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Who – Summary and Insights

Below are some of my key takeaways from reading the book, Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. If you are interested in more detailed notes from this book, they are available here.



A brief synopsis of the book is reprinted below from Amazon.

“In this instant New York Times Bestseller, Geoff Smart and Randy Street provide a simple, practical, and effective solution to what The Economist calls “the single biggest problem in business today”: unsuccessful hiring. The average hiring mistake costs a company $1.5 million or more a year and countless wasted hours. This statistic becomes even more startling when you consider that the typical hiring success rate of managers is only 50 percent.

The silver lining is that “who” problems are easily preventable. Based on more than 1,300 hours of interviews with more than 20 billionaires and 300 CEOs, Who presents Smart and Street’s A Method for Hiring. Refined through the largest research study of its kind ever undertaken, the A Method stresses fundamental elements that anyone can implement–and it has a 90 percent success rate.

Whether you’re a member of a board of directors looking for a new CEO, the owner of a small business searching for the right people to make your company grow, or a parent in need of a new babysitter, it’s all about Who.

In business, you are who you hire. In Who, Geoff Smart and Randy Street offer simple, easy-to-follow steps that will put the right people in place for optimal success.”


Common Hiring Pitfalls

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, states that

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

Hiring is one of the key responsibilities of any manager. They need to be constantly evaluating their team’s capabilities and identifying candidates who can complement the existing team and enable the team to achieve ever-increasing outcomes.

The hiring process is challenging for both hiring managers and candidates. A poor hire can quickly destabilize a team. The authors identify four areas of the hiring process where failure often occurs. Hiring mistakes happen when managers:

The authors detail their process, the A method, which was developed to provide a structured process to mitigate these common pitfalls. The intent is to hire “A players.” The authors define these individuals as candidates who have at least a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve.

The Role Scorecard

One area where hiring managers often make mistakes is on clarifying the role. In his book “Principles: Life and Work,” Ray Dalio describes an organization as a machine consisting of people and culture. He details their hiring process where they place a priority on designing the role in order to better articulate the specific attributes required for success in the role. They begin with values, then abilities, and finally skills.

The framework that Geoff Smart and Randy Street developed for defining the role, known as the scorecard, is strikingly similar. The scorecard is a document that describes exactly what the candidate should accomplish in the role so that the hiring team has a clear picture of what a strong candidate looks like and what they need to be able to accomplish.

The scorecard begins with the mission of the role which is a high-level summary of the job’s core purpose. This is intended to provide a clear linkage between the role and the organization’s strategy.

The next section describes the outcomes, which detail what a person needs to accomplish in the role. This differs from job descriptions, which just describe activities.

Finally, the scorecard lists competencies. These define how you expect a new hire to operate in the fulfillment of the job and the achievement of the outcomes.

I’ve taken elements from both and integrated them into my hiring process. I’ve found the mission statement to be helpful for the recruiting team to reference when talking to candidates during the initial phone screens.

The outcomes clarify how the new hire will help execute the team’s mission. This is where the designing of the role starts to take shape. I work with my team to identify which projects this role would support and how they would be integrated into our planning and execution processes. It’s great to get the team’s perspective since this new hire will be their future peer. Once the role is filled, the outcomes are also great to set expectations with the new hire and in the development of a 30/60/90 day plan.

Filling out the values, competencies, and skills with the team comes naturally once the mission and outcomes are defined. The objective here is to be as narrow and selective as possible. Having these clearly defined and understood by the hiring team makes the interview process more consistent and structured.

The Interview Process

Once the role is clearly defined and candidates are moving through the pipeline, it’s time to conduct the onsite interviews. The interviews are used to gather information so the hiring manager can decide if the candidate has the ability to achieve the stated outcomes and the desire to do so.

The interview process matches the structured nature of the role definition process. These interviews are structured to identify the facts about the candidate so they can be rated based on the metrics from the scorecard and the hiring manager can make an informed decision. The process they recommend seems to be tailored towards senior and executive-level roles where the candidates already have a significant amount of experience and accomplishments.

For mid to junior level candidates, the template of the “focused interview” is likely most applicable. Each interviewer is assigned a subset of the values, competencies, and skills from the scorecard to assess. One way to assess a candidate’s values is to focus on changes people made throughout their career (changing companies, moving to a new city, internal transfer, etc) and understand why they made those decisions. Values often get revealed in moments of change.

Another good question to ask is “What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?” Candidates with more experience will know what tasks or responsibilities they are no longer interested in. If they mention something that might be key to success at the role, that might indicate the candidate isn’t a strong fit, even though they may be capable of performing the task.

To help determine if the candidate can accomplish the outcomes defined in the scorecard, an interviewer may probe the candidate on their previous accomplishments. These are sometimes hard to evaluate in a limited amount of time and without the full context of the situation. The authors list a few questions to help assess the impact of the candidate:

After the interview, interviewers are expected to rate the candidate on the areas they were assigned based on what they observed. To provide a fair assessment across multiple candidates, it’s recommended that the interviewers use the same questions across interviews. Using this structure helps ensure that each candidate is evaluated comprehensively and fairly.

Closing a Candidate

At the end of the process, the team identifies a candidate that they believe is an “A player,” a candidate who has at least a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve.

The final step is for the hiring manager to close the candidate. The authors list a few categories for the hiring manager to consider in order to prevent the candidate from declining the offer and going to another company.

I thought this was a comprehensive list and a good reminder that a lot of factors are involved in making the decision to join a new company. During conversations with the candidate, the hiring manager can try to better understand which of these criteria applies most to the candidate. While compensation is usually the main aspect of negotiation, some of these other categories might be more significant and can often be addressed in inexpensive ways as well. The hiring manager can then tailor the offer to better account for some of these categories and be in a stronger position to close the candidate.

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