[More Hoax of the “A” Players] NFL Version: The Curse of the “Best” Talent Available

Aaron Rodgers and the 2008 Packers offense vs ...
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Talent Wars: The “A” PlayerHoax details an HR practice called “tograding.” The approach has some good advice (depthful, behaviorally focused interviews with well trained interviews) mixed with an often simplistic, and unproven application techniques.

Check out this tograding promotional blurb:

“Can you reliably pick the right people?

CEOs report that “picking the right people” is one of their most serious challenges. But, most companies find that only 25% of those hired or promoted turn out to be high achievers — that’s a 75% failure rate!

Topgrading lets you dramatically improve talent in your organization — we’ve got the data to prove it.

  • Topgraders often double or triple their hiring results — achieving 75%, 80%, and even 90% success hiring and promoting people.
  • Top Wall Street investors use Topgrading to assess and improve management teams.
  • Thousands of managers at leading companies of all sizes have taught Topgrading to their managers

What is Topgrading?

Topgrading means using the Topgrading Interview with other Topgrading techniques [ e.g. culling out the 65% of people who are not A or B players] to achieve 90% high performers throughout your organization.”


One of the reasons I like professional sports as an applicable metaphor for talent selection in organizations is that the results – wins, losses, failures and success – are all out for everyone to to see. And there is arguably nothing better to observe the the US professional football league (the National Football League) where players, short of astronauts, may be the most tested, reviewed, interviewed humans on earth. Apart from getting seeing draft choice play in live games, teams to look are realms of video of the prospective players in action, players have extensive personal interviews, go through a thorough set of physical skills testing, as well as an “intelligence test.”

Performance is not just about your smarts and physical abilities, it’s also about the “person inside” and the organization that surrounds you. While you can measure the heartbeat, you can’t measure the heart. Grit, perseverance, and stick-to-it-tiveness are the elements that no test can measure. And you can put a great talent in a bad organization and should should expect one thing; the talent to bounce.

This weekend four teams will play; Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers in one side of the draw, the New York Jets vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers on the other side of the draw. Winners of the two contests meet on February 6th for something known as the Super Bowl . Any guess on where in the respective drafting order their starting quarterbacks were drafted?


  • Pittsburgh QB Ben Rothlisberger was the 11th player selected in the 2004 draft but the third quarterback, lagging Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Both Manning and Rivers have done well, and are with their original selecting teams.
  • In the 2005 draft, quarterback Alex Smith was the first person drafted, and (obviously) the first quarterback selected, in his case by the San Francisco. The Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers was the 24th player chosen that year, and the second quarterback drafted. After six listless years – including no playoff appearances – Smith will likely not be resigned by the 49ers. Rodgers, who came out of Cal, was bypassed by the 49ers because his physical skills were suspect. Roders also had to follow a legend in the form or Bret Favre, no mean feat to be the quarterback after the sexting likely Hall of Famer.
  • In the 2006 draft Jay Cutler was also the 11th player selected, and again just the third quarterback, behind #3 choice Vince Young, and #10 Matt Leinert. Leinert is now a back-up QB with his second team; Vince Young has had a bumpy ride with Tennessee and won’t be resigned.
  • The first quarterback in the 2007 draft – and the draft’s overall first pick – was JaMarcus Russell, who was chosen by the Oakland Raiders. After two years Russell was cut by the team, and is no longer playing professional football.
  • The 2009 draft produced Matthew Stafford as the first QB, and the draft’s overall #1 pick as well; the New York Jets selected Mark Sanchez as the fifth pick overall, and the 2nd quarterback chosen. Stafford is with his original team.

Of the four quarterbacks who will be playing this upcoming weekend, none – 0 – were the first quarterback chosen in the draft. Two of the four first quarterbacks chosen (Young and Smith) can be called “busts” – people not playing up to their expected potential. If you add JaMarcus Russell to the mix it’s three of the first five quarterbacks taken have been flops.

So what does this tell us about testing, tograding and interviewing?

There is more to performance than passing an interview – or being selected as an “A” player and most likely to succeed. Looking for grit, determination, and that unfathomable quality known as heart helps separate sustained performance from run of the mill. Organization – the place an employee lands counts for a lot; tograding does nothing to address a way to create an environment where people with talent and heart are sure to succeed.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.



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