When Atlanta, Georgia-based ShelfGenie began franchising in 2008, the custom slide-out shelving company expanded rapidly, landing on the Inc. 500 list in 2010 for being one of the fastest-growing privately held U.S. companies and the third-fastest growing franchise. Today the company hits more than $20 million in sales with about 150 locations in the U.S. and Canada. But, as so often happens with companies that see meteoric growth, ShelfGenie plateaued. While the company was still growing at about 6 percent a year 18 months ago, that number wasn't good enough for CEO Allan Young, who looked around at his company, which was full of good people who were heroes a few years ago but now struggling to execute. His goal: to clean house and fill his company with A-players who wanted to be held accountable for superior results. Here are some of the unusual--even unorthodox--ways he did it with the help of Rick Crossland, a consultant who helps his clients use "Topgrading" techniques to hire talent.

1. Post an ad that directs candidates to call a hotline where they have to record answers to questions on the spot.

Forget about wading through a pile of résumés, at least initially. Yes, they're important, but not as a first filter if you're looking for leaders who can bring an A-game to your company. Instead, put candidates in the hot seat right away to see how they respond to difficult questions with no time to prepare. Only after they've given their answers do they receive an address to send a résumé. The thing about résumés, Young points out: Anyone can hire a wordsmith to make a candidate look good on paper.

2. Conduct interviews with a group of candidates at one time.

If you're looking for strong leaders, these people need to be able to shine within a group of other accomplished and well-spoken people. Young includes about three people from ShelfGenie along with a handful of candidates, who at first think the notion of a group interview is a bit weird--but end up hanging out in the parking lot afterward, even sometimes getting connected on social networks. The idea is to keep people from over-talking. Instead, try to elicit straightforward answers by asking questions about a specific time the candidate has had to deal with a situation, giving each person in the group the opportunity to answer first, last, or in the middle.

3. Any potential A-Players who make it through the group interview proceed to complete a career-history form.

It takes two to four hours to complete because it asks for contact information for everyone with whom a person has worked since high school--and poses even more interview questions, regarding things such as what he or she liked or disliked about various supervisors and their leadership styles. From this exercise, a 35-page report is generated.

4. If you still like the person, bring him or her in to have a relaxed conversation with a few company decision makers.

Young defines A-players as being in the top 10 percent of their pay range and performance, with B-players being in the next 20 percent to 30 percent. The goal is to uncover a B-player who, during the interview process so far, has conducted himself as an A-player. The four-hour-long interview is really more of a relaxing conversation going way back into a person's life, which can be disarming--almost therapeutic, Young says. "An hour into it I [think] 'I would have hired this person in the first 30 minutes if we had been interviewing the old way.'" Young says. "And then you see them unravel, because they can't stay that consistent for their entire career history. At some point the B's trip up."

5. Use a personality test.

ShelfGenie uses Predictive Index, which barely takes candidates--and franchisees and their employees--10 minutes to complete. Weirdly accurate (Young let me take the test), Predictive Index asks people to check off what character traits they think people see in them as well as the ones they see in themselves. From that information, it generates a three- or four-page document that nails much about a person's personality. Young says he also reverse-engineers Predictive Index by indicating the kinds of personality traits the company is looking for respective to a certain position. "You're not looking for a perfect match, but you're avoiding the ones that are way off," he says.

Following this multi-step process, Young says he has been able to find and hire top-performing employees who meet and beat their goals and hold themselves accountable even when they're not at their A game. Whereas a B-player may make excuses for not reaching goals, A-players do not. "An A-player can have a B-week or a B-day or even a B-quarter. We don't expect everybody to come all the time bringing their A-game," Young says. "The expectation is that if you have a B-day or week or month that you acknowledge it, you take accountability for it, and you work on getting back to an A."

6. Employees should be crystal clear about what they're working toward and have insight into their success doing so.

To enable that, ShelfGenie uses the cloud-based software OnStrategy, which helps the company track employee performance and drive ownership and accountability toward meeting the company's strategic plan. "You can't work on anything unless it fits somewhere in our strategic plan, and if it doesn't, you're not working on it," Young says. Overall, the multi-pronged approach appears to be working--ShelfGenie has more than doubled its growth this year compared with last year. "Last month we were up 37 percent," Young says. "This month to date we're up to over 50 percent, so a lot of this stuff is really just starting to kick in."

Want more on the topic of hiring? Check out "When to Hire Executives to Accelerate Your Startup," in which I interview a whip-smart 23-year-old who played all his cards right; as well as "4 Reasons to Turn Your Talent Search Into a Contest," in which a Chicago company uses email and social media to get friends of friends acting as recruiters.

Published on: Sep 2, 2014