Apr 262005

Book Short: Are You Topgraded?

Book Short:  Are You Topgraded?

I read a decent volume of business books (some of my favorites and more recent ones are listed in the left hand column of the blog).  I have two main pet peeves with business books as a rule:  the first is is that most business books have one central idea and a few good case examples and take way too many pages to get where they’re going; the other is that far too many of them are geared towards middle and upper management of 5,000+ person companies and are either not applicable or need to be adapted for startups.

Anyway, I thought I’d occasionally post quick synopses of some good ones I’ve read recently.  Topgrading, by Brad Smart was so good that this post will be longer than most.  It’s a must read for anyone who’s doing a lot of hiring (fellow entrepreneur blogger Terry Gold is a fan, as well).

The book is all about how to build an organization of A players and only A players, and it presents a great interviewing methodology.  It’s very long for a business book, but also very valuable.  Buy a copy for anyone in your company who’s doing a lot of hiring, not just for yourself or for your HR person.  I think the book falls down a little bit on startup adaptation, but it’s still worth a read.

There’s been much talk lately about “the importance of B players” in Harvard Business Review and other places.  I share the Topgrading perspective, which is a little different (although more semantically different than philosophically different).

The Topgrading perspective is that you should always hire A players — the definition of which is “one of the top 10% of the available people in the talent pool, for the job you have defined today, at the comp range you have specified.”  I absolutely buy into this.  Don’t like what you’re seeing while screening candidates?  Change one of the three variables (job definition, comp, or geography) and you’ll get there.

The corrolary to the A-player-only theory is that there are three types of A players — the author calls them A1, A2, and A3.  A1’s are capable of and interested in rapidly rising to be leaders of the organization.  A2s are promotable over time.  A3s are not capable of or interested in promotion.

I think what the HBR article on B players is talking about is really what Topgrading calls A3 players.  A3 players are absolutely essential to an organization, especially as it grows over time and develops more operational jobs that leverage the powerhouse A1s and A2s that make up such a big percentage of successful startups.  You just have to recognize (perhaps with them) that A3 players may not be interested in career growth and promotion and not try to push them into more advanced roles that they may not be interested in or capable of doing well.

I’m a huge believer in having a healthy balance of A1s, A2s, and A3s, but I will always want to hire A players per the above definition.  Why would you ever settle for less?