Never Settle When Hiring

Steve Jobs agreed with the famous principle, “A-level people hire level A people, B-level people hire C-level people.” So Apple searches for A-players for crucial roles within their organization, and with good reason.

When you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things.

That’s because B-players don’t want to hire anyone that could be better than them. So, they hire to delegate, not elevate, fearing the new hire could surpass them. Instead, they raise themselves by ensuring others remain less capable. As a result, B-players usually thrive in corporate politics, fail to lead, and hire C-players.

On the other hand, A-players actively seek out other A-players, quickly recognizing them. They discover each other in shared conversations, understanding what motivates each other and observing how each approaches problems and solutions. As a result, A-players keep each other sharp, focused, and challenged. Moreover, they create clear and compelling visions, resulting in a culture of innovation. In short, a team of A-players thrives.

If you’re a small software startup with a handful of people, each member really must be an A-player. If you’re a larger organization, then it’s impossible to staff completely with A-players (if you’re a large organization believing all your employees are A’s, then your scale needs calibration).

So, what do you do? Well, this part is critical.

You seed the organization for A-level success by ensuring that your leadership and management teams comprise ‘A-level’ players at all levels of the organization. Never compromise on these roles. Placing A-players in crucial positions will cause them to naturally seek out other A-players when hiring, and they will become the de facto guardians of a successful recruiting strategy. Further, assuming they have the power and authority, they will protect the organization by ensuring that the standards established amongst themselves are enforced appropriately across the organization.

If you make a mistake here, and if you’ve been doing this a while, you will at some point, then you must swiftly address it. The fastest way to get rid of your A-players is for leadership to demonstrate a tolerance for B-level work. After that, it’s just a matter of time before the organization slips to C-level work.

A-plus players like to work together and they don’t like it if you tolerate B work.

If you want to drive A-players crazy, introduce them to C-players or C-player work output. A-players observe the drag on organizational performance, generally have no tolerance and want the C-players replaced. Fail to remove them, and before you know it, the A-players will move on, usually replaced by B-players. It may take time for the damage to be fully realized, but the pull towards mediocracy is consistently there. An organization can be caught in a slow death spiral a long time before it notices the gravitational pull.

A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.

Having A-players in core roles will attract other like-minded players, and the organization will reap massive gains. I’ve had the pleasure of running small teams for many years comprised of A-players. These people are beyond tough to find and not motivated in typical ways. However, their work ethic, the resulting product, and contributions are off the charts.

Ensure your A-players are interviewing candidates, and if they feel it's not right, go with their gut. Each should have veto power. Don’t compromise — every time I have given in or not ‘gone with my gut,’ I’ve been burned.

If you’re a manager, it's likely, you feel significant pressure to hire, and the temptation to ‘give in’ and ‘settle’ to just 'add headcount' is strong. If these critical roles require A-players, then push back, resist the pressure, keep searching, and explain the rationale. Nobody is likely to volunteer they're happy to recruit B or C players when asked, but you can tell from their actions. If ignored and headcount appears to be the measure of success, you’re likely talking to a B or C-level player. A-players won't settle.

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