MCP Insights

How to Find ‘A’ Players: An Intro to ‘Topgrading’ for Public Safety Leaders

Posted on March 31, 2017 by Howard Miller

It is essential that MCP’s subject-matter experts (SMEs) provide exemplary service, expertise and advice to our public safety clients, because when lives are on the line and seconds count, their mission truly matters. A key element in assuring that we serve our clients at the highest levels is to hire “A” players, i.e., the top 10 percent of talent in the public safety sector. While such a determination might seem subjective, it really isn’t. In fact, we use an objective approach known as “topgrading” to accomplish this goal. It is an approach that every public safety answering point (PSAP) manager can leverage to attract the most knowledgeable and passionate talent available.

Topgrading Basics

Topgrading is a methodology that was developed by Dr. Brad Smart, who widely is considered the world’s top hiring expert. We describe topgrading as a structural approach to interviewing candidates, and we use it to fill every position. Here's a quick overview of how the topgrading process works for us.

Tip 1: Don't underestimate the importance of a pre-screen.

We start with a pre-screen interview to initially identify candidates who possess “A player” characteristics and eliminate those who do not.  Candidates generally will meet with us by phone or in a live environment.  The pre-screen interview generally will run up to 90 minutes.  During the interview we ask each candidate to state their career goals, identify their best professional attributes, and acknowledge their weaknesses.  We discuss the individual’s work history, the core values at MCP—persistence, integrity, trust, accountability and prudence—and team-oriented characteristics the individual can bring to our company.

Tip 2: Look for Predictive Patterns of Performance.

 The actual topgrading interview is a chronological, in-depth, structured session.  We invite candidates to our corporate headquarters or one of our regional offices.  The session typically lasts about three hours. Our “topgraders” spend considerable time collecting information and identifying predictive patterns of performance.  The methodology allows for us to capture critical details about the candidate’s background to include their education, key skill sets and competencies, achievements and failures, relationships, goals and potential. 

Tip 3: Reference checks are very critical.

 Reference discussions also are part of the topgrading methodology.  The conversation we have with former managers and supervisors confirm what we learned about the candidate during the In-depth session.  Such discussions validate competencies, past performance, and the relationship the candidate had with their former manager/supervisor, as well as the potential that person felt the candidate exhibited while they worked together.

Tip 4: Keep a virtual bench.

In some cases, timing may be an issue.  If the A player is not able to make a career change, we maintain a “virtual bench” of individuals, with whom we keep regular contact until the timing is right for both parties to engage in an employment relationship.  Our virtual bench has been a key factor in our ability to maintain the sustained growth of our team.


Why do we topgrade?  It is our mission to employ only the best available talent in our industry.  We seek A Players to complement our culture of commitment and to provide innovative consultative services to our clients.  What I have described above might seem like the interview process that every organization uses, but nothing could be further from the truth. The “secret sauce” of the topgrading approach is found in its nuances, which I will delve into in greater detail in future posts.

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