Posts Tagged ‘hiring’

A Good Business A Great Life #7: Hiring is like Crack!

by Jack Hayhow on August 22, 2011

Yesterday I heard that my friend Stan (not his real name) had just hired two new employees.  With those two hires, the head count in Stan’s company has doubled in just a few months.  The business press is writing about Stan’s growth and everywhere I go I hear, “How about Stan?  He’s really rocking.”

And yet I am deeply concerned about the very survival of Stan’s business.

You see, there’s a culture in the business community that equates success with a large number of employees.  That culture often leads small business owners down the primrose path of profligate hiring because as employment surges, recognition abounds.  If you own a small business, that recognition, often after years of anonymity and sacrifice, can be intoxicating.  In fact, hiring can be much like crack cocaine – an intense high followed by devastating consequences.

Well-meaning civic organizations often encourage this addictive hiring behavior.  In my hometown, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce sponsors a wonderful small business celebration each year.  As a part of that celebration, the Top Ten Small Businesses of Kansas City are recognized.  The top business receives the Mr. K Award, named after the legendary Kansas City entrepreneur, Ewing Kauffman.  One of the key qualifiers for this recognition is an increase in head count.  In fact, it’s more or less impossible to receive Top Ten recognition without dramatic increases in the number of people the company employs.  But as I look back on the list of recognized companies, I’m shocked by how many of those companies have failed or been reduced to a fraction of their previous glory.

For many businesses (and for virtually all service businesses) payroll is the company’s single biggest expense.  And while hiring is easy (requiring only optimism or delusion) firing is brutally difficult.  We like the people who work for us.  We worry about what will happen to them if we let them go.  We think we can fix the people – we tell ourselves they’ll get up to speed if we just give them a little more time.  We have a million reasons not to get rid of people who really need to go.  We hang on to people who are incompetent or who we don’t really need to operate the business.  And every day we do, we take a step closer to catastrophic business failure.

All because the culture and our egos tell us that success is having a lot of employees.

But that is complete and utter nonsense.  Success is about a business lean enough to survive the inevitable tough times.  Success is a business with sustainable operating cash flow.  Success is a business where the employees are fully engaged and secure in their positions as long as they continue to produce and to grow.  Success is a business that customers can’t imagine living without.  Success is a business that gives back to the community in a significant way.  Success is a business that provides the owner with the time and money to do what he or she wants to do.  That’s success!

The state of the global economy notwithstanding, companies everywhere seem to be experiencing the some of the best growth seen in recent years. As the saying goes, however, mo’ money, mo’ problems. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to finding the best possible people to join your organization during the hockey-stick rise to prosperity.  In the past, this meant running an ad on an online job board, chatting to a few interesting candidates by phone, conducting a handful of interviews, and you were generally in good shape. Today, it means online job postings on multiple sites (often in multiple geographies) and potentially hundreds of resumes. Oh, and thanks to the recent belt-tightening, you’re now likely wearing more of those proverbial ‘hats’ in your organization – which means a lot less available time for sifting through resumes/CVs. Here are a few tools that can help you navigate that shiny hiring canoe of yours through glassier waters:

Write Great Job Postings

Like everyone else, I check out job postings now and again to see who’s hiring – jobs tend to be a pretty good barometer of what’s happening in the marketplace, and the ever-fluid tech sector in particular. I’m sure you likewise receive emails or calls from headhunters with the latest and greatest gig they think you’d be perfect for. I’ve got to say that in general, these guys are pretty good at what they do, and on the whole their descriptions of whatever job they’re plugging are fairly detailed and written well enough to capture my attention – at least for a moment or two anyway.

Now, contrasting this against the average job posting online (those you might find on sites like Indeed, CrunchBoard, or LinkedIn), I’m continually amazed at the lack of detail – and, quite frankly, good writing – in the average job posting. Little about the company and whether it’d be a fun, inspiring place to work, or a draconian bore-fest. Sparse details of the actual job duties. Run-of-the mill skills and experience lists. I mean, what caliber of candidates do companies expect to attract with such a mess of a posting? My point is this: when preparing your job posting, take your time. Put yourself in the shoes of that ideal person whom you want for the open positions. What schools should they have attended? Where should they have worked prior? If an engineer, should they actively contribute to coding forums or blog on their accomplishments? Should s/he have patents? If a business development or management position, whom should s/he know well/be close to? Are you looking for a thought leader or just a fantastic cold-caller? What competencies should they have that might indicate a top performer?

Also important is to be personal: Try to write the posting in a conversational style and be sure to include how great it is to be part of your company. People like working for fun companies. Spend an extra few minutes thinking about your posting and you’d be surprised at the high quality of responses you’ll receive as a result.

Use An Applicant Tracking System

Another surprising thing I find is the number of companies out there who apparently have only email as a means of receiving responses to job postings. Really? I get that loads of startups fit into this category, but what happens if you’re the next Zynga: your hot new product is taking off like a rocket and you’ve secured enough funding to scale. Now you need to hire – very quickly – perhaps 20 or so positions. Your postings are scattered about online and before you know it, you’ve got more than 500 resumes and cover letters to weed through, amidst your other 488 emails. Exactly: headache city.

The good news here is that there are several alternatives to email alone, whatever your organization size or budget. Applicant Tracking System/Talent Management Systems are readily available from The Resumator, Newton, Force.com apps (if using Salesforce), Taleo, Peopleclick Authoria, Kenexa…and as you can imagine, the list goes on. Most of these services are available – yes I’ll mention the dreaded word again this once – in the cloud, so no software or server to install. So spend a bit of time and investigate your options, but for goodness sake, move away from email-only. I repeat: Step away from the email. The great thing about just about any of these solutions is you can keep a database of job posting templates, publish/distribute to multiple job boards, screen incoming candidates, retain resumes for future consideration, and move candidates down the funnel to interview, offer letter, background check, and onboarding – all from a single environment. Look into it. You’ll thank me later.

Screening: Go Beyond The Resume

According to a 2010 survey of businesses across the US, UK, and EU by Cross-Tab, a market research provider, 85% of hiring managers feel that a positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions, and more than 70% of companies have a policy to screen all job candidates using – yep, you guessed it, social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other sites offer a treasure trove of data about whom the candidate is beyond his/her credentials and pedigree. If you aren’t screening candidates this way, you should be. That said, there is a bit of risk involved in screening this way, namely in the form of what the EEOC deems ‘protected class’ data (age, race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc.), which if you didn’t know is illegal to use when making a hiring decision in the US. (The UK and EU have similar privacy laws, by the by.) Three or four years ago, this wouldn’t have been too much of an issue with regard to screening, as the average resume/CV typically hasn’t changed much and typically doesn’t contain this kind of information. Visit a candidate’s LinkedIn or Facebook page, however, and you’ll invariably come across more than you should likely be seeing. Serious stuff, people. I’m not an attorney by any means, but I do know that lawsuits have been filed (and won) by didn’t-hire candidates over this sort of thing. Bottom line here is to move wisely; and most of all don’t be creepy – ‘friending’ candidates on Facebook so you can have a deeper view into his/her persona, etcetera.

Here too, though, comes our good friend technology to the rescue. A growing number of social media-driven resources are available to help get beyond the resume: LinkedIn offers some pretty good search tools. Klout, who analyze data to determine an individual’s level of influence (and whose scores apparently come up during candidate interviews here and again), and Reppify, who provide a web-based analysis of candidates’ online presence through their social networks according to your hiring criteria. (Disclosure: I currently hold a senior management position at Reppify.) Services such as these can help you to narrow that candidate funnel, identify the best candidate selections for your team, and mitigate discrimination liability risks.

Whatever your business, and however fast you may be growing, employing these three key strategies today should significantly help you to identify the candidates who best fit your organization, as well as save you loads of time and money (and probably a few grey hairs as well). Happy hiring!

Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks

A strong workplace culture that’s focused on employee high-performance can be an important contributor to organizational success. But it’s not easy to know how to build such a culture; in many ways, organizational culture can be intangible and it’s affected by many factors.

One of the powerful ways an organization can build a culture of high performance is by leveraging their talent management processes and practices.

At its core, talent management is really about management best practices. It’s about

  • hiring the right people
  • cultivating key competencies
  • giving employees the ongoing feedback, direction and context they need to succeed
  • rewarding and encouraging high performance

As an organization, you need to ensure you have sound processes in place that support your managers in effectively managing and leveraging your most important strategic resource – your employees. While the management practices listed above may seem basic, many organizations still struggle to implement them broadly and effectively.

Hire the Right People

When hiring, it’s important to start by thoroughly defining the job and its requirements. When doing so, make sure you identify the competencies that are critical to the role and to the organization. Then look for these in the candidates you interview. It’s vitally important to ensure the people you hire, especially those in management roles, have the soft skills you need to support your organizational culture. It’s easier to develop technical skills through training than it is to develop soft skills.

Cultivate Key Competencies

Competencies are about “how” you do what you do. They are one of the chief ways your organization differentiate itself from the competition. Ideally, they should underlie all your talent management processes.

While it’s important to identify required competencies when hiring, it’s even more important to do this for the organization overall, and for every employee. Start by identifying the key organizational, individual and leadership competencies you need to succeed. Then cultivate them in all your employees. You need to regularly assess employees’ performance of key competencies, and put training plans in place to develop them. In this way, you reinforce corporate values and culture.

Give Employees Feedback, Coaching, Direction and Context

Research tells us that to excel, employees need ongoing feedback and coaching, clear goals and a larger context for their work. So it’s important to incorporate all these elements in your performance appraisal process. But you also need to train your managers to both use the process/tool and effectively manage their employees’ performance. Few of us know instinctively how to do these things well. By providing managers with training, coaching and support in managing employee high-performance, you ingrain these practices in your organizational culture and foster high performance.

Reward High Performance

Another way to build a culture of high performance is to reward it. To do this, you need to make sure that performance is at the root of all your compensation, reward and promotion programs. You also need to make this direction visible to the entire organization. But be clear – performance means not only “what” is accomplished, but also “how” it is done. You need to recognize, reward and promote the high-performance attitudes and behaviors you want to foster in your workforce, and discourage the destructive ones. Don’t forget that rewarding high performance goes hand in hand with dealing with low performance.

Conclusion

Ensuring your organization has solid talent management processes in place helps communicate the organizational value and priority of employee performance. By training managers at all levels of the organization in effective people management practices and providing them with the tools they need to do the job effectively, you help build a culture of high-performance.