Most businesses are currently experiencing strong demand for their products or services. Very predictably, many say they're short of people at all levels, and some have even found themselves in a bidding war to hire top-quality team members. I often hear owners say, "Our people are our most important asset."
For that reason, it seems fitting to spend some time discussing people. I believe the best companies take into consideration the following elements when putting their team together:
- THE PERFECT CANDIDATE — Clearly define the perfect candidate (skills, background, experience, etc.) and determine the best place to find them (a particular university, community college, high school, etc.).
- A GOOD FIT — Establish a rigorous process to ensure the candidates you select are a good fit with your company and the position, and vice versa.
- CO-OP — Offer internships, co-ops and apprenticeships to attract great talent to your company.
- MENTOR — Make buddy/mentoring programs available to your team members.
- FEEDBACK — Offer clear, actionable developmental feedback to all team members.
- ADVANCEMENT — Provide opportunities for advancement.
- RE-RECRUITING — Develop and monitor your re-recruiting process.
- A SPECIAL PLACE — Create a special place that people are proud of, and where they want to work.
THE PERFECT CANDIDATE
You may think it's obvious, but take a minute to ponder exactly who you're looking for at all levels of your company. What background, skills, education and experience do you desire in new hires? You already have team members, and that's good — but think about finding and developing a long-term dream team. Over the years, I've observed that most successful and profitable companies develop their own players.
As an example, you may be looking for high school students who have shown an interest in making things — and maybe have participated in school-to-work or co-op programs — for your shop floor team. If that's the case, have you developed relationships with your local high schools? Several years ago, I heard the owner of a very successful auto supplier give a presentation on this subject. I will never forget when he said, "If we can convince a high school student to join our company instead of going directly to college, we have a chance of developing a great team member. As they progress at the company and show promise, we send them to college. However, if they go directly to college, we don't even get a shot at them — or they with us." He went on to add, "As they continue to take on more responsibilities and grow, they make pretty good money, too."
We have a technology client who has had some nice success recruiting at Kettering University (formerly known as GMI). The client is looking for smart, hard-working software developers, and has found that Kettering attracts those types of students.
Are you thinking about developing your own future team members? Do you know what you're looking for? Do you know where to find them?
FINDING A GOOD FIT
Years ago, I received some sage advice from a guy who hired a lot of great people. One day he said to me, "If someone is smart enough, they can probably perform well in most jobs. The trick is to find the perfect fit for the company and for the candidate."
The following are some suggested methods for you to use when you want to increase the likelihood that your candidates are, indeed, great fits for your company.
- Be able to clearly articulate the vision/mission/dream of the company. For example, I joined a small, local firm because I didn't want to travel excessively. If the vision of the company had been to serve clients throughout the world, I wouldn't have been a good fit.
- Make sure you have a good job description.
- Engage a company executive who can help you determine what you're really looking for.
- Define what success will look like as concretely and clearly as you can, and share these ideas with the candidates.
- As you interview candidates, be open-minded and reflective. Maybe you'll find an outstanding person you can use somewhere else, if not in the job you're looking to fill at the moment. This happened to me once, and I almost missed it. We hired a great person to solve another problem we had, rather than what I went into the interview looking for. Remember: The team with the best players usually wins.
- Consider using personnel assessments.
- Think about enlisting retained search consultants when you want to fill senior executive positions. They're usually able to find talent that you cannot. Plus, they're very objective and focused on achieving a good fit for the company and the candidate.
If you do it right, the process is a lot of work. But on the other hand, what are the costs of bad hiring decisions and their impact on your customers/clients and your team? As the old television commercial said, "You can pay me now, or pay me later."
To be successful building your own dream team, I believe a best practice includes offering internships, co-ops, apprenticeships or similar experiences. This provides you and the prospective team member with a chance to kick the tires. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 40 percent of respondents' new hires came from internships or co-op programs. I would encourage you to follow a structured approach; students today have lots of options, and you want to ensure that their time with you is a quality experience. Often, they can become your best recruiters when they return to the classroom.
Sometimes companies complain that they invest a lot of time and money training someone who then ends up going to work for a competitor. I have a colorful answer to this concern, but my polite answer is: "They're yours to lose. If you take care of them and give them a good experience, they won't leave." In my mentoring discussion below, I'll recommend a system that will almost guarantee the students you want to work for you will stay.
I'm aware of a $400 million professional service firm that had two managing partners who began working at the firm as summer interns, where they were proofreaders. Fortunately, their supervisor was wise enough to observe their potential and he made a special point of introducing them to the right partners. As they say, the rest is history.
As many of you know, apprenticeships for shop floor team members, which were very common years ago, are rare — so you can really distinguish your company from your competitors in this way and attract the best students.
Do you have a pipeline for new hires, such as internships, co-ops or apprenticeships?
I believe there is no downside to this best practice!
Over the years, I have observed that team members do better if they have a "sponsor." By that, I mean someone senior to the team member who takes a special interest in the younger (or newer) person and their career.
Why not adopt that as a standard practice? Assign someone senior to each new person, to mentor and look out for them. Check out our October 13, 2014, post.
A buddy or mentor is someone safe; it's someone a new hire can go to and comfortably ask sensitive or even embarrassing questions. Senior team members can give their mentees tips, and talk about their own career. Our experience is that most buddies/mentors like the role.
If you decide to start a mentoring program, make sure you provide training to the mentors. Some people are naturals, but don't assume everyone will know what to do.
p.s. My longtime mentor, Ken Kunkel, is still advising me.
The best companies are exceptional at giving team members regular, clear, actionable and developmental feedback. Ideally, the suggestions are offered as close to the time the observation is made as possible.
I have noticed that many of the feedback forms companies use are potentially quite negative. Many people say their annual review is a negative experience, and I believe part of the reason is because of the forms.
I like to refer to a review as an "annual career development and planning session" (CDPS). Here is a list of tips supervisors might want to keep in mind:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
- Make sure you spend the appropriate amount of time on the team members' strengths and unique contributions. Write them down. The written word is powerful! (See Barbara's November 24, 2014, post.)
- Most CDPS meetings are with team members who are doing great, so please be positive and upbeat.
- The CDPS is a great time to re-recruit the team member. (More on this idea later.)
- Be very clear with any feedback and offer concrete, actionable developmental suggestions.
- Ask the team member for feedback. What are they observing and thinking?
- Thank the team members for their contributions to the company in the past year(s).
In a few situations, there will be a need to deliver a strong performance message (i.e., I am concerned that you haven't made progress in XXXX). These sessions require special care and preparation. I recommend that, after your discussion, you ask the team member to prepare a summary of the needed performance change(s), including listing specific dates for meeting their goals.
How do your team members feel about these annual sessions? Consider asking them.
If you want to build a lasting organization, provide advancement opportunities for your team members. This is a huge differentiator in motivating and retaining good people. Just to be clear, I'm not talking about promoting unqualified individuals. I could tell you countless stories about people who started in one position or department and progressed to another. Often, it's the supervisor or mentor who suggests the change, based on knowing the person's strengths.
Here are just a few examples of how people advanced in their careers:
- A woman who started with an automotive OEM as an administrative assistant and eventually became an executive was recruited away to serve as CEO/president of a number of companies.
- An office helper became a key member of the marketing team as a result of his technology and social media hobbies.
- A machine operator became director of quality at a middle-market automotive supplier.
- An executive assistant became president of Southwest Airlines.
- A professional service firm wanted to start a new service and offered the opportunity to a young professional who started a department that has grown to include more than 100 people.
- A CPA became a marketing professional.
The point is that it's important to give your team members hope for their future with the company. Sometimes you may see traits in a person and challenge them to transfer to a new area where you think they could excel, thereby giving them a chance for advancement. If you have someone who you think is a really great worker and a good fit with your company, and you don't want to lose them, take the time to figure out where they would fit best. In all the cases mentioned above, many more team members were motivated and encouraged to stay with their current company just by seeing that there were new opportunities for them.
Do you have a process to identify key team members? Do you have a system to smoothly transfer team members from one department to another? Do you ask your team members, in their career development and planning sessions, if there is somewhere else in the company they would like to work?
So, what is re-recruiting? It's a deliberate effort to retain your team members.
It may be a negative motivator, but I always assume two things: (1) I need the team members more than they need me; (2) They have lots of other options to choose from.
Often, I have experienced and observed that the most important team members are taken for granted. More often than not, leaders spend time with the people who have issues, not their stars.
I recommend taking a continuous, thoughtful approach that might include the following:
- Have dinner with the team member and, if appropriate, include their spouse.
- Send hand-written notes to the team member's spouse about a job well done or after a long, difficult assignment.
- Send hand-written notes of praise or encouragement to the team member.
- Single out the team member in front of others and mention a special job that was done well.
- Ask if you can relieve some of their workload.
- Visit their personal office.
- Visit them on a job site.
- Use travel time with them to praise them for a recent job well done.
- Share positive feedback from a customer/client or from another senior executive.
If you notice, nothing on this list costs much money — the only thing these suggestions require is a little time.
Are you regularly re-recruiting your team members, especially your stars? What would they say?
A SPECIAL PLACE
It may seem obvious, but to build a great team you must create a special place to work. Much has been written on this subject; one of my favorites is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, written by Daniel Pink. I've written about his work several times and would highly recommend reading his book. In addition, Marcus Buckingham, in First, Break All The Rules, provides a very practical list.
In summary, I highly recommend that you build your own "Dream Team" and, when you do, have a plan that includes the following: What team members you want and where you can find them; a rigorous interviewing process; offering internships and apprenticeships; formalizing mentors; providing clear, actionable feedback and advancement opportunities; constantly re-recruiting your team; and creating a special place where people love to work.
p.s. I believe "celebrating successes" and healthy humor are important, too, and I may discuss those subjects in the future.
Seek. Climb. Lead.