Here’s the problem: You know you should be devoting lots of time and attention toward nurturing and supporting your best employees, but it just never works out that way. Instead, you spend most of your time focusing on your problem employees—the really bad ones—until you actually let them go. And the rest of your time goes to your so-so employees, the ones who do an okay job some of the time, but whose morale is so low, they show up a few minutes late, leave early and do just enough to get by.
If you had qualified applicants ready to go to work for you, you’d quickly replace these mediocre employees. But if you’re a small-business owner in rural, small-town America, it’s pretty hard to find great-quality people, much less get them to work for you.
So instead of replacing your marginal employees, you coach and you cajole, all the while banging your head on your desk in quiet desperation. Or you snap and lose your patience. Now not only are the employees ticked, but they're complaining about you to other employees, and morale goes down even more. You blame yourself, questioning your own ability to lead and grow a business.
Don't Give Up Hope
How are you supposed to scale a business when good, qualified people are so hard to find in a rural area?
First, let me share with you that in some ways, what you've been doing makes sense. Consider that the typical small-business owner has just a 25 percent chance of hiring a high-performing employee. This means 75 percent of the hiring decisions you’re making likely result in “mis-hires.”
It takes a lot of time and energy to advertise for a position, sort through resumes, schedule interviews and interview applicants. That's why many small-business owners keep those marginal employees around. Knowing that, despite all your effort, there's a 75 percent chance the person you hire won't be right for your business is certainly disheartening.
The harsh truth, however, is that you cannot scale a business with a team of adequate, marginal or deficient employees. In fact, if you continue to operate this way, eventually your business will fail.
Dealing With Brain Drain
So what do you do? First, you must learn how to do more with less. This means doing more with fewer employees—but those employees must be top performers. If you're a business owner in a rural area, this is bad news because it has become increasingly difficult to find top performers in non-urban locations.
According to Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, the authors of Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America, rural America is suffering from a “brain drain” in which top talent is being lured away to metropolitan areas. Since 1980, more than 700 rural counties have lost 10 percent or more of their population. The majority of these counties are in the mid-section of our nation, running from North Dakota down to Texas.
Business owners in rural America face a daunting challenge when it comes to scaling their businesses. Scaling a business requires a good team. Putting a good team in place is difficult when there's a talent shortage in your own backyard. But there are solutions to this dilemma.
Rural business owners who successfully scale their businesses do so by:
- Using multifaceted recruiting and retention strategies to become an employer of choice for the employees they want to attract.
- Streamlining their business to operate with fewer people who can do things more efficiently.
- Hiring part-timers, freelancers, contractors and virtual assistants when possible.
Although finding, hiring and retaining employees may be the biggest challenge you'll face as a small-business owner in rural America, you can do it. It just takes a combination of the right strategies for your business in your community.
Dr. Sabrina Schleicher is a rural business growth strategist and the president of Tap the Potential LLC.
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