“She had a great resume, but doesn’t live up to it.”
“He said he had experience doing X, but I have to stay on him all of time.”
“She seemed so great in the interview, why isn’t she getting up to speed sooner?”
These are just a few of the comments I have heard when entrepreneurs get frustrated because a new hire isn’t working out. A lot of the time, they think that employee training is the solution — which may be part of the solution, sometimes — but a lot of the time I have to wonder why they hired that specific person in the first place.
And the worst part is, the business owner may not know, either!
The overriding issue here is with our decision criteria. Most of the time, when people conduct a staff search, they aren’t sure what the perfect candidate would look like — and they also aren’t even sure what criteria they would use to determine it.
I believe that “perfect” is a combination of hard skills and soft skills. We screen for the hard skills — knowing how to use certain technology, for example — but for the soft skills, we’re at a loss.
What happens then is that many businesses build tasks and responsibilities around one awesome staff person, and then are completely at that person’s mercy when that s/he leaves. Or, the business assigns responsibilities among different staff people based on who is easier to train, who the owner trusts more, or what the owner believes that person’s strengths are as an employee. I’ve seen businesses that never achieve any efficiency because the owner just can’t get the staff person motivated to do everything s/he hoped that staff person would do.
And of course it’s frustrating! But it’s not necessarily (all) the employee’s fault.
As the business owner, you need to know what you want and need from a staff person before you start getting distracted by candidates. (“This one was so nice, but that guy really needs the job…”)
This is why I believe in three vital pieces of pre-work prior to posting for any position: the task list and responsibilities; complementary character profile; and the comprehensive employment package.
Nothing will serve you better than a comprehensive task list of everything that new staff person will do. This is the only way you can organize a new employee’s training and then assess a person’s training progress. Before you hire, the task list will:
- Clarify the job structure and priorities
- Confirm how many hours a person would need to complete all of the tasks
- Identify what online and hands-on training will be required when that new person starts working — as well as which team member is responsible for training on different topics.
After you hire the staff person, the task list will:
- Help you reinforce the new employee’s perception of their job responsibilities and priorities
- Serve as a guideline so the business owner can compare new staff performance against expected performance, i.e., how many tasks can be completed independently, how long does it take him or her, what is the level of accuracy, etc.
I have developed a worksheet to help you start figuring out which tasks you might want to delegate and creating this task list for your potential hire. Click here to download it!
Too many times I have seen business owners hire who they like, instead of who they need. Sometimes the only hiring criteria is that the candidate seemed nice and had a pretty resume!
This brings to light the fundamental issue of choosing people based on personality instead of character. Personality is how you behave and come across to others. You can manipulate your personality to make a good impression on another person. Character is who you are, and that stays the same regardless of who you’re with at any given moment.
Here are some characteristics that it might be important for your new staff to have—and for them to prioritize when they work:
- Desire for improvement
- Positive spirit
- Service orientation
- Results orientation
- Interpersonal effectiveness
Therefore, when we conduct a staff search, we use the concept of character to funnel our way down to 3–4 candidates, THEN look at the more superficial issues of chemistry and personality.
So before you start a job search, you want to have a clear vision of the characteristics you think are important for a person working with you to have.
You also need to draw a line in the sand regarding what skills this person needs to possess, in terms of IMPERATIVE transferable job skills, such as:
- Can express themselves effectively both in writing and verbally
- Present a professional demeanor when working with clients
- Advanced competency in database management
- Prior understanding of __________
Another danger of choosing someone based on personality is that the best employee is never going to be someone exactly like you — and we tend to like people who are similar to us.
Business owners need to surround themselves with people who look at the world differently so they can balance out the team with a lot of intelligent people who look at problems from new angles. A friend of mine told me that at her very first job, she worked for a tiny, liberal, vegetarian, loud-mouthed Jewish lady, who made a point of hiring a very tall, Baptist, conservative, soft spoken man to be her sales manager. She knew that they would challenge one another, and she said as much when she hired him.
Owners also need to take a good long look at what DIDN’T work in your last employee relationship and be honest with yourself and candidates about what are deal breakers. Typically these are behaviors that we end up seeing as character flaws, although someone else might be perfectly fine with them in another environment. For example, some of mine are:
- Punctuality – be on time and ready to work at X am
- Follow Through – if you say you’re going to do something, DO IT
- Organization – it should never appear as if a tornado hit your area
- Communication – tell me the status of projects and define what you need to move forward
- Preparedness – if you need me to make a decision, research and provide to me my options — so I don’t have to do that!
- Good Memory or Tracking Process – don’t make me tell you something more than once or twice please!
Another boss might not give a flip about a messy desk as long as the work gets done, but I know it’s one of my pet peeves, so now I look for organized people; this prevents any misunderstandings and resentment down the line.
Employee Compensation Package
Sometimes, business owners assume all of the compensation details will work themselves out — and then miss out on a good person because they haven’t thought something through.
You need to know what you plan to offer in terms of wage, benefits and bonuses before you start interviewing; and you must take these issues seriously if you want a serious candidate.
Sometimes business owners do what I call “sticking a toe in the pool.” This is when an owner thinks s/he MIGHT want a staff person, but doesn’t want to put any real parameters in place. Other times I have worked with owners who are hoping they can get someone good more cheaply if they only discuss money after narrowing down the candidates.
This isn’t to say you have to communicate all of these things to the candidates right off the bat; you’re doing this for yourself so that you don’t have to worry about it when you finally want to make an offer. Additionally, you might want to make sure your existing staff understands any disparity between the wage you will offer the new employee and their existing wage. I have seen business owners lose good employees because they offered a new person more money than an existing person was earning. I’ve also seen good candidates accept other positions because the advisor wasn’t ready or able to explain a comprehensive package.
You need to cover:
- Wage/Salary. Is this an hourly employee or salaried? Independent contractor?
- Overtime. If hourly, what is potential and expectation for overtime pay? If salary, how often will they need to work late and what is likelihood of working over 40 hours?
- Working Hours. When should they be ready to work in the morning and expect to end in the evening? What is likelihood of working after hours for events and other projects? Telecommuting an option?
- Sick Leave. How does this accrue and how much do they get? What happens if they leave?
- Vacation. How does this accrue and how much do they get? What happens after X years of service (increase)? What happens if they leave?
- Holidays. Which holidays are paid? Also clarify in the coming year if there are any weird ones, like celebrating July 4th on July 5th?
- Health Insurance. How long must they wait until they can participate and is there any cost to them?
- Bonus. How are bonuses determined and how often are they assessed?
- Retirement Plan. What is eligibility criteria and any match?
- Dress Policy. Is there anything you want to address from the start? Something that irritated you about a past employee?
- Starting Timeframe. Assuming someone needs to give 2 weeks’ notice, when do you want him to start?
Not all of these issues will apply for each hire. Even if you’re just hiring someone part time and/or virtually, it’s worth it to think through the long term vision: What does your business look like 5 years from now? It may also be important to speak to your accountant or tax advisor to be sure you understand the rules around who can be considered a contractor and who should be treated as an employee.
Once you’ve worked through these three lists, you’re ready to start your search. You’ll be able to use this information to write your job ad, sort through resumes and applications, and craft the right kinds of questions to ask in your interview.
And when you’re done, you’ll have come as close as humanly possible to finding the “perfect” person for your team.