I was at a function recently when the owner of another recruitment company said his company’s success was founded on only working with the top 20% of candidates and with the top 20% of companies. I did not have the opportunity to ask how he defines the top 20% of candidates and the top 20% of companies. I would like to know. I did notice the smirks on many other recruiters’ faces as they obviously thought they were dealing with the same people and the same companies.

This poses an interesting question. Should we ignore all those who fall in the lower 80% and avoid those companies that likewise don’t make the grade?

If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, you vote in favour of closing all those companies that are in the top 20% and relegating all their top 20% employees to the scrap heap. Because, just as the white pointers can’t survive in a marine ecosystem that does not include the myriad of “lesser capable” marine dwellers, nor can the top 20% of companies survive without what must be the predominantly “B Grade” companies that maintain their air-conditioning, paint the lines in the car park, clean the offices, supply their stationery and dare I say – often find some of their employees for them! Not every supplier to an “A Grade” company can be in turn be an “A Grade” company – surely.

And as far as “B Grade” employees, often I have seen the “star” from company X join company Y and fail to impress. Just as many times I have witnessed a very average performer from company X shine at company Y. So I wonder if some of the top 20% of candidates are in fact only there because of the environment or their boss. I think so. And what makes an “A Grader” go off the boil as many do? Is it them? Or is it their boss?

Is it not the role of the manager to ensure that their reports are successful? Is this not the very essence of managing? When my clients have said of a candidate, “But John, they don’t have this skill or this attribute …” I have frequently answered, “Isn’t it YOUR job as a manager to assist them in this regard?” A wry smile and silence are usually the response.

I think we as Executive Recruiters and employers discount those not in the “top 20%” at our peril. We do so as many of them may be “A Graders” in disguise or perhaps are “A Graders” in another facet of their lives and are happy to make a worthwhile but not necessarily electrifying contribution in the workplace. If they are “B Graders”, are paying their way (plus) as an employee and enabling the stars – the “A Graders” – to shine, can you ask any more of them?