The first step in building a high performing team is to hire talent. Without talent, it is very difficult to achieve success. Use these hiring best practices when building your team.

Consider this thought experiment. You are back at school and one of the activities is tug-of-war. Your job as captain is to select a team of five fellow students to be on your team. Your rival is captain of the opposing team. You get to pick your team mates first. Who do you pick? Do you select for kindness, humor and smarts? Or do you select for height and strength?

"Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people." – Steve Jobs Famous Quotes
Step 1: Invest in the right talent for the position you are looking to fill.

If you select for humor and charisma, and the opposing team captain selects for strength and determination, who would you suppose will win? What would it say about your leadership skills?

If it is your job to select the team but you select team-members based on less-than-optimal criteria, you have failed as a leader.

The Truth About Being Captain of the Team

Much credit is given to the captain of the winning team. A manager is given similar credit for her team’s success. But if the team is already in place, the manager must skip the first and most important step in the 4 Steps to Building High-Performance Teams: selecting talent.

If your team is already selected for you and you fail as a team, huge leadership skills may not amount to much. If your team is selected for skills and talents that are not relevant to the task at hand, training, measuring and celebrating will have only a marginal effect. If your team is funny and charismatic – skills worth having to be sure – but lack the physical stature of a much larger and stronger opposing team, there is little chance the team will win in the example of the tug-of-war.

The tug-of-war example illustrates the need to know what it takes to put together a winning team. As the leader of your team, you must know what talents, strengths, traits and abilities your team members need to achieve success. Each member needs to have the basic aptitude for the work ahead of them.

Select for Talent – Hiring Best Practice

As a hiring best practice, the first step is to identify what talents a team member needs to have for the position you are looking to fill. Don’t assume you already know this.

"The main thing to do is relax and let your talent do the work". – Charles Barkley Famous Quotes
“The main thing to do is relax and let your talent do the work”. – Charles Barkley

An important hiring best practice is to solicit different perspectives on answering the question, “What are the essential talents and abilities needed in this role?” If you are hiring for an accounting role, it might go without saying that an aptitude for numbers is essential. But a numerical ability may not be the only ability a successful bookkeeper will need. Attention to detail, conscientious care and attention to procedure, a strong work ethic, concentration skills – these and other abilities might constitute some of successful traits for the role you are looking to fill.

Talented Team

To enumerate all the aspects of a successful contributor to your team, you will want to ask the team for help. If the prospective employee is going to work in a department with other successful team members, ask the team to write down what skills and talents they believe are key to the success of the individual in the role. This will give you insight into two areas: what talents and capabilities you need to be looking for in a new employee, and how well your team knows what attributes they must bring to achieve success.

Under-Performing Team

If your team is under-performing, you need to look outside your organization for help with articulating the successful traits required. The best place to start is with assessments.

Assessments – Hiring Best Practice

Buy PXT Personality Assessments

Ask your friends and colleagues in your industry groups and associations which assessments they use. You will be amazed at how high performing managers all use assessments to evaluate the talents of the team members both before and after they are hired.

Once you have found a good short list of assessments from colleagues you respect, it is hiring best practice to start discussing your goals with the consultants who retail the assessments. Often, the sales organizations who market the assessments have sales consultants who are experienced in business and can help guide you through the process of identifying and assessing talent.

With some assessment companies, you are able to benchmark candidates against a range. In some case, you will request already successful team-members to take the assessment to help you identify what traits and beliefs contribute to their success. Using the assessment scores of the high-performers, you are able to identify how potential candidates will fit the role you are hiring them into.

Develop an Avatar for the Open Position – Latent Qualification Analysis

To develop a picture of a top performing associate in the position you are hiring for, answer these questions in as much detail as possible. These questions are used to uncover the latent (unrevealed) qualifications needed for the candidate to effectively perform the work.

We use the word “avatar” to suggest there is an ideal candidate that can be constructed through the latent qualification analysis (LQA) below. By answering the questions, a picture of the ideal candidate will emerge. We can even give the avatar a gender-neutral name like “Charlie“.


Who is Charlie? – Latent Qualification Analysis Questions

  1. A top performing associate has these innate character traits:
    1. Trait 1
    2. Trait 2
    3. Trait 3
  2. A top performing associate has these core beliefs:
    1. Belief 1
    2. Belief 2
    3. Belief 3
  3. A top performing associate has this experience on his/her resume:
    1. Experience 1
    2. Experience 2
    3. Experience 3
  4. A top performing associate in this field does these activities regularly:
    1. Activity 1
    2. Activity 2
    3. Activity 3

By taking the time to complete this Latent Qualification Analysis (LQA) exercise, you will have a clearer picture of the type of person you are looking for. Having an avatar of the ideal contributor for the role you are hiring for and giving him/her a name like “Charlie”, you will be better able to know which personality assessments you need to use. You will also have a scoring system in place for the candidates who apply for the position, and you will have a guide for the interview phase.

Best Practices in Hiring Business to Business Sales Professionals

The best practice in hiring a business to business sales representative is to look for specific qualities and comparing them against the avatar, “Charlie”. Using the avatar approach above, let’s define what makes for an ideal business to business sales professional. This way, we can use the technique to demonstrate how an avatar is created and provide practical advice for hiring talented sales professionals like Charlie.

Innate Abilities

The key innate abilities, that is, how a sales rep is wired, include the following:

  1. Highly committed
  2. Optimistic
  3. Innovative
  4. Hard working
Highly Committed

Success is our only goal! When we describe our ideal candidate as being highly committed, we mean that our avatar Charlie (or ideal candidate) thinks the goal of achieving success is worthwhile and will not lose sight of that goal or substitute that goal with another goal.

When evaluating whether to hire a candidate for a Sales position, you will want to look at their level of commitment. Unlike a sales reps’ desire to want to win, you want to understand if they are also driven to achieve success by doing what ever it takes.


Success is achievable! Prospective sales professionals need to have the view that taking action is worth the effort.

A precondition for accepting a goal is the belief that the goal is achievable. You
don’t want to hire the candidate that says, “Success is our only goal—too bad it’s impossible. Why bother?” Learned helplessness is difficult, sometimes impossible, to unlearn.

It is important that the sales rep’s world view is one of abundance. The opposite of this approach would be a world view rooted in scarcity and a fear of losing what you already have. Successful sales professionals are hard-wired for optimism.


New strategies will succeed where other strategies have failed! A sales rep needs to be innovative. A deep-seated curiosity in the world around her and an interest in continuous improvement shows up in successful sales reps as innovation. If a potential sales rep is innovative with herself and the tools she uses to win new business, she will have a greater chance of success.

Innovation means substituting or building upon existing solutions by adding or substituting solutions from other domains of activity. It doesn’t mean abandoning efficient solutions to common problems and trying something untested
instead. Random experimentation is not innovation. However, bringing automation that has been successful in another field into your own field is innovative. Look for this innate ability.


I want to learn from my colleagues. It is important to get unconditional love from family members. From everyone else, we should be looking for negative assessments of our performance that we can use to improve. Being coachable means being open to instruction and negative feedback. If someone tells you that you are doing a great job, ask for suggestions to do an even better job. People who set mastery goals for themselves (for example, I want to get good at this) outperform those who set performance goals (for example, I want a good score).


Maximum effort will ensure success! When you look at successful, professional business to business sales reps, they all share the three qualities above. They are high-commitment individuals, with a positive outlook on the opportunity they are given, and they are innovative in their approach to create and close new deals.

When you look at unsuccessful sales reps, one key defining quality exists: they don’t work hard enough. Hard work can overcome weaknesses in many areas. If a rep is not charismatic, not gregarious, if he is withdrawn and too highly structured, he can still have success if he works hard. But if the sales rep does not work hard, no amount of sales talent will make up for the gap in performance between a hardworking and a task-adverse rep. The bottom line is, the successful rep must take action and continually push himself to do more than the competition. Look for this trait in the business-to-business sales professionals you are looking to hire.


Three core beliefs that pertain to business to business sales reps are:

  • “I am the source of all my results. No circumstance is more powerful than me.”
  • “My customers are busy, important people. I need to bring value to their operations in everything I do.”
  • “Communication is everything. I need to be a better communicator to achieve better results. Documentation is an important part of effective communication.”

When you are looking to hire a sales person, it is a best practice for hiring business-to-business sales professionals to look for the following experience when reviewing resumes:

  1. This is not their first Sales position. They have had a history of selling in a commissioned role. You want a person who knows they want to sell for a living. Allow someone else’s company to weed out the first time sales reps for you.
  2. They have had some structured Sales training. The candidate knows that Sales is not only personality driven, but in fact is in large part process driven.
  3. They have used a CRM (customer relationship management system) in previous work. Luddites are albatrosses in today’s business environment. Avoid fighting the technology battle with the unwilling.
  4. If the role is business to business sales, the sales professional has experience calling on a similar role and knows some of the essential industry jargon.

Look for the candidates’ Sales habits and willingness to engage in these essential tasks. They are tasks that sales professionals must perform regularly:

  1. Time-blocking – a successful sales rep calendarizes all to-dos by putting tasks on her calendar for execution.
  2. Prospecting – a successful sales rep finds the time to regularly engage in prospecting for new business.
  3. Business card management – every day, new business cards are added to the contact management database (Outlook, CRM, etc).
  4. Meeting follow up – after a first meeting, the rep sends a handwritten thank you card.

The Interview

The goals of the interview is to have a friendly conversation that provides you with an understanding of the candidates’ innate talents, fundamental beliefs, experience and habits under the strain of being evaluated. It is a hiring best practice to make the interview as friendly as possible.

My approach has almost always been to try to set the candidate at ease before and during the interview. If the interviewee is nervous, she will be guarded and restrained in how she answers the questions. It does not help the interviewer to gauge her abilities if she is overly anxious and her anxiety gets in the way of her having a productive conversation about joining a new team.

Therefore, it is a good idea to allow the interviewee an opportunity to create rapport with her interviewers. Ask and answer a number of yes/no questions. This will help develop trust between you and the candidate. Observe her ability to connect with the panel. Will this person try to fit in with the tribe she is about to join? Will the tribe accept her readily. These are important factors to her long term success on the team. Being able to trust and connect with the people around her is an important trait.

Most people have an idea of how an interview will go. Unless he is straight out of school, the candidate has likely been on at least one interview. And the usual way of interviewing a person is to ask about his educational and work background and then ask about his strengths and weakness. This approach usually elicits pat responses and therefore a poor evaluation of the interviewees fit to the position.

To give the interviewee the opportunity to speak at length on a subject. Ask lots of open-ended, who-what-why-when-how questions and allow the interviewee the opportunity to answer openly. You are looking to evaluate the candidates demonstration of how she fits the avatar above. You are looking to score her on the four aspects that paint a portrait of the ideal candidate.

  1. Innate abilities
  2. Beliefs
  3. Experience
  4. Habits

The above list will guide you towards which questions to ask. The answers will either meet or not meet the criteria you are looking for. This should be a simple check list. Every time you hear the candidate demonstrate one of the four criteria above, you will be able to see if she meets the overall fit of the job.

In addition to collecting the avatar fit data, you will want to evaluate whether the candidate has the foundation for success. In my experience, when an employee is less than successful within an organization, it is because one or more of these four preconditions for success are missing.


4 Aspects of Performance

Be Reliable

Reliability is a person’s tendency to make promises and keep them. Try not to think of this aspect of performance from a moral point of view. Try not to judge an individual as being good or bad with respect to this aspect. The fact is, when an employee is reliable, their performance is predictable. Predictability reduces tension with others and allows for work to be achieved with reduced effort. Therefore, reliability is an indicator of workability, not morality. Keeping the definition of reliability in more practical terms is less emotive and therefore easier to measure and talk about.

Be Real

A person’s ability to be real about themselves is an important aspect for workers to connect with each other. If an employee suspects another employee of holding back, of being insincere and of faking it, trust is diminished between co-workers.

One way that an interviewee expresses being real is to say at the beginning of the interview if he is nervous, or excited or anxious. This helps the interviewer interpret what she sees.

It is also important for the interviewer to be real in the interview. Clearly stating the intention of the interview and giving authentic feedback to the candidate allows the prospective employee understand the relationship he will have with you as his manager in the future. If your interview is candid, frank and real, your future relationship with the employee has a chance of taking on the same nature.

The opposite of being real is the idea that you can “fake it until you make it”. Being fake doesn’t work. The person “acting” and “pretending” may feel convincing to a person in the moment, but the performance is never convincing to anyone else. They may just go along with the act hoping the person calms down enough to be himself.

Never fake it. Be real with others and they will have an incentive to be real with you. From there, a trusting, productive relationship is possible.

Be Empowered

An employee who feels empowered and believes she has an impact on the business will be engaged and energized. A person who feels inessential to the company will show up as apathetic and disengaged.

Some employees carry with them a conviction that they do not matter. They start the day with the attitude that “it has nothing to do with me”. They opt out of taking a stand. This is a sign of a low commitment player who is there for the activity but not for the result. Therefore, it is crucial to explore ideas about responsibility and empowerment with potential employment candidates.

Working in a low commitment company is like going to a concert and waiting for the band to arrive. Everyone is looking in the same direction, but no one is willing to take the lead. Reluctance to take action kills productivity and leads to low performance.

Hiring for engagement will help turn around the team. Testing for this engagement during the interview is therefore a key focus for you as a leader. By choosing an individual who will take responsibility for his or her performance, is a crucial leadership moment. Then, from the moment the candidate is hired, intentionally fostering the belief that “I make a difference” will transform the workplace from a passive culture to a performance culture.

To gauge the empowerment of a prospective employee, ask about accountability in three verb tenses: past, present and future. The easiest place to start is to ask about the future. Ask how the candidate will be accountable for his success, then move backwards. Ask about his responsibilities now and how he is performing within that role. Finally, ask about how he was responsible for both the successes and failures in previous endeavors. Look for empowerment. Watch to see if the candidate blames others or his circumstances for under-performance.

Be Positive

The fourth and equally important key aspect of performance is to have a positive attitude. The attitude manifests itself as, “I am capable of being something greater than I currently know myself to be” and “Though the road may be difficult, I can get there“.

Isn’t this the very ethos of the American dream? The people who arrived on Ellis Island would not have come if it hadn’t been for the dogged belief in a better tomorrow based on sheer determination and grit. This spirit of enterprising optimism underpins American performance. Look for it in the people you hire.

If you do not detect an attitude of, “it won’t be easy but I can do it”, you will find under-performance. The opposite attitude sounds like, “I can do it if the circumstances are right and I get enough support“. Or worse, it sounds like, “I am not sure I can do it, but I can try“. Never hire anyone who is willing to “try“. It may sound agreeable, but buried in the word try is an element of failure.

Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine a situation where a doctor tried to save the man’s life. In this simple statement there contains the element of failure. “I tried, but” is a phrase that is linked to failure. Admonish those around you to never try to save your life. Just do it – just save my life! Trying inevitably leads to failing.

Why We Interview

Heidegger famously said, “Language is the house of being“. What he meant by this was that language is more than just words. Language forms thoughts and thoughts produce action. In fact, without the appropriate word, science tells us that we cannot have the thought.

Helen Keller said that before she had acquired language, she did not have thoughts. She had feelings, but no thoughts. She wrote later, “When I learned the meaning of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me.”

In this way, we have direct evidence that language is more than just being a vehicle for communication is in fact the basis for thoughts themselves. We think in words. Words matter.

If your candidate expresses himself and uses words in a way that leaves you without a clear picture of reliability, authenticity, responsibility and optimism, you do not have a high performance candidate. Without these four aspects of performance, you will have an associate who does not pull the tug-of-war rope in the same direction as the rest of your team.

Therefore, your job on the interview is to ask basic, open-ended questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate her four aspects of performance and paints for you the avatar you have created for the position. Create a list of specific attributes to look for and then listen for those attributes in the interview. If you don’t hear them, challenge the candidate to understand why he was given an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in the interview and didn’t.

Panel Interview

Panel interviews are an important tool to gauge a candidates fit for the position. Be sure to bring in interviewers who will later work closely with the candidate. You want the interviewer to have a vested interest in the successful candidates performance. You also want to smooth the way towards the new employee being accepted into the tribe.

If you are the senior manager, and a manager junior to you is requesting to bring a candidate into the company, invite the junior manager into the interview but forbid her to speak beyond a brief introduction of the members of the panel. Many times, the manager who brought the candidate forward is already sold on the candidate. That junior manager may see her own reflection in the candidate and miss seeing the key aspects you are hiring for. Don’t allow her to coach the candidate to speak for the candidate.

By inviting the junior hiring manager into the interview but asking her to remain silent you create a coaching opportunity. If the interview does not yield a successful candidate, then will have insight into the junior managers’ ability to recognize and recruit talent.

Use the panel interview as an opportunity to take the hiring manager aside and coach her on what you saw and what she may have missed in the preliminary interviews that led up to the panel interview. Help her see what you see by having her recognize how her preliminary interview and the panel interviews were different. Ask her how she will approach future interviews based on what she learned from the current interviewing process.

The Evaluation of a Candidate

When evaluating a candidate, you will want to take the resume, the assessments and the interview into consideration.

The resume is where you started to look for the experience, talents and basic aptitude for the position. Reading the resume, you will be considering the basic educational background needed for the job. You will be looking for the work experience that will help shorten the time it takes for the candidate to become productive in the position. And you will be assessing if she has most of the skills needed to become successful in the new role.

The assessments will tell you if the person has the thinking style, numeric and verbal ability, the pace, positive outlook, sociability, independence and manageability you are looking for. Some assessments are ideal for sales positions and assess the candidates sales skills and commitment level.

The interview is where the candidate is able to demonstrate their four aspects of performance and core beliefs. The interview is where you can test the candidate for their sincerity and empowerment. Use the interview to understand their basic human principles. Are they honest, thoughtful, compassionate, committed, hard-working?

Work Ethic

If one of the core beliefs you are looking for is a strong work ethic, you will want to ask questions that will surface this. One of the methods to uncover a person’s work ethic is to ask a question about the candidate’s earliest work experience. Author of the book, The Winning Manager’s Playbook, John Cioffi once told me that he had found a direct correlation between a person’s age of her first paid employment and the person’s work ethic in later life.

I recently asked a particularly hardworking former colleague of mine about his early work experience. He is well-known in the TOYOTA network as being tireless in his work routine. He told me that before the age of fourteen, he ran a small lawn care business, cutting grass and clipping hedges for his neighbors. Kyle was successful enough to build his small business to the point at which he owned two lawnmowers and other power equipment. When many kids were still focussed on comic books, he was investing in capital equipment.

From the age of fourteen until he turned fifteen, he took a job in construction hanging drywall. At the age of 15, he worked at the State Line restaurant in El Paso, starting as a busboy and working his way up through the kitchen and finally to the front of the house. He did this six to seven days a week all the way through college until graduation.

Understanding a candidate’s early work history helps identify work ethic. In many cases, a candidate who has worked hard all her life will also be hardworking on your team. Listen for work ethic experience in early life to see if there is a pattern that will likely continue.

Bringing It All Together – Hiring Best Practices

Now that you have all three elements, the resume, the assessments and the interview, you are able to score the candidate.

In my experience, it is important to bring all three elements together when making your hiring decision. If the candidate’s resume is strong, then you know she has the experience and skills necessary for the job. If the Assessment is strong, you can know the candidate may have the talents needed. In the interview, you are able to understand whether the candidate has the 4 Aspects of Performance. Taken together, you are able to make an informed decision on whether to hire the candidate.

Innate Abilities – Hiring Best Practice

Some might argue that innate abilities should never be considered because most talents can be taught. I am not sure this is true.

In my experience, a person is either driven or not. He is hardworking or not. He introverted or extroverted. In each of these cases, a employee can create strategies to work around innate abilities, but under pressure those innate tendencies will surface.

Therefore, it is important, and a relevant and a hiring best practice to put the right talent in the right jobs. If the candidate struggles with math, it is obvious that he might not be suited for an accounting job. Similarly, if the person is shy and self-effacing, Sales might be a role that absolutely terrifies him.

It is a hiring best practice to look to place candidates in roles in which they will flourish. If they have the innate abilities for the role, they will enjoy their work and bring enthusiasm and vigor to it every day.

Experience and Skills – Hiring Best Practice

It is a hiring best practice to look for candidates with the experience needed to start producing positive results quickly. Although skills and experience can be taught, it is time-consuming. Do you have the time to invest in your candidate as they develop into the employee you need?

For entry level positions, look for entry level candidates – employees who will trade hard work for on the job training. For senior positions, look for experienced candidates. If you have the training resources in place, you can transfer skills and experience to your new hire. If you don’t have training resources, look for experience in a candidate and expect to pay a premium for that knowledge.

4 Aspects of Performance – Hiring Best Practice

Each of the four aspects of performance have varying degrees of coach-ability.

For Reliabilty, although it is sometimes coachable, in my experience, I have not had a strong track record of being able to instill the importance of making promises and keeping them into unreliable team members. There are some people who just do not believe that being reliable matters.

Being real takes a long time to coach. It really speaks to a person’s ability to trust themselves and others. If you witness an employee being fake with you, confront it immediately and request the person be more authentic. Some will recognize what they are doing and change. Others will fight you on the request and put you into unwinnable conflict with them. It is best to avoid this conflict from the outset before you hire them.

To be empowered is a question of responsibility. If the employee cannot bear to be responsible for the things you need them to be responsible for, it is difficult to change their point of view. The reason is responsibility lands like blame for some people. For others it lands like personal power. Those who try to avoid blame at all costs will struggle on a team of highly empowered teammates.

Being positive, is learned. If the focus of your conversations are always about how the past just doesn’t measure up, your employees will feel defeated and dis-empowered. Similarly, you can change the way your employees think by focusing always on the future. The TOYOTA way is to set goals, measure against the goals, identify any gaps in performance and then generate countermeasures to close the gap. The approach focuses on what is possible to change in the future instead of what is impossible to change about the past. If your people are less than optimistic, look to how you communicate with them – you may be the source of the negativity.

Conclusion – Hiring Best Practices

Hiring and retaining talent is the most important thing that a leader does. If the leader is unable to identify talent through the careful analysis of her department’s needs, she will not be able to hire the best candidate for the position. If the leader is unable to recognize the talents and aspects of performance needed for the job through the application and interview process, then she will equally have a very hard time building a high performance team.

As a leader, focus first on your ability to recognize and attract talent into your organization. Inspire high-performing candidates to want to be a part of your team. Once your team is set, move on to creating an extraordinary training culture.

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