Hiring the Diamond in the Rough

Things are going well in your business (or on your team) and some of these questions begin flooding your head: Should I hire someone?  Where would I find them?  What would they do?  What skills do they need?  How do I find the right candidate?  Will they fit in?

This key step in growth could be intimidating.  Here are a few steps to walk you through the process…

When to Hire

The first question to answer is, “When is it time to hire?”  The obvious time is when you need to replace someone who may have left.  However, we are focused on growth of your business and / or team in this article.  So, when is the right time?  We’re going to find that there might be a bit more subjectivity here and the answer might be more about managing risk then it is a definitive time.  To begin to answer this question, let us consider the 4 phases a business team may go through.

Remember that in the Tinkering phase, you’re just feeling out the business.  You may be developing a proof of concept or be looking to develop your market.  Whatever the aim, hiring a person in on this phase would most likely depend upon the actual need.  Are there key skills that you currently do not have that would be cost and / or time prohibitive to learn?  You may consider hiring the talent.  Of course, this early in the development of the business, there will be a certain risk / reward for both parties.  Salaries may be hirer than normal, or you may even consider equity shares as compensation to conserve cash.

If you’re in the Blade Years (and most are), these are the grueling years where work gets done.  You’re now fully committed, and things are moving along.  Profits might be lean, so there isn’t a ton of cash to freely throw at new hires.  Thus, any hiring decisions need to be precise!  One indication is if things are beginning to fall through the cracks.  Missed deadlines, quality issues due to short cuts, etc.  This is a sure indication that you’ve reached (or maybe even exceeded) maximum capacity of your current staff.  Again, you may consider hiring in skills that your team is currently lacking.  Alternatively, perhaps you have a strong development program (more on this next week!).  In this case, you may decide to further develop your in-house staff and hire on the lower level skills to keep operational costs in check.  You should also consider the efficiency of your workforce as well, i.e., dollars earned versus dollars spent.  You may find that even you are working on lower level tasks that could (and should) be delegated so that you can focus on the higher earning tasks.

Now, if you continue to feel the pressure of growth that comes along with the Growth Inflection Point, you definitely need to hire and hire strong.  Chances are that demand will exceed your capacity throughout this phase, despite your hiring efforts.  New roles are most likely being created and cash is more readily available due to a steady flow rolling in.  However, that doesn’t mean you want to just give it away either.  Areas to hire should align with your strategic growth plan, and compensation should be competitive with market trends to assure you attract good talent.  If you didn’t have one already, a strong professional development program will be key to attracting good talent. While salary is an important deciding factor, candidates that are looking for growth opportunities will payoff multiples in the long run for a true win-win!

Now if you’ve hired on through the inflection point and have established Surging Growth, you will need to continue to keep an eye on smart hiring practices.  Chances are that your business processes are well developed so that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.  In this case, it becomes more and more obvious where and when to hire.  Salaries should be standardized at this point, and efficiency gains will be predictable.


The Hiring Process

Every company has their own hiring process, but in general may be reduced to a basic process:

  • Post the job
  • Interview candidates
  • Make the offer
  • On board the employee

Technically, the HR process has an ongoing loop of performance management as well as an exiting of the loop called “off boarding”.  However, we’re going to focus on the hiring process for now.  Also note that there are a few decision points along the way to consider as well.

Posting the job is a natural next step following your decision to hire noted above.  At this point you should know which position you are hiring for, whom they will report to, roles, responsibilities, and target compensation.  If you don’t already have one, you will need to develop a Job Description that you will use to “advertise” for your open position.  From here, there are a myriad of options on where to seek out your next new hire.  Word of mouth referrals are always best, because they often (not always) will come with a stamp of approval from the referrer, thereby reducing the risk of a bad hire.  Job posting boards, social media, and local postings are a few other options to consider.  If this truly is an entry level position, check with your local college(s).  College students are always looking for part-time income and development opportunities, and often bring an unparalleled combination of new knowledge and enthusiasm.

If there is one step that we would say is key in this process it will be the interviewing process itself.  At BIG, we always advise to hire on character.  Skills may be taught but character cannot.  But how do you assess one’s character in a 15 – 30-minute conversation?  We’ve found 2 key questions that have worked for us over the past few years on several projects and with several clients.


Two Key Questions to Ask

Of course, when you are interviewing you can’t just ask someone if they have character. The interviewer has to be more subtle in determining this. At the risk of BIG’s future hires seeing this, there are two questions that we ask in order to get at this.

“Give an example of a time when it became apparent that you were going to be late on a deliverable. What did you do?” The thrust of our first question gets at a few things. There are the more obvious aspects of the question – are you responsible and forthcoming with information? Did your actions minimize the issue or exacerbate it?

However, the less obvious aspects of the question are where the real value is. Did you take the initiative and cut down barriers wherever you could? What isn’t said is equally important. Did you try to shift the blame or waste time focusing on who created the problem, rather than fixing it? Have you learned from the problem and taken steps to make sure it never happens again?

After this question, we tend to ask, “Give an example of a time when you disagreed with someone else on the direction of a project or task. What did you do?” This question operates in much the same way as the other and seeks to see how the candidate responds to conflict. What we are examining in the applicant is immediately obvious.

Is the potential hire able to put their own personal feelings in the background after a decision is made? Unless something is actually immoral, employees need to be able to work just as hard when other’s suggestions are taken over their own. Likewise, when there is conflict, we need to see that they are able to maintain objectivity. It is a major red flag if someone goes personal or attacks someone in an interview. Rather, the interviewee ought to calmly explain how the conflict came to be, how the appropriate mediator was involved, and how they proceeded after the fact.

Both of these questions will be followed up by probing questions on both character and demonstration of skills to gain a deeper understanding and push the applicant to see how well they handle the pressure. If the candidate tries to use hypothetical examples we will push them to cite specific, real examples from their own career (or education if they are young!)


You’re Hired!

If they’ve made the cut, you’ll go ahead and make the offer and plan to bring them on board.  Offer packages should be comprehensive and include items such as salary, potential bonuses, health insurance, and other fringe benefits that employees would expect anywhere else.  Keep one thing in mind – your employees are volunteers – they choose to be with you when they could go elsewhere.  Show them that you care about them each step of the way throughout the hiring process.  Next week, we’ll talk more about developing and retaining key talent for continued growth.

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