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What’s Your Talent GPA?

Earlier this year, I learned about a retail chain and the insights they gained from a unique way of measuring the training their team members had received. They developed a calculation for a Store IQ based on the number of cumulative hours that all team members from that store had spent in training. Unsurprisingly, the stores with the highest Store IQ outperformed the other stores in sales and employee retention. This is a brilliant strategy that all retail-based businesses should consider adopting.

Your Talent GPA

This Store IQ concept inspired me to think about another measure that could be used to assess the health and growth prospects for a company and each of its locations – the Talent GPA. It’s a simple calculation that averages the talent grade given to each team member at your company. Assigning grades can be subjective unless you have a key performance indicator (KPI) to use.

There is usually more to a talent grade than a team member’s KPIs, so I recommend asking yourself a question instead – even if it’s a sanity check against the KPIs. Here’s the question that I use to assign a grade for each employee:

How would you feel if you found out that [EMPLOYEE NAME] was leaving the company?

My grading scale:

A (4 points) – Sudden feeling of being punched in the gut. You rush to the door to block it and try to do whatever you can to keep this person. You know that it’s going to a big hit to the team, and it will be hard to replace this person with someone as good.

B (3 points) – Disappointment and some concern about the short term. After getting past that, a feeling that you could, at the very least, hire someone as good or possibly better.

C (2 points) – Sudden lightness and feeling of relief. You rush to the door to open it and bid this person farewell – knowing that you just received a golden opportunity to upgrade.

D/F (0 points) – Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! (Note: If you have anyone on your team that is a D or F player, you need to remove them from your team as soon as possible. Every day that you keep them on your team, you are putting your company at risk of becoming toxic and losing your top performers.)

The easiest way to calculate your Talent GPA is to start with an employee list with columns for Grade and Grade Points. Then simply work your way down the list and enter a grade and the corresponding number of grade points for each employee. Finally you can take an average of all of the grade points to calculate your Talent GPA. (Note: This is a simple way to calculate the GPA. It may be more accurate for you to overweight the grades for leaders and other key roles.)

I recommend that you organize your list into categories by team and/or locations and then calculate GPAs for each of group. Look for ways to analyze the relationship between a team’s GPA and their performance.

Start with Leaders and Managers

Leaders and Managers rarely build (and keep) a team with a GPA higher than their own. This can become a constraint on your business. One of my mentors once showed me a simple org chart with a top leader and 5 direct reports. He told me that “This could be a 6 person or 6,000 person organization. It’s all depends on the quality of your leadership team.”

Ineffective leaders and managers not only underperform, but may also drive away talent. I believe the old saying “People don’t leave companies, they leave their managers” is true. Be aware of this risk and take the appropriate actions.

I’m a visual person, and it works best for me to use an org chart as part of this process. In addition to the grades in the spreadsheet, I print our org chart and write the grades next to each person’s box. Then I try to take a step back mentally and look for insights. Finally I make notes on areas where I need to spend more time.

You can also conduct this org chart exercise with your leaders and managers. Give them a copy of their team’s org chart and ask them to write a grade next to each person using the “how would you feel if they left?” question. Check for alignment with your own thoughts. If this is an underperforming team and the manager does not identify any C’s in the group, then he/she may be the C.

Action Plan for A’s, B’s, and C’s

Once you determine the grades for each of your employees, you should determine a course of action for each of them. Consider working with each employee to develop growth plans that factor in their goals and a path they can take the company. Here’s some guidance on how to approach each group.

B Players

I want to start with B Players because it should be the largest group of people of your team. If you rated almost every employee at your company as an A Player, then I recommend that you take another look. Even if you do have above average talent across the board at your company, you should have a top 10%-20% of your employees that stand out as top-performing A-Players (just like your bottom 10% should stand out as C Players). The rest are B Players (at least relatively speaking).

The most important thing that I have learned about B Players is this: Their performance will move up when they are working with A Players and down when they are working with C Players. The best thing that you can do for B Players is to 1) maximize the number of A Players on the team and minimize the number of C Players, 2) encourage their development and help them find their strength zone. I have seen B Players make the jump to the A level after a role change in the company (or after they got a new leader).

A Players

The best things that you can do for A Players are 1) take care of them with recognition and compensation, and 2) remove obstacles for them to grow/thrive. On the first point, A Players outperform the rest of your team and should be rewarded accordingly. Remember that not all of them are motivated primarily by money. Make sure that you know what’s most important to them (development, achievement, recognition, compensation) and focus on giving them what they want. Understand what they want to accomplish in their career, and clear the path for them to achieve it. If you don’t do this, then they will look for this somewhere else.

Last thing – The easiest way to lose an A Player is to surround him/her with C Players. A friend of mine once told me that “Eagles don’t like to fly with crows.” I don’t think that I can put it any better than that.

C Players

With this group, you need to get them moving up or moving out. Ask yourself why this person is underperforming and develop a performance improvement plan for him/her (see Resources section below for a helpful article). Is this person in the wrong role or with the wrong manager? Is there something happening in his/her life that’s affecting performance? Is this a character issue? Do I see a path to get this person to be a B Player (or higher)?

You owe it to this person to communicate any performance issues and develop an action plan to improve his/her performance. If you don’t do this, then you are not only letting this person down as their leader – but you are letting down the rest of your team. Grades and people can change. It’s your job to put them in the best position to succeed.

One additional thought on this group: Kim Scott (author of Radical Candor) gave me new perspective on underperformers. She says that everyone has the potential to be an A-Player if they are put in the right role. This is something to consider as you work with this person. Is there another type of role that may suit this person better? If this role exists at the company, then you should explore it. If not, knowing that there is a role out there that will allow this person to perform as an A Player should make it easier for you to handle this situation – even if it means letting the person go.

Every Hire Increases or Decreases Your GPA

Each time you have a position open at your company, whether it’s a new hire or replacement, there is an opportunity for you to increase your Talent GPA. You are also at risk of decreasing it. This becomes tougher to control as you grow because you have less direct involvement in each hire. Many fast-growing companies have been derailed because of poor hiring decisions.

The best way to increase your Talent GPA over time is to develop effective hiring and training systems.

An Effective Hiring System includes processes to:

  1. Attract Qualified Applicants
  2. Make Better Hiring Decisions
  3. Onboard New Hires Successfully

In order for the Hiring System to be truly effective, it needs to be managed from one software system – normally an applicant tracking system. This ensures that all hiring managers are operating from the same hiring playbook – and maximizing their odds of making A Player hires (while avoiding hires that will lower your Talent GPA).

The investment that you make in your team’s training systems will ultimately determine whether team members reach their potential and stay with you in the long run. If you’re in a retail-based business and employing part-time team members, Increasing your Talent GPA is equally important. Companies like Pal’s Sudden Service have built training programs for retail team members that would run circles around any type of business (see article below).

This is a busy time of year for everyone, but a great investment of your time could begin by making time to work on your Talent GPA.

Additional Resources

  1. How Pal’s Sudden Service Trains Their People
  2. How to Create a Performance Improvement Plan
  3. Book: Radical Candor 

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