Wondering How to Hire A-players? Focus on your culture!

You Want to Hire A-players but is Your Company World-class?

 In Hiring advice

You Want to Hire A-players but is Your Company World-class?

I have been helping companies hire for over a decade now. In that time, I have had the pleasure (and sometimes the displeasure) of seeing the innerworkings of some of the country’s most prominent or most rapidly scaling businesses. Every time a client engages Pronexia’s headhunting services, the core request is always the same: help us hire (or grow) a team of A-players.

A-player is a popular term describing a company’s most desirable employee, the one who according to Harvard Business Review ranks in the 90th percentile and above. We are engaged by our clients to help them identify and attract these exceptional performers, yet there exists a small obstacle in our way.

You see, A-players are not desperate to work for just any company; in fact, they are aware of their value and are only interested in joining world-class organizations. So before you set your sights on the crème-de-la-crème of the workforce, I have put together a checklist to help you validate whether you have what it takes to attract them.

Here are the 6 components that contribute to a world-class company culture; see if yours measures up!

  1. Exceptional leadership



Did you know that over 70% of employees quit not because of inadequate pay or lack of infamous work-life balance, but because of their bosses? It is crucial to ensure that the people you have in leadership roles live and breathe your company culture and are A-players themselves. One common mistake that I have seen many entrepreneurs make is promote their employees to managerial roles based on their performance instead of their leadership potential. The two are not the same thing – a world-class operator is not necessarily an A-player when it comes to rallying and aligning the troops. You need to make sure that every single manager you have is an inspiring visionary.

  1. Company vision and direction


Talking about visionaries, it all starts at the top. Your company’s owner must have a well-defined, crystal clear picture of where the company is going and why that is exciting. Companies who produce cutting edge products (take augmented reality, for example) have an advantage when it comes to hiring. If you are in a highly saturated services business (we relate!) or in a hard-to-differentiate distribution industry, you need to pique the interest of your prospective hires by showing an edge. Why do you exist? What are you disrupting?

I have had challenges recruiting for seemingly exciting video gaming companies simply because they were yet another gaming company and were missing an edge when it came down to their employer brand. And I have hired for organizations that had the most tedious product offering at the first glance, yet had every single candidate leave the interview nearly praying that they got the job.

So many business owners tell me that they have trouble competing with the “more exciting” businesses and I assure them time and time again that the product line in itself does not solidify the best hires. A-players are looking deeper and are inspired by the vision and the direction of the company they join, not the description in the first paragraph of the About Us section of your webpage.

  1. Compensation



No matter how innovative your company, you will be hard pressed to find A-players who do not care about making a good living. I remember sitting down with the owner of a Montreal-based marketing firm whose main challenge was his inability to compete when it came to hiring Web Developers. “How can I hire anyone great when my competition pays them $30,000 more?” – he lamented? I told him that he couldn’t; there was simply no way to compensate for such a large delta.

In my experience, A-players have flexibility when it comes to compensation and will put premium on company culture, vision and room for growth when presented with two similar offers. Nonetheless, you have to remain competitive and realistic – money talks and you will lose top talent if your package does not measure up.

  1. Interesting & challenging projects



I definitely don’t need to sell you on the benefits of having A-players on your team. Yet, I can tell you that these top performers are extremely high maintenance when it comes to one thing – the projects you assign to them! Recruiting an A-player is 20% of the battle; retaining them is the remaining 80%. You need to make sure that your top performers are constantly engaged, stimulated and learning new skills. Show them that the opportunities to learn and to acquire new skills are endless in your organization. Keep them on their toes and make it abundantly clear that the sky is the limit for their professional growth, and that you always have new and exciting things in the pipeline.

Remember that as soon as your A-players become stagnant, they also become more open to seeing what the job market has to offer. And trust me – headhunters, such as myself, are always on the prowl!

  1. Office space



I have by now seen hundreds of offices in Montreal & Vancouver (Pronexia has two branches and we work predominantly with companies in these two cities). I can tell you that I have been blown away by the bells and whistles in some of them. But I can also tell you that a lot of it is not necessary; great perks, no doubt, but won’t make a difference in your hiring. Yet, a mediocre office will.

Let me give you an example for a change in perspective. If a candidate comes for an interview in a tailored 3 piece suit by a top designer, you are likely not going to care. Unless you are in the high end fashion business, chance are you will not even notice. In any case, the fanciness of one’s outfit will not sway your hiring decision. Yet, you will no doubt be turned off if the same candidate shows up in a frumpy, outdated attire of questionable level of cleanliness. Same goes for your office! A rock climbing wall will likely not solidify you any hires, but your 20-year old carpet and your densely populated with cubicles open floor will scare some of them away.

Invest in making your office an inspiring place to be. Even if you are growing your remote workforce, have your headquarters be a place that thoroughly reflects your company culture. When Pronexia was founded 5 years ago, we had a laughable amount of money in the bank and had to be extremely frugal. We sacrificed the square footage of our first office, yet made sure that our tiny space was in a beautiful neighborhood and in a visually stunning building. Our first full-time hire was an all-star A-player who is still with us 5 years later!

  1. Individualized approach


This is especially true for Millennials, but certainly applies to all generations in your workforce. In fact, most world-class organizations have an individualized approach catering to each employee on the team. If you want to inspire loyalty, you need to go above and beyond in making your top performers feel infinitely valuable to you. Create a plan of action that builds on these employees’ strengths and interests. Offer learning opportunities and build a comp package based on elements that make them feel particularly inspired and motivated. And the only way you can find out what these are would be by taking the time to get to know them.

Recently, I had a fellow entrepreneur complain to me that her firm had a high turnover rate and that her employees demonstrated no loyalty to the organization. I told her that the only solution would be for her to develop a meaningful relationship with each direct report. Exasperated, she told me that she had absolutely no time for that. Well, if she had no time to take a genuine interest in her employees, how could she expect them to take a genuine interest in her company?



So? How does your organization measure up? Are you world-class? If you are, then your next step is to make sure that the A-players in your city know just how fantastic of a place to work you are. You need to focus on building an employer branding campaign (we hosted a conference specifically on that topic!) that will help you build awareness and recruit. Leverage your current employees’ voices on such sites as Glassdoor; give the A-players on your team the opportunity to recruit and to hire. As Steve Jobs often said, A-players hire A-players (on that note, B-players hire C-players, so make sure you have qualified your employees appropriately before you have them make any hiring decisions).

When you fight to increase your market share, your competition is defined very clearly. Yet, in a fight for top talent, you are competing with a much wider range of businesses in a multitude of verticals. A paycheck is not enough to make people want to work for you, so dig deep, create an employer branding strategy and you will surely hire A-players to help you scale!


Want us to help you assess your company culture? Need help attracting A-players to your hard-to-fill roles? We are here to help!

Reach out to our team of world-class consultants and we will come in for a free meeting to evaluate your hiring needs.

World-class secret sauce