I believe that a focus on talent with Topgrading as a foundation has been foundational to our growth and success over the past seven years. From a financial perspective, we are primarily a capacity utilization business; every seat we fill in a school generates revenue. From a quality perspective, we are focused on delivering outstanding student learning results across all our schools. Our capacity utilization has set records over the past three years (since Topgrading) while academic achievement metrics have increased steadily. As we have in- creased the percentage of A Players in our organization, employee satisfaction ratings have also consistently improved as we ensure we have more of the right leaders in place. – Alice Johnson, Vice President, People Development

North American Nursing Education (Fictitious Name)

NORTH AMERICAN NURSING EDUCATION, INC. (4,500 EMPLOYEES; THIS COMPANY CHOOSES TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS FOR SEVERAL REASONS, AMONG THEM NOT WANTING TO INSPIRE COMPETITORS TO TOPGRADE; THEREFORE THE NAMES OF THE COMPANY, THE INDUSTRY, AND INDIVIDUALS HAVE BEEN CHANGED)

Industry: Nursing Education

Highlights:

  • With Topgrading, the percent A Player deans improved annually between 2004 and 2011, from 19% to 87%.
  • Excellent example of tweaking Topgrading for entry levels.
  • There is great value in analyzing every mis-hire.
  • There is great value in coaching a new hire right away.
  • Annual talent reviews assure low performers improve or leave.

North American Nursing Education is a real case study, except that, as stated, we are using fictitious names (company name and names of officers quoted herein). This case study was written, revised, and at the last minute not approved for use with real names, so the words and all the numbers are correct and only the company, job title, and officer names have been changed.

This case study is presented because it is representative of a category of Topgrading case studies that is exciting: hiring better professionals including doctors, psychologists, teachers, lawyers, and consultants. It is too often assumed that because of shortages in a profession, it’s almost impossible to select out the low performers. For example, looking at the mediocre performance of U.S. public schools, there is evidence that too many C Player teachers are hired and retained. Another case study is Education, Inc.—the company’s real name. It is a private company that improved its success hiring A Player teachers from 12% to 78%. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles to hiring outstanding professionals, clients have figured out solutions.

Company: North American Nursing Education (NANE) has 4,500 employees and currently operates approximately 70 nursing schools in the United States and Canada. NANE recognized that as a people-intensive business, their success would rely, in large part, on the quality of the nursing instructors at each site. The selection of school deans was vital as they are responsible for building culture, managing people, leading instruction, and of course hiring the best teachers—all critical to the success of a school.

Topgrading History: As a rapidly growing organization, NANE’s leadership team participated in a seminar for growth companies, where they first learned about Topgrading.

With instructor talent considered crucial for success, a more systematic and effective hiring process seemed to make sense, because in a talent review, less than 50% of the instructors and only 19% of the school deans hired had turned out to be A Players. The leadership team made talent a top priority and proved it by taking action.
The team, led by then COO John Smith (now President/CEO) and the new Vice President of People Development, Alice Johnson, was trained in a Smart & Associates Topgrading Workshop.

Topgrading Methods: Similar to the Roundy’s case study, NANE embraces all 12 Topgrading Hiring Steps. However, unlike Roundy’s, Smith already had an A team at Corporate (hiring mostly A Players he had worked with in the past) and initially focused on hiring A Player deans. Smith: “The senior team agreed that A Player deans would eagerly learn Topgrading and hire A Player nursing instructors, but only 19% of our deans were considered A Players.” Smith and Johnson dedicated two half-days each week strictly to dean hiring and conducted tandem Topgrading Interviews and reference checks for all finalist candidates.

Topgrading Results: From 2006 to 2011 the percent A Player Deans improved from 19% to 87%. “Our hiring success rate has skyrocketed since we implemented Topgrading across the organization, but we are not satisfied with 87%,” said Johnson.


The chart doesn’t convey the way NANE deals with chronic low performers: talent reviews. Johnson said, “At the beginning of 2011, we identified four C Player deans and have successfully managed them out of the organization. The talent review is used to track our hiring success, but also to call us to action with individuals who are underperforming expectations as well.”

Johnson said, “Using the tandem Topgrading Interview approach has been hugely beneficial for us not only because it has allowed us to hire better, but because it allows us to go back when we make hiring mistakes to see what we missed and adjust our process to ensure that we do not make that mistake again. Going back after a hiring mistake has also helped us realize which characteristics are coachable and which are not.”

Throughout the business world when there are mis-hires, there rarely is a systematic analysis of the mistake. Isn’t this odd? If a new retail store concept, a high-tech product, or a pharmaceutical product fails, the analyses are very thorough. When someone fails, however, there are usually bad results that someone has to explain, and the hiring manager is asked, “Why did you hire that jerk?” The defensive manager blames Human Resources, and HR says, “We weren’t given a high enough salary to offer.” After a brief round of finger pointing, the focus is on putting out fires (“Someone had better get over to our best customer and patch things up!”) and figuring out how to fill the open job as soon as possible. When Johnson and Smith analyze a mis-hired dean they review all the interview notes, from all the interviews from the phone screen to the reference-check calls, to see what they missed. NANE’s experience proves that analyzing mis-hires creates insights that prevent some costly mis-hires.

Johnson’s quote (“Going back after a hiring mistake has also helped us realize which characteristics are coachable and which are not”) actually tells you what their mis-hire analyses reveal. Typically they recognized the person’s shortcomings but overestimated the person’s ability to overcome them. The point is, analyzing mis-hires makes them able to avoid future mis-hires by more realistically predicting the extent to which weaker points will be overcome.

NANE understands that successful deans genuinely care about the people they manage, have a strong achievement drive, and are resourceful; those qualities are not very coachable. Some failed deans seemed to be very people-oriented in interviews, but reference checks disclosed problems. Johnson: “People can fake warmth and caring in interviews, but if recent references only rate the person Good rather than Very Good or Excellent, we’ve found that Good is not Good enough. But if dean candidates exhibit those three qualities and have a willingness to learn, we can typically help them develop into a highly successful dean.”

With Topgrading, the team of deans is maturing nicely, and naturally Topgrading methods are beginning to be used for Nursing Instructor hiring. “Our goal for both Dean and Nursing Instructor hiring is 90% A Players,” commented Johnson.

Business Results
From a financial perspective, we are primarily a capacity utilization business; every seat we fill in a school generates revenue. From a quality perspective, we are focused on delivering outstanding student learning results across all our schools. Our capacity utilization has set records over the past three years while academic achievement metrics have increased steadily. As we have increased the percentage of A Players in our organization, employee satisfaction ratings have also consistently improved as we ensure we have more of the right leaders in place.
—Alice Johnson, Vice President, People Development

One way of getting a handle on business results is to measure the cost of mis-hiring a dean. NANE estimates the cost of a mis-hired dean to exceed $1 million. And they estimate that a mis-hired dean results in a 10% decline in enrollment in a school, and with the average school having 700+ students, the losses are potentially huge.

Topgrading Advice to Would-Be Topgraders from NANE Executives

  1. Take a look at your historical hiring success—the case for Topgrading builds itself.
  2. Commit to the process—just having a consistent process improves your likelihood of success.
  3. Start by building Job Scorecards—you have to identify your target before you can assess candidates against it.
  4. Jump in—don’t wait to jump into the process. The sooner you start, the sooner you start making higher-quality hires.
  5. Look for help—find a Topgrading professional or network with other Topgrading companies to learn from them.
  6. Commit the time—we find most people don’t think they have the time to commit to the full interview process, but apparently they’d rather spend 10 to 20 times that amount of time managing bad hires.
  7. Follow through—the selection process isn’t done when the interview ends. Follow through with the reference checks. We learn as much through this as we do through the interview.
  8. No candidate is perfect—the amount of information you gather in a Topgrading Interview can be overwhelming. Because there is no perfect candidate you have to use the thorough Topgrading methods. When you’re less thorough in your selection process, you are less discriminating about evaluating talent.
  9. Identify the critical competencies—learn which competencies are deal breakers and which ones are star makers for your organization. Put them in the job scorecard.
  10. Once you make the hire, start coaching—the goal of getting great talent is getting great performance. Topgrading gives you a great tool for learning about the talent you choose to bring into your organization. Once you select the talent, commit to helping them succeed by coaching them to greatness.
  11. Analyze every mis-hire by reviewing all notes. 

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