A man reading a book in an office.

What’s Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street about? What’s the ideal hiring plan?

In Who, business executives Geoff Smart and Randy Street say that many companies struggle to succeed because they lack an effective hiring process. Smart and Street seek to solve this problem by sharing their own hiring process, which is designed to more accurately identify the best candidate.

Read below for a brief Who book overview.

Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

In their Who book, business executives Geoff Smart and Randy Street explain that the key to business success is having a hiring process that accurately identifies the candidate who can best fill a specific role. They define an ideal candidate as someone with a 90% likelihood of completing all the important responsibilities and goals assigned to the role.

Identifying these candidates is important because the people you hire determine how well your company operates. When an employee fails to complete their responsibilities, they create problems that other members of the company must then spend time resolving. In contrast, an employee who successfully completes their responsibilities reduces problems and gives their superiors freedom to focus on their own important tasks.

For example, if the manager of a manufacturing team fails to provide feedback on his team’s efficiency (one of his managerial responsibilities), his team may fail to fill orders on time. In turn, the orders won’t be shipped on time and the company’s reputation for timely service will suffer. Customer service representatives will then need to resolve the problem by handling customer complaints about the delays.

The authors say that despite the importance of hiring the best candidate, many companies don’t devote enough time to the hiring process. Instead of spending sufficient time with candidates to understand them and their abilities, these companies try to speed up the process by relying on arbitrary or unreliable tests conducted during brief interviews (for instance, whether the hiring manager likes a candidate’s personality). These rushed methods don’t give hiring managers enough information to accurately determine whether someone can properly fill a role. Thus, they waste time, energy, and money pursuing candidates that ultimately fail.

These hiring problems inspired Smart and Street to write Who. In the book, they present an alternative hiring process (called “The A Method,” since it helps you identify excellent or “A grade” candidates). To develop this process, Smart and Street drew on their respective experiences as the founder and managing partner of ghSMART (an advisory firm that specializes in building successful leadership teams). In addition, they interviewed over 300 successful CEOs about their hiring experiences.

Step #1: Create a Hiring Rubric

The first step in Smart and Street’s hiring process is creating a hiring rubric when a role opens. This rubric lists the role’s important responsibilities, as well as abilities and traits that can help the employee complete those responsibilities. This gives you an easy reference for the rest of the hiring process to ensure your candidates will be able to properly fill said role.

In this section, we’ve arranged the authors’ advice under three questions you can answer to identify these responsibilities, abilities, and traits:

Question #1: What’s the Role’s Purpose?

The first question you should answer when making your hiring rubric is “what’s the role’s current purpose?” This is an important question, as the company may prioritize different responsibilities, abilities, and traits from the same role at different points in time. This specificity encourages candidates with relevant skills and experience to pursue the role. It also reminds you to look for those specific attributes, instead of accepting candidates who are skilled generally but not in the ways you currently need.

Continuing our example, in a period of rapid growth, you may need a manufacturing manager who can quickly increase output and efficiency. However, when interviewing candidates, you focus on their general management experience, rather than the specific skills you need. Thus, you end up hiring a manager who’s fantastic at giving feedback and improving quality but who can’t deliver the rapid output and efficiency improvements you need.

When defining the role’s purpose, the authors say to keep your description short and use simple language instead of jargon. This ensures that both you and your candidates can easily understand the role’s purpose. The authors also indicate that your description should include the general approach an employee would take to fulfill the role’s purpose and a broad timeline for doing so.

For example, if the role’s purpose is increasing output, your description may be, “The manufacturing manager will increase output by 50% over four years by hiring additional teams and training existing teams.” This would encourage candidates who have experience with rapid growth and training employees to pursue the role, and it reminds you to specifically look for candidates with this prior experience.

Question #2: What Are the Role’s Main Goals?

Once you’ve defined the role’s purpose, the second question you should answer is “what are the role’s main goals?” The authors say most roles have three to eight of these. By answering this question, you provide a more detailed explanation of what a candidate must do to successfully fulfill the role’s purpose. In other words, the purpose is the end-point, and the goals are the steps to reach it. These goals clarify your expectations for an employee in the role, so both you and your candidates can evaluate whether they could successfully meet those expectations.

Thus, ensure these goals are clear, objectively measurable, and have specific deadlines. Continuing our example, two of your manufacturing manager’s goals may be: “Create an efficiency improvement training program by the end of year one” and “Increase efficiency by 20% by the end of year two.”

The authors emphasize that these goals are different from the daily tasks an employee in the role would complete. An employee’s daily tasks (for example, leading meetings or giving feedback to subordinates) are how the employee reaches their goals, not the goals themselves. 

Question #3: What Qualities Are Important in This Role?

The third question you should answer is “what qualities are important in this role?” By answering this question, you identify traits or abilities that you want an employee in the role to display. Much like the previous questions, this encourages people with those qualities to pursue the role and reminds you to look for those qualities when interviewing (which we’ll discuss further in a later section).

To answer this question, consider what qualities may help an employee fulfill the role’s purpose and goals, as well as qualities that fit broader, companywide goals for employee behavior. For instance, you may list “skilled at providing feedback” for the role of manufacturing manager, since they need that skill to complete their managerial responsibility. You may also include “curiosity” as a trait that you want every member of the company to have, if the company relies on continual experimentation and innovation to stay at the forefront of its industry.

The authors caution against being too specific with your desired qualities, though. People with different qualities can achieve equal levels of success, so you don’t want to limit your candidate pool too much and overlook candidates who could excel in the role, albeit in a different way than you anticipated. For instance, say you specified that the manufacturing manager needs to be “skilled in providing feedback through written evaluations.” You then dismiss a candidate who’s skilled in providing feedback verbally. That candidate could’ve been successful in the role, but you lost the opportunity because of your narrow focus.

Step #2: Create a Talent Pool

Before you can use your hiring rubric, you need a group of candidates to evaluate. Thus, the next step of the hiring process is using referrals to create a talent pool—asking people whose skill and knowledge you respect to introduce you to individuals who could succeed in your company. The authors recommend this method over traditional applications, as referrals give you a shortlist of talented, endorsed candidates to evaluate when a role opens in your company, increasing the odds that you’ll find a strong candidate quickly and easily. In contrast, applications require you to evaluate many unfamiliar candidates with no assurance that they’ll fit your hiring rubric.

We’ll highlight two particular steps in the authors’ advice for creating a talent pool:

1. Ask for referrals every time you meet someone whose skill and knowledge you respect. This includes asking for referrals in unconventional situations from unusual sources. For instance, the authors say to ask for referrals even if your company doesn’t have open roles, and to source these referrals from anyone skilled and knowledgeable, even new acquaintances or candidates who don’t fit the role you’re filling but who still impressed you. Casting this wide net lets you grow your talent pool quickly so you’re prepared when a role does open up.

2. Cultivate relationships with the referrals you gathered in the previous step by staying in regular contact. By learning more about these people, you can confirm if they’re a good fit for your company or a particular role. Building a relationship also makes them more likely to accept a job if you offer them a position. The authors suggest building these relationships by setting up a rotating weekly schedule to contact promising candidates and chat about their careers, goals, and interests.

Step #3: Interview Candidates

Once you’ve created a hiring rubric and a talent pool, the next step is to compare the candidates in your talent pool to your hiring rubric to determine if they can properly fill a particular role. As we noted earlier, you want candidates who have a 90% likelihood of completing all the role’s responsibilities, which you measure by tracking how many of the specifications on your hiring rubric they meet. Eliminate anyone who falls below this benchmark so you don’t waste time pursuing unfit candidates.

As mentioned previously, many hiring managers don’t spend enough time with their candidates to determine if they can fill a role. Smart and Street say the solution is an in-depth interview process that analyzes candidates’ performances throughout their careers. Performing this in-depth interview process is time-consuming, the authors acknowledge. However, you’ll ultimately save time, effort, and money by not hiring unfit candidates who’ll have to be replaced.

The authors break this process into four types of interviews, conducted in the following order:

Type 1: The evaluation interview. The purpose of this interview is to quickly eliminate candidates who don’t meet the expectations outlined in your hiring rubric. It’s usually conducted over the phone. Most candidates are eliminated during this step; the authors say only three should remain.

Type 2: The sequential interview. In this interview, your goal is to identify candidates’ behavioral tendencies so you can predict how they’ll likely behave in the future. You do this by discussing each job the candidates have held sequentially, which we’ll explore in more detail in the following section.

Type 3: The targeted interview. The purpose of this interview is to discuss any specific goals or qualities that weren’t covered in the sequential interview.

Type 4: The performance interview. In this final interview, your goal is to get outside perspectives on candidates’ past performances from their previous superiors and peers.

Identifying Behavioral Tendencies Through a Sequential Interview

As mentioned above, the sequential interview lets you identify a candidate’s behavioral tendencies. Understanding how a candidate has behaved in the past helps you predict how they may behave in the future and whether that behavior will help them fulfill the role.

For example, say you own a software company. You have a candidate who’s created multiple popular apps for each of their past employers, but who hasn’t performed well in roles that required them to pitch their projects to investors. This behavioral tendency tells you that the candidate is innovative, has a good understanding of what customers want, and is bad at explaining their work to people who aren’t software engineers. If you’re hiring for a purely developmental role, they’re a good candidate, but if you need someone who can communicate with non-experts, they’re not a good fit.

To identify a candidate’s behavioral tendencies, the authors recommend discussing each job the candidate has held in the last 15 years in sequential order. Analyzing this long period of time lets you identify the candidate’s behaviors that remain the same over the years and are likely to continue if you hire them. Also, discussing the candidate’s history sequentially is easier for both of you: The candidate can share their experiences in a simple narrative order, rather than trying to remember things out of order, and you can see how their behavioral tendencies and career progressed, which helps you understand their likely future trajectory.

Step #4: Encourage Candidates to Commit

Once you’ve identified your ideal candidate, you can move to the final step of the hiring process: encouraging your chosen candidate to fully commit to your job offer. The authors say this step starts during the interview process and continues until the employee has been employed for 100 days. This step is important because many people change their minds about accepting job offers shortly before or after their employment. Thus, they either turn down the offers or quit their new positions. If they stay in their new position beyond 100 days, however, they’re likely committed and don’t need further encouragement.

Here, we’ll discuss the authors’ primary strategy for encouraging commitment: promptly addressing your candidate or new employee’s apprehensions.

Address the Person’s Apprehensions

The authors explain that candidates and new employees may have apprehensions about the role. For candidates, you address their apprehensions about accepting the job offer; for new employees, you address their apprehensions about staying in the role past 100 days. Addressing apprehensions encourages the individual to commit by either removing their objections or offering them incentives that outweigh them.

The way you’ll address the apprehensions depends on their nature and on how valuable the person is to the company. The authors say most people’s apprehensions fall into one or more of these five main categories:

  • The company or role doesn’t align with their goals and abilities
  • Their loved ones will be negatively impacted
  • They’ll have limited autonomy
  • They’ll receive insufficient compensation
  • They won’t enjoy the work environment

For example, say your candidate would have to move to Spain if she accepted your job offer, and she’s worried about entering an unfamiliar culture. This could fall under the fifth category, as she’s not familiar enough with Spanish culture to know if she would enjoy the work environment. If your company provides an “introduction to Spanish culture” course, the candidate may feel more comfortable accepting the job offer and committing to her new role. If the candidate is still unconvinced, you may try to outweigh her apprehension by offering a higher salary. The more valuable she is to the company, the higher you’ll be willing to increase her salary.

When the individual’s loved ones (usually immediate family members) are affected by their decision, you must address those people’s apprehensions as well, the authors add. Without their loved ones’ approval, the individual may not accept the job offer or stay in the role, even if they’re personally ready to do so. Continuing our example, if your candidate’s family doesn’t want to leave their community, you’ll have a harder time convincing her to commit to the role. To address this problem, you may offer the whole family the culture course, or you may institute a support program that helps new hires and their families build a new community in Spain.

However you choose to address the person’s or their loved ones’ apprehensions, do so quickly. If you leave them unaddressed for long enough, the apprehensions could grow more serious, making the candidate less likely to accept the job offer or stay in the role. Thus, the authors say you must stay in regular contact with your candidates and new employees, so you can recognize and address their apprehensions before they have time to worsen.

Who: Book Overview (Geoff Smart and Randy Street)

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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