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Top Grading Talent: A Guide for Re-Hiring and Retaining Employees


The phrase “uncertain times” has become an often-used description of the world we currently live in. Appropriately so. It is also times like these that call for uncommon solutions to issues that are unique and can have far reaching impacts on the future of our organizations.

Top grading, or ranking of employees, is most definitely not a new concept. It was popularized most famously by Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, back in the 90s. He instituted an annual employee performance evaluation system predicated on a forced ranking of employees into A, B or C categories. Approximately 20% could be “A’s,” 70% could be “B’s,” and 10% could be “C’s.”

Each year, the bottom 10% were to be replaced. This forced distribution, viewed as highly effective at the time, eventually was determined not to be very effective at motivating performance. In fact, today a large number of Fortune 500 companies have done away with annual performance reviews that include any type of ranking or numerical grading system at all, choosing instead to move toward coaching conversations on a regular basis.

If you have attended any of my presentations on employee engagement and performance over the last decade, you are aware I wholeheartedly encourage coaching “in the moment.” Nevertheless, there is a time and place for identifying top performers and under performers, and this may very well be one of those times.

As organizations anticipate the re-opening of business, and the corresponding re-hiring of employees, it is important to retain only those individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to your club’s value system. The unfortunate consequences of the shutdown, including the furlough of employees specifically, offers the opportunity for a “do over” related to selecting deserving team members. In addition, based on examples seen in clubs around the world who are being allowed to reopen, it will likely not be “business as usual” for awhile.

Predictions are there will be government-imposed limitations placed on business operations that will reduce the amount of staff needed — at least for some period of time. The form below provides a general assessment that may prove helpful as tough decisions are being made related to talent. It can be used club-wide.

Consider having each department head and /or supervisor complete the evaluation on all the employees under their direction. The outcomes will then provide a platform for structured conversations with the general manager prior to extending job offers. This exercise may not definitively drive final hiring choices, but should bring more clarity to a process that is all too often left to a “gut” feeling.

Our industry prides itself on being people centric. Collectively, there is consensus that “our people” are absolutely critical to our club’s success. We know, and research continues to confirm, that customer experience, staff friendliness, member relationships and retention are all inexorably linked to our staff — particularly the front lines.

As you spend time preparing for the “new and improved versions” of your club, remember “people first!”

To download the PDF of this page, click here.

To access the Excel Sheet of this page, click here.

Brent Darden

Brent Darden is the founder of Brent Darden Consulting and chair of REX Roundtables.

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