Book Notes: Who – The “A” Method For Hiring

I set a goal to read 24 books this year. This was the second book I read in 2019. Here are my notes from Who:


“The most important decisions that business people make are not what decisions, but who decisions.”

– Jim Collins

This book was written after over 1,300 hours of interviews were held with managers from all over the world, including many billionaires. 

Your problem is not what. Your problem is who

Who mistakes happen when managers:

  • Are unclear about what is needed in a job
  • Have a weak flow of candidates 
  • Do not trust their ability to pick out the right candidate from a group of similar looking candidates 
  • Lose candidates they really want to join their team

Who mistakes are pricey! The average hiring mistake costs fifteen times an employees base salary in hard costs and productivity loss! – Wow! 

Peter Drucker estimates that hiring success of managers is a dismal 50%! 

Who problems are preventable. The purpose of this book is to help you make better Who decisions. 


Chapter 1: Your #1 Problem 

You don’t have a conveyer belt problem. You have a personnel problem. 

“Managing is easy, except for the people part.”

“A resume is a record of a person’s career with all of the accomplishments embellished and all of the failures removed.” George Buckley, CEO of 3M

Voodoo Hiring

Most managers make one or more of these top ten hiring mistakes known as voodoo hiring:

  1. The Art Critic – using your gut feeling to make the choice will end up turning into a stomach ache. 
  2. The Sponge – asking many people to do separate interviews with the candidate without giving them direction of which questions to ask. Without giving direction they usually ask the same questions and nothing new is learned. Just wasted time. 
  3. The Prosecutor– grill the candidate with questions trying to trip them up. 
  4. The Suitor – the manager focuses more on selling the opportunity than assessing the person’s capabilities. They talk more than they listen. They get plenty of candidates but they take chances in whether the candidates actually a good fit or not. 
  5. The Trickster – Do things that are used to test someone like dropping paper on the ground to see if they’ll pick it up
  6. The Animal Lover – “what type of animal would you be?” Using the same question thinking it will be the one that tells you everything you need to know about them. 
  7. The Chatterbox – you make small talk about everything from sports to the weather. Never getting to actually know if they’d be a good fit or not. 
  8. The Psychological and Personality Tester – asking questions like “would you rather be at a party or the library on a Friday night?”
  9. The Aptitude Tester– only testing their aptitude to do the job. This is important but should be not used as the sole determinant in a hiring decision. Use these tests as screening tools if you like. 
  10. The Fortune Teller – asking the candidate to look into the future to tell you how they would work here or how they would deal with conflict with a made up employee. Most people can make up a good answer. Remember it’s about the walk not the talk. 

Painful truth: It’s hard to see people for who they really are. 

Thing I just thought of: Imagine in NBA teams only interviewed their potential players and didn’t actually look at their performance or results. There would be a lot of good talking, poor playing basketball players in the NBA. 

Finding A Players 

Set the bar higher. Don’t chase “B” or “C” players. 

An “A” player is a candidate that has a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve. 

90%. Not 50%. Much better odds.

You Are Who You Hire

Hire C players and you’ll always lose to the competition. Hire B players and you might do okay, but you’ll never break out. Hire A players and life gets very interesting no matter what you are pursuing

Use the A Method to Hiring 

There are four steps: 

  1. Scorecard – it’s not a job description, it’s a document that describes exactly what you want the person to accomplish in the role. It’s a set of outcomes and competencies that define a job well done. 
  2. Source – finding great people is getting harder but is not impossible. Systematic sourcing before you have slots to fill ensures you have high-quality candidates waiting when you need them. 
  3. Select – selecting talent in the A method involves a series of structured interviews that allow you to gather the relevant facts about a person. 
  4. Sell – once you identify the people you want on your team, you need to persuade than to join. (It made me think of when Steve Jobs was pursuing the CEO from Pepsi and asked him if he wanted to sell sugar water forever or change the world.)

Chapter 2: Scorecard – A Blueprint for Success 

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. You shouldn’t hire without a scorecard. A scorecard tells us:

  • The mission
  • The outcomes 
  • The competencies 

When you know these things, you can hire an “A” player that fits the needs of the company. Without knowing these things you’ll hire a generalist vs. a specialist. 

The Mission: The Essence of the Job

This is the executive summary of the job’s core purpose. It should be written in plain English. No need for complex words. Describe exactly why they are needed. 

Example: “VP Sales – To double our revenue over three years by signing large profitable contracts with industrial customers. This person will set up one hunting team to land new accounts and one farming team to grow existing accounts.” 

Pretty easy to understand right? It should be. 

Don’t hire generalists. Hire specialists. 

You wouldn’t hire a quarterback to play the lineman position. Hire the person based on what you actually need accomplished. 

Outcomes: Defining What Must Get Done 

This is the second part of the scorecard. You describe what a person needs to accomplish in the role. Example, “Grow revenues from $25m to $50m by end of year three.” Either they accomplish it or they don’t. A players will find a way to do it. B and C players will not. 

See the difference in telling what the outcomes should be vs. telling people how their day to day activities would look. This allows them the ability to be creative, take responsibility, and accomplish what’s needed. 

Competencies: Ensuring Behavorial Fit 

Describe and list the competencies that this person must have. 

Here is a list of the things most managers look for, depending on the position:

  • Efficiency 
  • Honesty/Integrity 
  • Organization
  • Aggressiveness but not abrasive 
  • Follow through and commitment 
  • Intelligence 
  • Analytical skills 
  • Attention to detail 
  • Persistence 
  • Pro activity 

Other competencies might include: 

  • Ability to hire A players 
  • Ability to develop people 
  • Flexibility and adaptability 
  • Calm under pressure 
  • Strategic thinking 
  • Creative/innovative 
  • Enthusiasm 
  • Work ethic 
  • High standards 
  • Listening skills 
  • Openness to criticism and ideas 
  • Communication 
  • Teamwork 
  • Persuasion 

Make sure your person fits the cultural competencies as well. The best sales person that disrespects others is not worth having on the team. 

Know your culture by asking your team to write down words that describe your culture. Use their responses to know what you’re looking for in the candidate. 

You need to give each individual objectives. 

Only 10% of managers have written objectives for their team members. We are good at setting team objectives but usually fail to give individual objectives. 

Objectives start at the top and then the managers give objectives to their individual team members that roll up to their objectives. 

Here’s how to create the scorecard:


Chapter Three: Source – Generating a Flow of A Players

Describes the traditional hiring process:

Managers don’t do very much recruiting activity until their manager tells them they need to hire someone. They scramble and call HR to help them. They sort through resumes and don’t get much traction. After three months they get very concerned and call HR again begging for help. HR sends them more resumes. They get some people. They use their voodoo interviewing techniques and hope they get the right candidate. … sounds familiar. 

Most of the people waiting in talent pools are not the people you would want. 

Referrals From Your Professional and Personal Networks

The best way to get A players is through professional and personal referrals. 

One CEO sets a goal of recruiting 30 A Players every year. He does this through referrals. He simply asks, “Who are the most talented people you know that I should hire?” 

Think of ten super talented people you know. Call them and ask that same question. This could easily generate a list of another 50 to 100 names. Keep doing this. You’ll grow your talent pool with real ability and move into other networks. 

Also ask your customers, business partners, suppliers, professional network groups, people you interact with every day. 

“Now that you know what I do, who are the most talented people you know who could be a good fit for my company?”

Ask for new hire referrals from your employees. They already know your culture and what it takes to be successful in your business. 

Make a reward system for employees to give referrals. Teach them to always be looking for A players. Make it part of the job objectives. 

Deputizing Friends of the Firm

Get people who are friends of the business to help you in finding people. Offer them a referral fee. 

Hire Recruiters 

Make sure you do a good job at explaining what your needs are. Help them have a clear picture so they can best help you. 

Hire Researchers 

Researchers provide names of candidates to you and your recruiter. They don’t do interviews.  Be clear on your needs so they provide quality vs quantity with the potential candidates. 

Sourcing Systems

Create a system that captures the names and contact information on everybody you source. It should be able to schedule time on your calendar to follow up. They recommend at least 30 minutes per week to call your candidates. This system can be complex or as easy as using index cards.

One CEO writes the person’s name and info about them like wife’s name or pet’s name to bring up during the next call. 


Chapter 4: Select – The Four Interviews for Spotting A Players 

Traditional interviewing is simply not predictive of job performance. 

The best way to figure out who is the best fit is through a series of four interviews that build on each other. 

Get out of the habit of passively witnessing how somebody acts during an interview. Instead, use the time of the interviews to collect facts and data about somebody’s performance track record that spans decades. 

The four interviews are:

  1. The Screening Interview 
  2. The Who Interview 
  3. The Focused Interview 
  4. The Reference Interview 

The Screening Interview 

A short phone based interview designed to clear out B and C players. 

The goal is to save time by eliminating people who are inappropriate for the position as quickly as possible. 

Take no longer than 30 minutes. Do this over phone. 

Use a structured approach. 

Questions: 

  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally? 
  • What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  • Who were your last 5 bosses, and how will they rate your performance on a scale of 1-10 when we talk to them? 

What are your career goals?

Don’t tell them what you’re looking for before you ask this. See if they have goals. See if their goals line up with what you’re looking for. Talented people know what they want to do and are not afraid to tell you about it. 

What are you really good at professionally?

Get 8 to 12 things so that you can really get a good picture of their professional aptitude. Ask for examples. Listen for strengths that match your scorecard. If there are big gaps, screen them out of the process. Again, this should be about a 20 minute phone call. 

What are you not good at professionally? 

Dig deep. Don’t let them use a strength as a weakness. Say, “That sounds more like a strength, what are you really not good at or interested in doing?” Rephrase the question if needed. You want to capture at least 5 to 8 areas where they fall short. 

Who were your last 5 bosses, and how will they rate your performance on a scale of 1-10 WHEN we talk to them? 

Ask how to spell their names. Let them know you will be calling. The candidate usually becomes more honest when they know you’ll call vs when they don’t think you will. Scores less than a 6 are a red flag. 7’s are neutral. You’re looking for a lot of 8, 9, and 10’s. If you hear too many 6’s and below, screen them out. 

Get Curious: What, How, Tell Me More 

Make sure to dig deep with these 4 main screening questions. You want to make sure you completely understand what they are telling you. 

Hit the Gong Fast

No need to keep a candidate in the pipeline if they fail the screening call. Too many managers ask for a second interview or pass the candidate on to a colleague to get a second opinion. You are just wasting time. 

The Who Interview: The Power of Patterns for Choosing Who 

The Who interview is the key interview within the “Select” step. 

It will feel like a conversation. You want them to tell you their professional story.

  • What were you hired to do? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What were some low points during the job?

Don’t settle. Everyone has low points. 

Who were the people you worked with? Ask for the candidates boss’s name. Make sure they know your writing it down. Ask what it was like to work with that boss. 

Why did you leave that job? Dig deep here too. 

Conducting an Effective Who Interview 

Divide their career story into chapters. Each chapter could be a single job or a group of jobs that span 3 to 5 years. 

Ask all 5 of the questions above for each chapter of their career. Can’t stress this enough. 

Work chronologically with their resume so they tell you their story. Do not work with their most recent job and work backwards. People don’t think that way as well. 

These interviews usually last 3 hours. They take 5 hours for CEO positions. They may take 90 minutes for entry level ones. 

Every hour you spend doing Who interviews will save you hundreds of hours by not dealing with C players. 

Make sure to do this interview with another member of your team in the room: HR rep, peer, etc. Take good notes. 

Set the stage by letting the candidate know that 80% of the decision will be made during this interview. If positive, the other percentage will be made from checking with references. Let them know you’ll be asking the same 5 questions per chapter of their professional story. (So solid. The book has a good script for setting the stage.) 

Interview Master Tactics 

  1. Interrupting – you have to interrupt the candidate. There is no avoiding it. If you don’t, they might talk for 10 hours. You’ll usually have to interrupt every 3 to 4 minutes as people usually get off track when talking about their story. The good way to interrupt is to smile broadly, match their level of enthusiasm, and use reflective listening to get them to stop talking without demoralizing them. Then get them back on to the relevant topic. 
  2. The Three P’s – these will help you know how valuable their accomplishments were. How did you performance compare to the previous year? How did your performance compare to the plan? How did your performance compare to that of your peers
  3. Push vs Pull – Talented people are pulled to greater opportunities. Poor performers are pushed out of their jobs. Push: “mutual decision for me to leave.” Pull: “I got promoted.”
  4. Painting a Picture – Know the parts of their story so well you can almost see it. 
  5. Stopping at the Stop Signs – If you see body language change and they might be lying, slam on the brakes and get curious. Don’t come off like an investigator. Become a biographer type interviewer. 

Such great advice for doing this Who interview. I really like it. 

The Focused Interview: Get to Know More 

Leg three of the “Select” step. 

Focused interviews allow you to gather additional, specific information about your candidate. 

Turn the magnification up a notch before hiring. 

Involve other team members directly in the hiring process. Be sure to emphasize to your team that this is not meant to be another Who interview. Don’t repeat what’s already been done. Make sure they know this and follow the script. 

The focused interview script consists of three main questions:

  1. The purpose of this interview is to talk about _______. (Fill in the blank with the specific outcome or competency)
  2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
  3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area? 

The focused interview is focused on the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard. 

Try to have three members of your team perform focused interviews based on the scorecard. Assign them each an outcome or two and competencies to focus on with the candidate. Each interview should take forty five minutes to an hour. 

Double check the cultural fit. 

The Reference Interview

Don’t skip the references! 

64% of business moguls conduct reference calls for every hire. Unfortunately fewer manager conduct reference calls. 

Ask 5 simple questions for the Reference Interview:

  1. In what context did you work with this person?
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  4. How would you rate their overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What causes you to give that rating?
  5. The person mentioned that they struggled with ________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Never take reference lists at face value. Do some more digging if you can. Who do you know that knows them? 

Look for the code for risky candidates. If people hesitate to talk about someone, know that they most likely don’t want to give honest feedback. People don’t like to hurt others chances for getting a job. 

Look for those that have the will and skill for your scorecard. 

Red Flags: When to dive beneath the surface 

The major flags during the hiring process:

  • Candidate does not mention past failures 
  • Candidate exaggerates their answers 
  • Candidate takes credit for work of others 
  • Candidate speaks poorly of past bosses 
  • Candidate can not explain job moves 
  • People most important to candidate are unsupportive of change 
  • For managerial hires, candidate has never had to hire or fire anybody 
  • Candidate seems more interested in compensation and benefits than in the job itself 
  • Candidate tries too hard to look like an expert
  • Candidate is self absorbed   

Decide Who to Hire 

With all this great data, the decision should be easy. Here is what you do:

  1. Take out your scorecard for each candidate 
  2. Give each candidate an overall A, B, or C grade. Make updates if necessary based on reference interviews. Consider the opinions and observations of the interview team and give a final grade. 
  3. If you have no A’s, then restart your process at the second step: Source. 
  4. If you have one A, decide to hire that person. 
  5. If you have multiple A’s, then rank them and decide to hire the best A from among them. 

Chapter 5: Sell – The Top Five Ways to Sell The Deal

Most managers fail to sell the candidate. You are not finished until your candidate is hired. 

Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes. Care what they care about. Candidates usually care about 5 things:

  1. Fit
  2. Family
  3. Freedom
  4. Fortune
  5. Fun

Selling Fit

Most important point to sell. Where you are going as a company and where they fit in.

The better the fit, the higher likelihood of success. Show how their goals and talents fit into your vision, strategy, and culture. Share the vision with them. Get them excited.

99% of competitors fail to show them how they are a perfect fit for them. Let them experience your culture. Introduce them to your people. 

Selling Family

Use family ties as a lure to recruit A players. Welcome spouses and children of candidates. Show the families around, sightseeing, and having dinners – really make them feel at home.

Families can sometimes be an obstacle so work to get them onboard as well. It’s all about the relationship. Ask how their family is feeling about it.

Create care packages if needed to help them see how great the job would be. Be sincere. Be committed to the success of the people who are working around you in all their domains. 

Selling Freedom

A players never like being micromanaged. They look for positions where they can be left alone to excel. Great leaders gain more control by ceding control to their A Players.

You must build trust. If they know you are confident in them, they are likely to take more risks and work harder. 

“We look at ourselves as a support organization for great entrepreneurs who want to work collectively with other entrepreneurs.”

Freedom matters to today’s workforce, and especially to the most valuable among them. 

Selling Fortune 

Research shows that while money can be a disincentive if it is too low or not linked to performance, it rarely is the key motivator.

If all you have to sell is the compensation, that is not good. You can’t ignore the money part though. Demonstrate how they’ll be rewarded if they join your company. 

Pay people on a performance basis. Link bonuses to scorecard objectives. 

Selling Fun 

We spend half our waking hours at work, we might as well have fun doing it. 

“Fun” is based on your culture. 

The author enjoys thinking big, developing business, and recruiting. To him this is fun and he spends 80% of his time doing these things. 

Strive to have fun at work every single day. 

Five Waves of Selling 

When do you sell the position? 

Selling is something you should be doing during the entire hiring process. 

5 Phases for When to Sell the Opportunity:

  1. When you source 
  2. When you interview 
  3. The time between your offer and the candidate’s acceptance 
  4. The time between the candidate’s acceptance and her first day 
  5. The new hire’s first 100 days on the job. 

When candidates ask questions at the end of your interviews that’s when you really put on your sales hat. Make the human connection. 

Stay in touch with them on a regular basis. 

When they accept the position, send them something meaningful to celebrate, flowers, balloons, or gift certificate. Make a splash! 

Research shows an alarming failure rate among new hires in their first 100 days. Invest in a strong onboarding program. 

Persistence Pays Off 

Persistence is the key. Great leaders are persistent. They don’t take “No” for an answer. They keep putting positive pressure on the A players until they have them. 

Gave examples of persistency in recruiting A players. 

Think of what you have to sell outside of compensation


Chapter 6: Your Greatest Opportunity 

400 business leaders said that management talent and execution were the two factors that contributed most to success

The right who will take care of a lot of issues. 

How to Install the A Method for Hiring in Your Company 

  1. Make people a top priority. 
  2. Follow the A method yourself.
  3. Build support among your executive team or peers. 
  4. Cast your vision for the organization and reinforce it through every communication with the broader team. 
  5. Train your team on best practices.
  6. Remove barriers that impede success. 
  7. Implement new policies that support the change. 
  8. Recognize and reward those who use The Who method and achieve results. 
  9. Remove managers who are not on board.
  10. Celebrate wins and plan for more change. 

Legal Traps to Avoid

Don’t get yourself sued. Stay within legal guidelines. 

  1. Relevance– do not reject candidates for reasons that are not relevant to the job. 
  2. Standardization of the Hiring Process – use the same process for all candidates. 
  3. Don’t Discriminate – use non discriminatory language during interviews and in written form 
  4. Keep It Legal – avoid asking illegal questions. 

Bottom line: Select people on whether they can do the job or not. This is the only reason you should or should not hire someone. 

Build Your A team, Not Just One A Player 

Building a team of A players means thinking long and hard about your business strategy and contemplating what roles you need to fill to execute it. 

Beyond Hiring 

Use the scorecard method to keep the right people in the right spots and to promote those into the spots you need to fill. 

You Can Do It 

Gave examples of a basketball coach and how he focused on minimizing each players’ individual weaknesses to make the team better together. Rated each player. 

Gave example of American sailing team. 

To figure out the scorecard for what matters in a job, just think about what success looks for the role and how you could measure it through metrics and observations. 

The End.

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