Steps in the Rapid Startup Design Strategy to Create a Viable Company (655-2)

The Rapid Startup Design Strategy Overall : Go stepwise, don't dawdle, constantly always ask yourself, " Is this a dead end? &qu...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hiring Dilemmas and Keeping Top Performers (600-5)

Herrenkohl's book, How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department suffers from four problems.

The first problem, a "dump them" attitude, is based on the static assumption we associate with human resources; that is that individuals have defined and mostly immutable skills and talents. In fact, in terms of cognitive tasks (vs. say a physical challenge of putting a ball in a hoop) rarely do individuals recognize their complete skill set. And supervisors have little time to investigate the full set of talents.

In an ocean full of fish, it may indeed be simpler to throw a fish back, but in a competitive market for talent there is logic in seeing if the fish you have can fulfill a need, but in a different area. And a more dynamic company will have expanding and changing needs. An existing employee who is not performing may be appropriate to meet those needs. It's far more efficient to take an existing known employee and move them to a position where they're more productive than to fire such an employee and to replace them with an alternative. Of course, if the fish is apathetic or nasty then put it back in the water.

The second weakness in the "get the best" attitude. This assumption also does not recognize that human resources are a competitive market. Folks who are "A players" understand that. They will, by definition, be more expensive and harder to retain. In some cases, such as programming, the added productivity far outweighs the added cost, but in that case it is mostly because better programmers like to program more than they like to negotiate salaries. In business, highly valuable staff are quite adept at negotiating higher salaries commensurate with the skill set. Consider what Goldman Sacks pays its upper level staff.

The effort to obtain "A-Players" may be equivalent to Porter's marketing strategy of a race-to-the-bottom. By competing for a limited resource you are implementing a plan that is repeating what your competition is doing. As in marketing, it may be more strategic to apply an approach that is unique and different. Look outside the obvious. You'll end up with a gem that no one else sees.

The third weakness is that the book is caught in an older/non-digital model of corporate growth.Most new startups with high capitalization are tech or life science companies. The book ignores the fact that in the current age we can have enormous corporate valuations based on just 20 employees. Recruiting 20 employees is not as challenging or difficult. Finding and optimizing talent is still important but with a low head count it need not be as complicated or time consuming. Performance problems will also be more obvious.

The final change that the book misses is the movement toward digital marketing and models of sales that do not use human resources. Marketing efforts, including social marketing and content marketing, feed the sales process and enable much more willing customers, thus decreasing the emphasis on a skilled sales team. Platforms create enormous potential wealth without the need of dedicated resources concerning human capital other than information technology resources to maintain the platform. And IT resources are commodities at this point that can be purchased from external vendors.

  1. Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, ch. 8.
  2. Herrenkohl Eric. How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Vol 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. April 12, 2010, Conclusion.
Photo Credit: Carol GarnettFishing Father, Daughter Sunrise CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use, No attribution required. Created April 23, 2006.


  1. Hi Brad!
    I'm so glad you wrote this. I was having a few beefs with Herrenkohl's viewpoint as well. I think the whole premise of seeking out and hiring only a-players is unrealistic and single minded. I like your fish analogy and the recommendation, "if the fish is apathetic or nasty then put it back in the water."
    Herrenkohl published this book in 2010, which means he was likely writing and researching close to a decade ago. That would account for his lack of touch points on the web based options for recruitment and the oversight of tech and life science startup. We've certainly witnessed a boon in those area the last ten years. Great job! JOY

    1. Joy,

      I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one. About halfway through the book I got pretty frustrated with it. I see people as varying in so many domains that to try and reduce them down to A versus B versus C is not only foolish but potentially nasty. I've also seen in my own company how it is often management's fault in that one assigns a staff member to a job that they can't do well at. Once you look around you find the skill that matches what you need and suddenly you have an A player.

      -- Brad

  2. The way that A-Players are sought after can sometimes lead people that are doing the hiring to over look essential players. For example, you may interview someone that is so specialized in a position that if the software or something changes it is harder for them to change. In this case and A-player maybe be someone that is not familiar with the old or new software but can be trained easier.

    1. I agree. I had a nice conversation with someone at the CED conference who specializes in helping folks find jobs that the human resources people tend to overlook. With her organization's help these folks find jobs where they do excellent work and the company is happy. They just needed to find a way to get past the initial screening process.

  3. Excellent post Brad! I do agree that the reading has a one sided view point with quite a few holes as it relates to businesses today. I disagree with the notion that in order to retain A-players higher pay is always needed. Non-compensation benefits is a real term that not enough employers use or explore in my experience. Companies with financial limitations should be more aware of other incentives that may keep A-players around. The reading did force me to think how I could find high quality professionals with transferable skills.

    1. I agree. People's motivations vary. Some only care about $, but other want flexibility, excitement, challenge, nice people, a fun environment, or whatever. If cash is tight then folks who value something more than $ need to sought.