Hiring new staff members requires time, money and effort – but many small-business owners are low on all three. So, they fill their positions as quickly and inexpensively as they can. And, as a result, they have to fill the same positions over and over again. What a waste of time, money and effort!
I know from experience that hiring is not just about finding people – it’s about finding the right people. I recently hired new associates for my business. When it came time to start the hiring process, I put the word out to people I knew since referrals often bring in some of the best candidates. Throughout the process, I had the opportunity to meet a great deal of people. With almost 50 applicants, I went through the resumes and cover letters before screening about a dozen over the phone and then actually interviewing six applicants in person.
While many were qualified people with good business skills, it took more to make my cut. I was looking for something in particular. I wanted each of the people I hired to know something I did not. I wanted them to take an active role in the multifaceted position of Small-business Advisor and offer something I could not to the position. That’s because someday I want to become the student rather than the teacher. The day I walk into the room for a staff meeting as the least knowledgeable person is the day I know my hiring process was a success.
But some small-business owners take the opposite approach. They have two criteria for hiring: 1) Are you cheap? and 2) Are you willing to learn? Hiring your first employees generally happens early in the growth of a business. At this point, many business owners don’t have much disposable income and, truth be told, don’t really know what they’re looking for or what they need. As a result, the small-business owner hires someone inexpensive (sounds better than cheap and makes you feel better as the employer) and easily within their financial means.
Initially, there is some wisdom to this hiring practice. Inexpensive help tends to be young, eager and flexible. They want to learn and are not as concerned about their pay. They are happy to have been given a chance. Still, inexpensive help comes a learning curve. You can throw many tasks at them and evaluate which ones they do well and which ones are beyond their abilities. This learning, via trial and error, can help you find the right place – if it exists – for the person. In the process, you may discover your right-hand man. On the other hand, you simply may make a position that fits their abilities and strengths rather than the position that fits your business’ needs.
Most businesses will grow with this process until they have between 10 and 15 employees, or even more. Until, one day, the business owner comes to the office filled with these young, eager, flexible and inexpensive employees – but no leaders or managers. So, while you may have created more time for yourself to harness your unique ability and focus on your own strengths of running the business, you have no one to take some of the responsibility off your shoulders or help manage the business and its inexpensive employees. Now, while your business grows, so too does your workload, your worry and your stress.
While inexpensive help works, it has it limitations, and it is essential that business owners realize this before it is too late. At some point, for your business to continue to grow and your workload and worry to diminish, you need to make the switch from inexpensive and young to experienced and accountable. There comes a time when instead of designing jobs around the strengths of your employees, you design jobs around the needs of you and your business. Then, it is time to go out and hire the people who have the skills and abilities to fulfill those roles.
Unfortunately, this is hard work and time-consuming. First, you have to determine the positions your business needs and then define the responsibilities and control points of those positions. You can’t hire a person for a job that you yourself can’t explain and don’t understand. Also, the roles need to be established in such a way that they can be successfully filled (i.e., don’t mix roles like IT and HR). Finding the right person for your position depends heavily upon you defining the right role for your business and the target applicant pool.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you hire experienced and expensive people for every role in the company. Certain functions in your company are handled in a unique way, such as the production and delivery of your product or service. These areas often can be filled from the bottom. That is, hiring the young, inexperienced and inexpensive workers and promoting them when they display competence and reliability. Similarly, some roles, such as IT, accounting and HR, require specialized knowledge and abilities that are separate from your business’ unique ways. Industry standards and legal guidelines often drive these positions and require experienced, and thus expensive, people.
A plausible and very viable option for these specialized positions is “renting” the experienced people to perform the job. There are individuals and businesses that specialize in selling such CFO, accounting, IT or HR services to companies. Outsourcing these positions provides a less expensive alternative while providing your business with the necessary experience and knowledge to successfully fulfill the positions and meet your business’ needs. In other words, you get the talent and successful track record without the typical high price tag.
Here are a few ways to tell if your business is ready to hire experienced and accountable team members:
- When things go wrong, you don’t know who to yell at.
- When things go well, you have to reward everyone.
- Your team members often look to you to tell them what to do. They aren’t able to complete tasks on their own.
- Most, if not all, ideas for improvement originate with you. You
rarely are surprised by innovative ideas or improvements happening
without your knowledge.
- Some of your people are extremely high performers while others are benchwarmers.
There are several advantages to hiring more experienced people. Here are a few:
- You can more easily predict their results.
- More experienced team members often answer their own questions and
troubleshoot problems for others without your involvement-saving you
- You don’t have to worry about every detail; you have a competent team to handle things.
- You can reward and challenge people based on their individual performance.
- The team feels more confident with many great minds working toward the same goal-the success of the business.
Things improve without your time and effort; your team sees the goal and takes the initiative.
I do not promote spending money for the sake of spending money. But when you invest in quality, you will get quality results. As one of my mentors, Jack Sims, says: “Pay peanuts, get monkeys!” Sometimes an upgrade is clearly in order.