When to Hire A-Players (and How to Keep Them Happy) – Week 6

Take a moment and think of your circle of friends and colleagues. Now imagine starting your own business and ask yourself the following two questions. First, do I know enough people to optimally staff the positions in my business? And second, am I willing to possibly jeopardize these relationships in the name of success? As we can quickly see, two problems can arise from this situation – the simple lack of human capital and the risk that utilizing that human capital presents. For these reasons, it can be wise to broaden our search for talent beyond our circle of friends and into the community which our business will inhabit. Yet perhaps equally as difficult as initially finding top-performing “A-player” employees is knowing when to hire them and how to keep them motivated and happy once employed. For the remainder of this article, we will discuss the timing of hirings, where new hires can be found, and how to retain this talent once acquired.

When Do I Hire?

Although the answer to this question might sound rather obvious, it isn’t always as simple as “when I need to fill a position.” You see, in order to fill a position, you first need to know when to create that position. Early on in the life of a startup, a team of founders is often all that exists. But as the startup grows, the hiring of non-executive team members is a function that needs consideration. One metric that can be used to determine the need for a position is whether or not a founding executive’s time could be spent more wisely if certain tasks were delegated to a new hire. A second situation to look for is whether or not your company requires a certain type of human capital that you or your founding team cannot provide – perhaps an accountant or book keeper, although it could be anything. Finally, try to keep a long-term focus on job titles as naming someone a “director” might sound good now, but will turn sour when you need to add a position above Director and the current Director isn’t on the level that he or she needs to be to continue holding that position. Nice titles can and are motivating to employees, just exercise caution so that they are not given to under-qualified employees.

Where Should I Look for A-Players?

In the beginning of this article, we touched on the dangers of using friends (and family) as employees since it could end up hurting these relationships – after all, business is typically a stressful beast. This is not to say, however that hiring friends should be avoided. As Noam Wasserman explains in his book The Founder’s Dilemmas, “CEOs tend to feel more comfortable with hires they already know.” He goes on to say that “by the second round of financing, the founder-CEO is finding fewer members of the team” while investors account for a growing percentage of the hires. As we can see, this could be to the fact that each of us has a limited “social circle” from which we can draw talent from. So what’s a CEO to do? For starters, constantly keep a lookout for talent around you – at every business you visit. If you see someone going above and beyond, make note. Another technique is to ask your friends if they themselves know anyone who would be interested in working for you. By asking your friends to ask their friends, you avoid the strain on relationships while still getting a trustworthy employee who is often very similar to your group of friends.

How Do I Keep Them Happy?

You found a team of A-player employees and things feel really good about now. But this is only half the battle: retaining your talent is equally as important as finding them in the first place. Eric Herrenkohl says in his book How To Hire A-Players that “A-players want to work for a leader who has a vision for the business and can tell them where they as top performers fit into it.” Having this vision as a leader is important when we want to motivate and keep our top talent. By being open and honest with our team members and communicating a roadmap to promotion and achievement, A-player employees will feel like they are actually getting somewhere instead of simply spinning their wheels. Eric Herrenkohl goes on to explain how sitting down and asking your employees about their goals is a great way to determine how to motivate them to perform and be happy. And while monetary incentives are important and should be awarded, challenges and appreciation for hard work and dedication are the things that will keep your ambitious team at their best.

In the article Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale, David Novak sums it all up by saying “recognition isn’t just about implementing employee programs to check them off a list; it’s about bringing out the best in people and improving your company’s bottom line.”


Herrenkohl, Eric (2010). How to Hire A-Players. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Novak, David (2016). Recognizing Employees Is The Simplest Way to Improve Morale. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain

Wasserman, Noam (2012). The Founder’s Dilemmas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

10 thoughts on “When to Hire A-Players (and How to Keep Them Happy) – Week 6

  1. I liked your quote by David Novak. I think most companies tend to underestimate how much more influence they have over their employees if they provide certain benefits. Money is always an important consideration, but along with that, the more a company become a positive place to work, the more successful the company likely becomes. There is a quote by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that goes along the lines of “when you take everything away from someone, it is only then that you lose your power over them.” I think the potential to abuse this wisdom definitely exists – think “bread and circuses” – but I suppose it can also be used by a CEO to achieve a symbiotic relationship between management and employee.

    1. Thank you, Nick! Your comment makes a lot of sense to me, I really agree. If companies paid closer attention to rewarding and recognizing employees, the employee productivity and loyalty would skyrocket. And your quote is also interesting. I, too, think that this principle can be used for good when functioning the correct way.

  2. Austin,

    I think it is very important for employees to feel like they are getting somewhere, like they are going in a direction and improving themselves and their talent. Sitting down with your employees and asking them their goals is a great way, during that time you can also ask them what you can do to challenge them more and improve their skills. This was a great post, very informative with some good ideas to recruit and retain employees.


  3. Hi Austin,

    Enjoy reading your post! Clearly strategy with when where and how to hire then to keep top performers. These seem as always any founder’s challenges, at any stage of business. Solutions with appreciations and discover employees’ motivations are important to moving forward and take company to the next level, of course with an effective leader.


  4. Hi Austin,
    I always enjoy your posts. I came upon this article http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-the-best-leaders-want-their-superstar-employees-to-leave-1475460841 on Monday. It takes a different approach to keeping A players. The premise is the more A’s that leave then there is more room for more A’s to come in. The A’s that left went on to create new companies with the encouragement and sometimes investment from their previous CEO’s. This created a huge network for future recruiting, investing, and new start ups. I wonder what Mr. Herrenkohl would say to that. I think you will enjoy reading it.

    1. Hi Cece! Wow, that is definitely a really interesting approach to talent. Although at first glance, it might seem that what they are saying in the article is completely the opposite from what we have learned, I actually think that it is only a continuation when we look closely. The article explains that some of the best companies groom and encourage their employees to move on to bigger and better things. The key words here are “bigger and better things.” This is starkly different than simply waiting until your employees get so fed up with a lousy management structure that they throw their arms up in the air and leave. Yes, both result in an employee leaving the company. But the first approach will attract an A-player in the first place since they know that promotion is in their future (and that their company has the best interest for them in mind).

      Thank you for mentioning that article, it’s really awesome! And thank you for the comment!

  5. As always, I enjoy reading your blog posts. As I look forward to hiring employees for Savvy Tech in the future, this post helped me understand a few things. 1) Don’t just hire to hire — seek out the people who have the same vision as you. 2) Keeping those A-Players is just as important as hiring them. I need to make them feel like they are truly part of the team and keep them engaged. Ask them for their opinions about the business and make them feel their worth. Recognize and Reward their efforts. 3) Be careful when considering hiring friends and family.

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