June 12, 2010

HOW TO HIRE A-PLAYERS | Eric Herrenkohl

I've spent my entire career helping others improve their knowledge, their skills, their understanding, and most of all their performance. After reading Eric Herrenkohl's new book "How to Hire A-Players," I was reminded of the importance that hiring plays in getting strong results.

Eric clearly makes the case that hiring A-players is much more effective than hiring C-players and working to transform them into A-players. It reminded me of the old quote from Robert Heinlein, "Never attempt to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

How many times do we determine a performance gap is a training issue when in reality it's a hiring issue? Eric's thought-provoking book really got me thinking (read my 5 big ah-ha's from the book), so I followed-up with him and asked a few questions. You'll enjoy his answers below. Even better yet, Eric agreed to give away a FREE AUTOGRAPHED COPY of his book to one lucky Observation Paper reader. Simply leave a comment to this post and you'll be entered to win. I'll draw the winner on Saturday, June 26.

1. How do you determine whether a performance problem is a training issue or a hiring issue?
You set up a strong training and coaching program, make sure to define the key results you want people to achieve, provide regular coaching, feedback, and accountability, and watch as some people excel, some improve, and others don't make much progress. You had a training issue with those who improved; you had a (mis)hiring issue with those who did not. From there, you create an A-player profile that defines superior performance and performers, start interviewing all the time, keep your couch full of potential candidates, and begin to upgrade the talent level in that key position or positions.

2. How do you create an A-Player profile?

Don't focus as much on the people you currently employ in a role. Instead, focus on the results you want from the job. Get input from people in and out of the organization who really understand the role. Take the time to define what success looks like for the role i.e. if people perform exceptionally well in the job, what results will follow? How will we measure those results? then, assess people currently in the job, compare those results to the profile you have created, and make final adjustments. The end result will be a profile that sets a higher performance bar for the role, and a process that helps people focus on the people they need in the role vs just accepting the people they have.

3. The principles you lay out in the book make a lot of sense, from your consulting experience why don't more organizations follow them?

More and more organizations are following these principles. They are the companies where the CEO is "recruiter in chief" for the business. This does not mean that he or she is mired in HR details. It does mean, however, that the leader of the business talks about creating a team of A-players all the time. Such leaders reject the "hiring to fill positions" mentality. They cast a vision for the business they want and help everybody in the organization to appreciate that finding the next great team member is everyone's priority.

Add your comments, thoughts, or own personal experience to the conversation in the comments section below and be entered to win a free autographed copy of "How to Hire A-Players" by Eric Herrenkohl. Winner will be drawn on Saturday, June 26.


  1. Make sure to enter your email in the appropriate field when you make a comment. I don't see the email or share it, but that way you can get the update announcing the winner. Or at least check back on June 26 to see if you've won. Good luck!

  2. Most entertaining inane corporate advertising, keep rocking it dude.

  3. Jaroslav, thanks for the feedback.

  4. Hiring A-Players is the only way to develop a dominant high performance team. A-Players are game changers on a team. One A-Player on your team sets the bar. Two A-Players helps to create momentum as they raise the bar for the others. Three A-Players is the basis of a culture as they begin to protect what they have worked to achieve together. With Four A-Players or more your culture perpetuates itself and requires all players to bring their best game each day. Some B-Players look like A-Players until they are put into leadership. A-Players are Game Changers.

    Jack Welch's successful approach at GE may be a good example. He was an A-Player that took a Game Changer approach in the 80's & 90's that raised GE's performance worldwide for 20+ years. There appears to be a break down in that approach since Jeffery Immelt has taken over as CEO. It would be interesting to have inside knowledge to see how many B-Players were products of a high performance team.
    Mark H

  5. Mark, great example in GE and love the point about momentum.

  6. I absolutely agree with the importance of hiring A players. I also agree with Mark's comments about the more A players your team has, the more the high performance culture perpetuates itself. True A Players like to win and are attracted to winning teams or the opportunity to be a game changer. We see that play out in sports as well. Championship teams attract and demand top tier talent.

    The importance in upgrading your talent by training and coaching, and when necessary, replacing them is critical as well. Nothing great will be accomplished with teams that are solidly mediocre.

  7. Congratulations to SF Varney for winning the drawing. Here's the video with the results.