Topgrading Derails Presidential Bid


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As you will soon understand, all names have been changed. A charismatic CEO asked me to help him turn a company around and his 5-year goal was to run for, and become, President of the United States.

I was interviewing all the executives as part of a Topgrading Audit, to see who were A Players and those with A Potential … and who might have to be replaced. The Vice President of Distribution had been struggling to get results because the union rates in warehouses were higher than what competitors paid. During the interview I was noting a weird pattern—he kept referring to the mob.

Topgrading Tip: when a strange topic is repeatedly brought up by the interviewee, stay cool, let the topic come up again, and toward the end of the interview confront the person: “Why are you bringing up this topic so often?

This pattern became a red flag. I needed to—you guessed it—probe, but do so subtly. I didn’t want to scare him away from mentioning the mob, so when he brought it up a few more times I listened but didn’t probe much during most of the interview.

But at the end of the interview I figured out an indirect way to broach the subject. I was thinking, “Why the heck are you so preoccupied with the mob?” or “Are you in bed with mobsters?” but I asked, “Have you had any mob contact recently?” He said yes, two reputed hit men for the mob had been to the corporate offices and wanted to offer the CEO an “incentive”—make payments of $50,000 per month and the thugs promised that onerous union contracts would “go away.”

With the former head of the union in jail, I asked how the national union could enforce local contracts, and he made it clear that a local who refused to do what the jailbird “requested” would be killed. Gulp! Or in mob lingo, the uncooperative guy would be rubbed out, whacked, hit.

I interrupted the interview and took the executive to visit the CEO (no, not Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca, or Ross Perot.) The CEO heard the story, declined to pay the bribe, and the onerous union contracts continued. The company continued to decline, and the board eventually replaced the CEO. If I had not discovered the VP’s mafia contacts, one of the best-known companies in the U.S. might have become party to corruption and murder. And if that little tidbit became public during a presidential campaign, the CEO would have instantly had to drop out of the race.

Recommended Resources:

  1. Topgrading Snapshot

    As you probably know, Topgrading, Inc. has recently created a new product called the Topgrading Snapshot that’s earning rave reviews from our clients. It’s an online version of the Topgrading Career History Form that creates a one page, visual representation of the candidate’s entire career. So literally at a glance you can see the person’s full compensation history and honest ratings by bosses in every job. This is the best Topgrading product we’ve created because it solves the biggest hiring problems of dishonesty (in resumes and interviews), lack of important candidate information, and lack of verifiability. A powerful “truth serum” replaces “hype” with honesty.

    This tool makes the initial screening of hundreds of people using these Topgrading indicators as predictors of future success a task of minutes as opposed to the arduous hours this same task would take using conventional methods.

    Here’s the best news of all … we want you to try this new tool absolutely free as our guest. We’ll set you or a designated person in your organization up as the administrator and give you two free Topgrading Snapshots to try out with real applicants.

    Rather than trying to tell you any more about this great new tool that is changing the lives of hiring managers around the world who are using it every day to streamline their hiring practices, just visit our website at to learn more and get your organization setup in a few seconds to use your two free trial snapshots.

    There’s no obligation, no credit card required and you have nothing to lose except all of the time you’ve wasted in the past screening applicants who didn’t tell you the truth.

    To try the Topgrading Snapshot for free just visit us at:

  2. Topgrading: 3rd Edition – Add the 3rd Edition of Topgrading to your library. You probably know that it made all the bestseller lists. By purchasing the book from our website, you will also receive a recorded 45 minute webinar of the new “good stuff,” and an Implementation Manual. for more information and to order Topgrading: 3rd Edition.

A Players are NOT Necessarily Promotable

Almost every leader I’ve interviewed has promoted people who were high performers in their current job, but failed when promoted. Years ago a popular business book was The Peter Principle (by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull), a book that painfully documented how common it was to promote people to their level of incompetence. “She earned the promotion” made sense decades ago, and for years after The Peter Principle was released companies were more cautious — people were NOT necessarily given promotions because they “deserved the chance.”

But in my recent experience, too many companies have fallen back into the Peter Principle trap and need a reminder:

High performers have earned the right to be considered for promotion … but not necessarily the right to BE promoted.

The caricature is the top sales rep who is promoted to Sales Manager and fails because crucial competencies were lacking. Maybe the new Sales Manager continued to close sales, undercutting and frustrating the sales team. Or maybe the mis-promoted sales manager was:

  • poor at hiring (too emotional, undisciplined – too undisciplined to use Topgrading hiring methods),
  • a poor team builder (too self-oriented and liked taking over key customer relationships; poor coach),
  • hypercritical (“how could you have been so stupid? I would never have …”), or was,
  • a poor team player with peers (favoring sales over manufacturing, operations, etc.), or … you get the point.

Fortunately, Topgrading has the proven solution. In fact, my original engagements with General Electric dramatically improved their success promoting people. So:

Evaluate All Candidates with Topgrading Methods.

When there is an opening for, say, Sales Manager, of course:

  1. Create a Job Scorecard. This exercise will scream the truth. Many of the competencies are significantly different, such as team player, giving credit to others, and coaching.
  2. Ask external candidates to complete the Topgrading Career History Form, which produces the Topgrading Snapshot. Although high performanceas an individual performer is not sufficient for success in management it’s important, since almost certainly you don’t want to promote someone who was consistently mediocre as an individual performer because that person probably lacks competencies necessary for both jobs – competencies such as intelligence, resourcefulness, persistence, energy, and ambition.
  3. Two trained interviewers use the Topgrading Interview Guide (auto-populated with the career history form responses). As you review the candidate’s career as an individual performer, keep your antennae attuned to the managerial competencies. Probe examples when the person was (or was not) a good team player, and look for evidence that the person likes to (or not) train people and give credit to others.
  4. Candidates arrange reference calls with former bosses and others (and of course conduct those reference calls).

If you’re new to Topgrading, you might be surprised that internal candidates are put through all the same steps as if hiring someone externally … except most “reference calls” are with people in the company (bosses, peers) and maybe there are a few external references (customers, a former sales manager).

To summarize, Topgrading can prevent costly mis-promotions when it becomes clear that a candidate is deemed to fall short on new competencies for the higher-level job.

Recommended Resource:

Topgrading: 3rd Edition (in first week of release it became #1 Barnes & Noble best seller). ((The 3rd Edition of Topgrading was 100% written from scratch, with all sorts of practical innovations, and more than 350 bits of wisdom and advice from – Topgrading executives. An unprecedented 40 case studies of large and small companies provide insights into how they averaged more than tripling their success hiring high performers. Along with the book you receive a recorded webinar summarizing the most innovative and practical Topgrading methods and you can download a Manual showing how to implement them.

Click here for more information and to order Topgrading: 3rd Edition.

Published 11/20/2012

Listen to this edition of Topgrading Tips here: – Topgrading

Click here to see an article quoting me (and mentioning two Topgrading companies) on the subject of ranking employees and firing the bottom X%.  In the 3rd Edition of Topgrading I devote four pages to explaining that GE does NOT fire a predetermined percentage, despite what Jack Welch seems to imply!

HR is Failing!

The McKinsey studies have chronicled the steadily dropping respect top executives have for HR, and a recent HR Magazine does more of the same.  Fortunately, Topgrading offers one of the easiest, most powerful opportunities for HR to earn greater respect.

In the August 1, 2012 issue of SHRM's HR Magazine, highly respected Edward Lawler III has a devastating article for HR professionals, entitled Creating Effective Human Capital Strategy.  He reports on the 6th survey he's done of HR executives and concludes, "Our research finds that HR executives are often not strategic partners" … with the business leaders, and "deceive themselves" into thinking they are, when in the final analysis, "All too often the HR function is largely an administrative function."  As it relates to Topgrading:  "Missing almost entirely are …"  important metrics on "quality of talent" and "implementing change."

In the past, Topgrading a company (improving talent with Topgrading methods) had to be driven by the CEO or other business leader.  Not any longer.  With the release of the Topgrading Snapshot ( HR can quietly improve talent without making a big deal out of it.  By simply administering the Topgrading Career History Form, which produces the Topgrading Snapshot, weak candidates drop out, strong candidates become eager to be interviewed.  These tools solve the 3 biggest problems in hiring: dishonesty in resumes and interviews, incomplete information, and lack of useful reference checks.  Immediately business managers are impressed because they are interviewing better candidates, and HR gets the credit.