don’t get back to discussing your career.”
  3. And the third time say something like, “Joe, I’m wondering if you’ve read some books that say you have to take control of the interview. Please don’t because I’m thinking that if you come to work for me, I will have difficulty getting you to answer my questions.”

The gentle approach is almost always sufficient to regain control. If you are the hiring manager, can you imagine what it would be like working with someone who would try to avoid your questions, obfuscate, or flat-out change your agenda in a conversation? The third rather blunt approach is taken when you are about to reject the candidate and call off the interview. It is very fair to be this blunt, however, because it gives the candidate one last chance to “pass” the interview. I do this in interviews, essentially speaking for my client: “Susan, we’ve been together a couple of hours and I’ve found that sometimes I have to ask a question twice or three times before I get an answer. I know you want to put your best foot forward, but I’m thinking that if Jan hires you, she would be frustrated because she really insists that people on her team listen carefully to her questions and answer them directly.”

If interviewees permit you to retake control and answer your questions, fine. But if you continue having to re-ask questions you’re bound to reject a candidate – also great, because you’ve avoided a costly mis-hire.

Recommended Resource:

Quarterly Topgrading Workshop. How about attending or sending key managers to our March 13-14 Topgrading Workshop in the Chicago area. Brad and two other Topgrading professionals will not only teach Topgrading methods but for about half of the workshop, observe and personally coach attendees in how to conduct the Topgrading Interview, analyze the information, arrive at valid conclusions, and provide feedback and coaching to the “new hire.” Workshop ratings have exceeded 9 (on a 10-point scale) for years. Click here for information.

Published February 26, 2013