Why talent assessment is crucial to scaling up your business
How good are your team? A simple question that often involves facing up to hard truths. If your plans for this year include scaling up your business, you need to prioritise talent assessment.
Nothing is more crucial to your future success than having a talented team you can rely on.
When working with clients, I find it takes them roughly 50 days to fill a role. That’s a long time. Factor this into your plans. If you take action now, you should be able to bring new talent in by the end of the first quarter of the year. If you’re too slow, you’ll find they’re not going to make any material difference.
Right from the start, I take clients through my talent assessment process. It’s one of the first things we look at in our two-day kick-off. A simple grid that sorts staff into A-Players, B-Players, C-Players and Toxic-As (on the chart as B/C).
Remember, the definition of an A-Player is the top 5 to 10% of available talent for a given job, salary and location.
This acts as their line in the sand. All subsequent assessments can be bench-marked against this.
What is an A-Player?
/ ā plā-ər/
Also spelt “A-Player”
- An employee who is in the top 10 per cent of their profession on an industry-wide basis for the salary paid.
- A person on your team whom you would enthusiastically rehire.
- The employees at an enterprise who drive all the profitability and growth.
- A person of high integrity who delivers on commitments.
- The employee every organisation covets.
— synonyms: awesome employee, top performer, high performer, rock star, all-star, superstar, team player, game-changer
(From the A Player by Rick Crossland)
This might mean making some tough decisions. Start by looking at your leadership team. Remember, it casts a long shadow.
Important context for this process is Gallup’s recent research into performance. They ranked people into A, B, C and D categories. When they discussed the results with the people involved, all the A-Players knew they were better than everyone else in their company. But not that they were better than those outside the business – good news for retention!. But C and D Players thought they were above average because, 9 times out of 10, there was no transparency of expected behaviours or performance in their company. They simply didn’t know.
What do we learn from this? These frameworks need to be part of your plan.
Start with the executive team
As always, these things start at the top. I don’t believe a business can be better than its leadership team. If you are a business leader, this has to be the first place you look at talent.
Ask yourself two questions for every member of the executive team. ‘If they resigned tomorrow, would I be disappointed?’ and ‘knowing what I know about them, would I rehire them next year?’ There needs to be a resounding ‘yes’ to both of these. Any ‘no’ answers mean that person is going to hold you back again. Even if you hesitated, it’s a ‘no’, because it wasn’t an obvious ‘yes’.
You need to take action straight away.
Every member of your top team needs to be an A-Player. If they’re not, this should be your target from the outset.
An A-Player will live and breathe your company’s purpose and core values. If you asked the rest of your team who are the golden lights, or star players who represent the DNA of your company, they should immediately point toward the directors.
And what about you? Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you live your company’s values? If not, it’s likely that you haven’t got the right core values.
I’ve worked in an organisation that had ‘excellence’ as a core value in the past. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. If it had been ‘frugality’, that would have been much more authentic and useful. But there was very little excellence.
Assess your managers
Once you get your leadership team right, it’s time to look at anyone who manages people. Remember 85% of an employee’s experience is driven by their interaction with their team leader or manager.
This really matters for engagement.
To begin with, get your executive team to rank their managers on the same grid of A, B and C Players (see above). You need a behavioural framework based on your core values to do this effectively. It’s often easy to spot the people who don’t fit or are culturally adrift from the rest of the company. You’re trying to spot the 25 to 35% of staff that need values-based action.
The decision on ranking a manager is best done collectively. When someone works directly with the person concerned; they’re less aware that they don’t fit. It’s usually their peers who will point this out based on feedback from their team and their own impressions. The closer you get to someone, the harder it is to be objective and call it out.
Once your behavioural framework is in place, every manager needs to understand how it works and its implicit expectations. So, in any performance-related discussion, they should know instantly whether they are living this particular value and give evidence of them doing it.
Assess talent throughout your business
Finally, apply your talent assessment grid to the rest of your team.
As well as a clearly understood behavioural framework, you need to set a couple of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for each role. This will enable every team member to rate themselves objectively each day, week and month. And you’ll start to facilitate the transition from top-down management to managers as coaches.
Here start with the team members that are exceptional from a performance perspective. Put their names on post-it notes, and up they go into the A-Player box.
Action to take from this – a slap in the back. Make sure they know they’re a valued, high performing member of the team and thank them for their contribution.
Then, it’s time to look at the C-Players – those underperforming. Who do they work for?
There are four possible actions for C-Players, depending on the individual.
Terminating them should be a last resort.
Maybe you think they’re a values-fit but are underperforming due to a lack of clarity about their KPIs. Are they in the right role, or is the team dynamic wrong?
Perhaps they’d thrive better elsewhere in the company? Is their role too broad? Give them less to do and clarity on expectations. These are all things you can solve.
Decide on the action you’re going to take and who owns it. Get back together in the next quarter to review it. If their performance still doesn’t improve, they need to go.
And if they’re still not a values-fit, it’s non-negotiable. They definitely need to go.
Then we get to the B-Players. This is often the trickiest part and I can see the terror in clients’ faces when they realise the action they need to take.
Why are they scared? Because they’re not having these types of performance-based or values-based conversations every week.
It’s imperative that your company gets to a place where staff are volunteering this stuff for themselves. In their weekly check-ins, they should know whether they’ve had a good week against their KPIs. This should be really clear and tracked every day. Managers don’t want to initiate these conversations because they’re afraid of the question, ‘What do I need to do to be an A-Player?’ A good KPI framework will take away their fear!
Work out the percentage of your company that are currently A-Players and use this as a baseline for future progress.
Your aim should be to get this target up to 90%. Having dealt with the C-Players, you also need to ensure any B-Players only get to stay on the bus if they have the potential to be an A. And as you make progress towards this, you’ll see a big uptick in recruitment and retention.
A-Players like to work with fellow A-Players, so you’ll attract and keep the best people.
Sometimes, this process involves some tough decisions. Take what I call the ‘Toxic A-Players’ – people who have particular skills and expertise that are valuable but aren’t a good cultural fit. They may be delivering well against their performance targets, and the business perceives that it would be hard to replace them. So, they get away with their destructive behaviour.
Sometimes an intervention can work. One of my clients had been having particular problems with a member of staff for over six months. They ended up giving him an ultimatum. Using their core values, they narrowed in on one specific behaviour that was toxic. If it didn’t cease, he was out. The guy concerned seems to have taken it on board and changed. Time will tell. One thing’s for sure, you have to be brutal about this.
Just one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
Repeat your talent assessment exercise every quarter, tracking your proportion of A-Players each time. Start at the leadership level, move on to managers and look at functional areas and teams.
You need to get to a place where the information comes bottom-up. Every team member should be clear on their individual KPIs. They should be able to measure themselves every day, week, month and quarter.
Their ranking as an A, B or C Player will come from a performance and cultural perspective.
They’ll have clarity on what excellence looks like.
Great companies are built by great people.
If your people are letting you down, you need to get a grip. Put a system for regular assessment based on measurable performance and cultural indicators in place.
Roll this out and make sure it’s clearly communicated with every one of your staff. And introduce a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly cadence that includes performance discussions.
That’s the way to hit your target of 90% A-Players in your organisation.
P.S. Rethinking your talent strategy? Get my new book Mind Your F**king Business, and learn how to attract the top talent in your industry and become ten times more productive.