With high unemployment, hiring new employees should be a cinch, right? It’s not. You have to know what you’re looking for, choose carefully and make strategic hires rather than making emotional decisions or impulse hires. When you think you have found what you’re looking for, you might have to dig deeply to separate the wheat from the chaff. You have to approach it like a hiring professional. Below are two examples of situations executive search professionals see daily. Though they're very different scenarios, there's a lesson in both for how a small business should approach a new hire.
One of my clients owns a $10 million medical device company. He’s doing OK, but sales and profits are down. In the past, he hired key managers when they showed up. He calls this “opportunistic hiring.” In a dynamic business environment, it may work. It might also feel good. In the challenging business climate we’re in, it is a missed opportunity to hire a great manager. So what can he (and you) do differently to ensure every hire brings greater value to the company?
1. Write a job description that focuses on what he wants to accomplish with the position and what he wants from the new employee. Be specific: Increase sales by 10 percent, reduce manufacturing costs by 12 percent, and so on. While interviewing, if the candidates do not offer realistic, plausible and common-sense ideas on how they will achieve those objectives, don’t hire them. Say you're hiring a manager for a small computer-repair shop. You'll still need a focused job description. The goals and questions you ask candidates will be different—for example, how would you increase jobs completed per week by 10 percent?—but the idea is the same no matter what type of business you have.
2. If he tends to hire friends, relatives, friends of friends or friends of relatives, establish a process that creates distance from him and the hiring decision. Create a panel; solicit and include involvement from colleagues who have demonstrated excellence in hiring. Find an experienced consultant to assist. Each candidate, whatever their source, is thrown into a pot and interviewed by the panel. He can still hire a friend, but all candidates are vetted in exactly the same way. If his friend sails through the process and is a finalist, that’s great. If not, don’t hire her. This is extremely important for small businesses, who are even more likely than large ones to be staffed with friends, relatives or a close-knit community.
3. Ask the final candidates to write a brief plan of what they would do in their first 90 days of employment. This will give you insight to their writing skills, thought process and values.
Last year, we were tasked with finding a general manager for a large manufacturing facility in the southeastern U.S. While we had many fine candidates, one in particular stood out. He had the demonstrated experience, education and skills set forth in our criteria. There was one problem: He’d been terminated from a previous employer, under ambiguous circumstances. When I asked him to recount that job and the circumstances that led to his termination, what he described was political and complicated.
We could have walked away. Instead, we dug deeply. We used a psychologist to administer a testing regimen measuring his aptitudes and creating a personality profile. Everyone involved in the hiring decision was privy to all of the information. Our conclusion: He was an excellent manager who found himself in a situation beyond his control. His termination, while it may have been warranted, was not pertinent to our job. We hired him. Our decision proved correct. He’s doing a fantastic job. This is a dramatic example, but the message for small business is simple: It takes more than a brief 10-minute interview to find the right employee.
Every situation is different, every circumstance unique. It is easy to start an employment relationship. But getting out isn't so easy. Strategic hiring means you know what you’re looking for, you have a process that encourages success, that allows you to deal effectively with ambiguity, and whose results contribute to your success.
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OPEN Cardmember Doug Reiter is President of The Douglas Reiter Company, an Executive Talent Firm in Lake Oswego, Oregon.