“Topgrading has definitely made two companies I’ve run more profitable. The Snapshot is amazing – even before talking with a candidate you know if they are a job hopper, their full salary history, and how all their bosses would rate them.”

“Nothing has been more important for my career success.  Really – at least half my career success is attributable to Topgrading and Brad Smart’s counsel.”

– Scott Clawson, CEO, Culligan


Based in Chicago area with over 600 dealers in 85 countries; 2450 employees; $450 million sales; $88 million EBITA

Industry: Culligan is the world leader in residential, office, and commercial water treatment.


  • Spectacular operating results: Clawson improved EBITA from $47 million to $88 million in only 4 years
  • Topgrading was launched by Clawson even before he arrived for his first day. (“I took a couple of months off and sent my head of HR to implement Topgrading before I got there.” — Clawson)
  • Formula for success: Topgrading, Culligan Business Systems (lean manufacturing and related concepts), and strategy deployment


  • Used in all countries (“Topgrading works well everywhere” — Clawson)
  • Topgrading is required to hire someone (“No one can be hired without a Job Scorecard, tandem Topgrading interview, and reference checks arranged by the candidate. If the CEO doesn’t mandate Topgrading I’ve found managers will cut corners and hire lesser performers..”
  • Topgrading as helped B players become A Players; “The Topgrading Interview and developmental planning resulted in two managers embracing Topgrading and executing the Culligan Business system and both are now solid A Players.”
  • Measurement of hiring success is good (“We know who the As and Bs are.”) but could be better (“I’ll improve the measurement – really nail down the percent of people who are hired or promoted who become As. This will show all our leaders how important Topgrading is – users create A teams and laggards don’t.  And it will give HR the visibility and respect they deserve for packing all the teams with A Players.”
  • Topgrading is used for promotions. (“It’s a huge error companies make to promote people without a Job Scorecard and Tandem Topgrading Interviews. It avoids mistakes and is perceived as a very objective, fair process.”)

Excerpts from a “Chat with a Topgrader” interview with Scott Clawson, CEO and Kelley Mudgett, Director Human Resources

Scott Clawson: Previously, I was President and CEO at a company called GSI in a rural part of Illinois. Topgrading was used to get A players on my team and the rest of the managers; Topgrading is the main reason that company succeeded. It was a financially owned company by a private equity. The stakes were high. It was my second CEO role, and you know, all the cards were on the table; I had to achieve the results the PE Company, Certerbridge Partners, wanted. Fortunately, we were very successful. Topgrading was the reason. I took our Executive Staff to 90% A Players. Of the nine on my team, initially there were only two A Players.

And then we really got successful in the next level too. And that’s where you really create value when the whole company has the spirit of Topgrading. And four years later we sold the company for almost four times the money and the company still is doing well today because of the A Players there. And it was a huge success factor.

There were some interesting lessons learned from that GSI experience, and these lessons help us succeed at Culligan. At GSI I did not really make sure everyone was using all of the Topgrading steps, and some results slipped. Today at Culligan we have tools online, like the Topgrading Snapshot, that are hugely effective and helpful and we really make sure we use all the Topgrading methods.

Even before I showed up for my first day at Culligan, I hired an HR Executive and we got all managers to read the 3rd edition of Topgrading. We brought in Topgrading Professionals to train all the managers and then Kelley was certified for Train the Trainers, and she has trained new managers ever since.

And then we really did something that was important here, we started measuring the percent A Players hired early on and I really mandated that if you want to get a job filled you have to follow the Topgrading process. I learned that if you cut corners you get more mis-hires.

Topgrading can be moderately successful if you use some parts but it will be more successful to the organization if you use them all and you really measure and track those. So every month Kelley and my top HR Executive come in and they report on who’s in the process and what percentage of completion are we on the steps of the process. Have they had a Tandem Interview and that highlights anybody on my staff who’s trying to get around the process. And people try all the time, you know, they want to rush and hire somebody and the great thing about here at Culligan that I didn’t do at GSI is HR is so on-board that they just won’t fill a job if they don’t follow all the Topgrading steps.

Summary: Scott and Kelley’s advice to would-be Topgraders:

  1. Topgrade the whole company.  Why not – it works at all levels and yes, it’s simpler and shorter at lower levels/
  2. Involve HR fully.  We leverage Topgrading so our clients, hiring managers, get the best candidates and hire only A Players.  The CEO is the only one who can require the necessary disciplines, but HR does most of the heavy lifting to help hiring managers.
  3. Give every manager the 3rd Edition of Topgrading.
  4. Train all managers in Topgrading methods.
  5. Require that all Topgrading methods be used; no cutting corners!
  6. Measure – track all Topgrading steps to be sure they are used.
  7. Use the Topgrading Online Solutions’ forms and guides, including the Topgrading Snapshot.
  8. Measure success hiring – the only way to improve.
  9. Know that Topgrading is legally defensible.


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