The IT and cybersecurity field is growing fast, and top talent has plenty of offers to choose from. With this kind of competition, it’s important for every organization to take the time to evaluate their hiring and retention practices to ensure that they’re doing everything possible to truly build top-performing teams. One technique, known as Topgrading, could make a big difference in developing and retaining the talent you truly need to meet your organization’s big-picture goals.


What Is Topgrading?

Developed by management professional Dr. Bradford D. Smart, Topgrading is a hiring technique based on hiring the best of the best and not settling for just “adequate.” Smart defines a Topgrading leader as one who “hires or promotes high performers, the top 10% of talent available for the compensation level.”[1] In turn, hiring higher performers in the first place can then increase the number of high performers consistently on your team.

Rather than completely replacing traditional competency or behavioral interview techniques, Topgrading can simply be added to the process to give a different perspective. The practice can also be used to manage existing talent and ensure that teams are comprised of the best people possible.

For instance, one aspect of Topgrading that goes beyond the interview process is quite simple and fits in with common practices already: annual performance reviews. In the Topgrading method, managers rank their reports from top performers to lowest, then take note of which “adequate” or “poor” performers have the potential to become top performers with a little time and coaching. Those who are not likely to make improvements can then be replaced with better-fit talent.


Topgrading in Today’s IT World

 In the current IT and cybersecurity industry, talent is at a premium and companies are often competing for top talent, which means base salaries, benefits, and bonuses are rising. While it feels like a fair trade to pay top salaries to top performers, however, it can be extremely frustrating to realize you’re paying top salaries to poor performers.

Mis-hires and poor performers could be costing you more than you expect. According to Dr. Smart’s research, evaluating over 50 companies, the average cost of a mis-hire of a manager earning $100,000 is $1.5 million, and mis-hiring a sales rep at the same salary costs a company an average of $560,000. The costs aren’t just financial, either: in a survey of 500 managers, Dr. Smart found that they “waste” approximately 150 hours on every low-performing or poorly chosen hire.[2]

Entering an era of economic challenges actually can give your organization a chance to use the Topgrading principle to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Smart recommends a handful of critical actions to implement Topgrading, ensure best-fit hires from the start, and improve your team’s overall performance. Along with the use of signature Topgrading questions and interview structures, these tips include:

  • Getting clear on job descriptions, responsibilities, and expectations, with measurable and transparent benchmarks to evaluate
  • Develop a robust network of passive talent
  • Don’t hire with the expectation that someone will change in big ways
  • Create ways to clearly and thoroughly evaluate the success of a hire

IT and cybersecurity roles can be complex and require a high level of expertise, reliability, and excellent performance. Customers and companies trust their “tech teams” with a large amount of sensitive information about individuals and about company systems, so it’s especially important that the people in these roles can and will perform to the highest standards. By implementing some of these Topgrading techniques, and by partnering with an expert recruiter, your team can find even greater success in pinpointing the talent you need to truly expand and excel.


By Daniel Midoneck


[1] Smart, Bradford D. Avoid Costly Mis-Hires! Hire 90% High Performers with Topgrading Best Practices.

[2] Smart