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The real A-list

It was a standard recruiter reference call with the standard questions that are received with ever greater frequency: How long did she work for you? What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses? Would you hire her again?

The difference was they were asking about Lee Ann. It was hard to temper comments to keep them believable; she was the epitome of “A-level” player.

When she originally interviewed with us, she came prepared with a complete competitive analysis, including our ranking. Her selling technique was exceptional and her results superior. With everything she was tasked, she did an exceptional job — sales, regional leadership, turnarounds, everything. She enthusiastically embraced challenges and withstood hardship admiringly. When the company was sold, she remained with the buyers and did an exceptional job for them.

There has been much written about ranking players as A, B and C. Most of it centers on people who already work within the organization.

Shortly after hiring Lee Ann, we began to take a different path to those types of rankings: Whom did we want to work with us in the future? How do we find more Lee Anns before we needed them?

Suddenly, attending trade shows, meeting with vendors, listening to sales people, running into competitors and their employees, being out and about, became a hunt for the most talented people, every day. Did we like the way they sold to us? Were we able to uncover some of their achievements through casual conversation? The feedback we were getting was real and not the forced answers of an interview under pressure.

The most subtle interactions became the gateway to an inventory of eligible candidates of future employees. A Mead notebook was a roster of potential talent categorized by experience, reference, achievements and affability.

Over time, the notebook became an encyclopedia of industry and nonindustry players and their potential fit into our organization. Moreover, we weren’t relying solely on the interviewing skills of the headhunters; we were looking at the interactions we had with potential talent over a period of time. We knew who we wanted our candidates to be:

  • A candidates: People who we would actively try to recruit at or above their current pay packages because their addition to our company would drive enormous value.
  • B candidates: People with superior skills sets who we would pursue when they became available for various and sundry reasons.
  • C candidates: Those we probably wouldn’t entertain hiring.

There were several eventualities that occurred.

First, when headhunters brought us candidates, many of them were known to us and we could immediately sift through them or direct certain vetting. Second, we could actually shorten the vacancy of positions because the list of replacements was already constructed. We had a list of Lee Anns.

When will you start your list?

Patrick Morin is the president and COO of BrightHammer, a team of experts that work directly with company leaders nationwide to develop and implement sales strategy, deliver targeted sales training and effect sales-oriented culture changes. Email him here, or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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