Category Archives: Innovation

Topgrading: The Only Way to Run a Start-Up, or Any Company for That Matter

If you are in charge of identifying, hiring, or managing resources for your business, allow me to introduce you to a revolutionary process that has transformed my approach to talent acquisition and retention at Factor Media, called Topgrading.

First, We Drink Our Own Juice

Factor Media has employed Topgrading since our inception, which has been integral in sustaining our fast-paced production environment and organizational growth. For those of you unfamiliar with Topgrading, it is a proven method for selecting on the very ‘best of the best’ when looking at candidates for your organization. This process was engineered and perfected by the Smart brothers (yes that is really their last name) and has been implemented in thousands of companies and organizations, including many of those across the Fortune 1000.

Second, It’s Ideal for Start-Ups

You do not need to be a big company to see the benefits of Topgrading, as referenced in this post by fellow Indy Haller and Founder of, Everett Reiss in his Review of Topgrading: How to Hire, Coach and Keep A Players, he hits on one of the key points of Topgrading which is to fill each level of the organization with the best person at that pay level. This idea is critical in truly understanding and adopting Topgrading – because B players can become A players, they may simply need to be re-deployed or re-engaged in a different position, with a different set of responsibilities.

The benefits of Topgrading can be seen almost immediately and include:

  • Clearer, more in-depth job descriptions – which means increased performance and tracking capabilities for you, the manager.
  • Screening candidates not from often deceptive resumes but from their actual career history, which includes a built-in “truth serum” that provides full compensation history, boss ratings and more – providing you with the transparency necessary to make a hiring decision.
  • A chronological interview process that scrutinizes the details of every previous job
  • Real and dependable character references – you have the candidates set up these reference checks with their previous employers, most A players will retain good working relationships or at least leave on amicable terms.

Which makes it a no-brainer for start-ups as they are usually running on a bootstrapped budget and really need the most from there people to grow beyond that first stage of operations.

Topgrading is Not for Everybody

Some people simply don’t have the stomach for it. You need to be prepared to put in the time, learn the system, and make decisions. Topgrading is not for you  if you have trouble holding people accountable, scoring the true performance of your employees, or firing non-performers. There are a number of approaches similar to Topgrading that zero in on tracking what matters most to a company, it’s people. If you are willing to practice and learn these processes, it will change your entire outlook on talent management and lead to continued growth and success.

But Can You Afford NOT to Topgrade?

Perhaps, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Consider that the cost to replace talent is roughly 15x base salary which means for an entry level position at a $40k base salary, making a poor hiring decision can cost you $600,000! Can you really afford to throw that much money in the trash? Even if  you can, would you really want to?

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is the real secret sauce of Topgrading, which is past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Don’t get it twisted, Topgrading is hard, it takes time, and it takes practice. The best way to implement Topgrading is from the Top down – start with the CEO. This person must be the organizations Topgrading champion, and take personal responsibility to make sure they hire A players, redeploy B players, and fire C players.

Nick Eubanks

Nick Eubanks is a Managing Partner at Factor Media, and is currently the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates. He blogs at SEO Nick and you can find him on twitter @nick_eubanks and Google+.

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