Mar 29, 2011

Hiring by Design (Rather than by Default)

As almost any business owner and they will tell you hiring is a thorny subject. After all, with so much at stake with a hiring decision, it is understandable that this process would create angst and confusion. Depending on your industry, it can take anywhere from 3-12 months to train an employee, and starting over after a bad hire not only resets that clock, but also means that all of the recruitment expenses must be paid again (and you take the morale hit of having to introduce another new person into your team).

It is important to note, though, that even though these expenses are considerable, it NEVER makes sense to prolong a firing decision when you know someone has to go. Damage to company morale, company performance, customer/vendor relationships, etc. can go FAR beyond the cost of cutting bait. The old saying of “hire slow and fire fast” might as well be permanently post-it-noted to your computer monitor.

The trap many employers fall into when hiring is feeling they have to hire someone RIGHT NOW! And, like any other large company expenditure, the first (and most important step) in this process is to simply know what you want. This may sound simple, but I have talked with so many business owners that have ended up hiring bad fits for their business, simply because they did not know exactly what they wanted. Also, the whole resume reviewing, interviewing, hiring process can be so deeply psychological, business owner’s will always benefit by designing exactly what they want in a new hire before the hiring process even starts. Hiring the best of a bad lot will never yield good results, and sticking to your guns to get what you want may be the most valuable hiring decision you can make.

The way I have seen this process most effectively integrated is to have the employer design a nearly exact blueprint of the type of person they are looking for, keying in on issues of personality first, before even the job ad is created. That is, if you know you have a repetitive position that requires concentration and attention to detail, then hiring someone with a creative background (who thrives on variety and change) could be a disaster. You want someone who likes to follow directions and takes pride in doing a procedure exactly right, every time. Conversely, if you need someone who can shoot from their hip, making quick decisions while keeping numerous priorities in mind, the last thing is you want is an engineer-type who likes to thoroughly document their plans and make slow, calculated decisions.
When I incorporate this process, I design the exact person I want for the open position. I visualize the ideal employee for the position (and the company), making a note of as many details as I can. Then, I make a deal with myself that I will not hire anyone until someone this good (or better) comes along. I cannot tell you how many bad hiring decisions this has helped me circumvent, and how many great hires I made because of it.

For example, I needed to hire a production foreman to oversee Quality Control, as well as verify that all assembly procedures were being followed (and procedures were improved upon when new efficiencies were discovered). This person sat at the end of the assembly line, and nothing went out the door without his/her say-so.
I knew that I wanted someone who could have the same attention to detail on the 300th item as on the first. I also knew that I wanted someone who quality in their work, and a sense of doing things right every time, really mattered.

We had a number of applicants for the position, but one stood out above the rest. We interviewed this person (twice), and the hiring decision was quite easy. The clinchers for me were his answers to simple question about his hobbies. He listed his hobbies as building scale models, and watching NASCAR. As I figured, anyone who could derive enjoyment from meticulously following instructions AND loved to sit for two hours watching cars make left turns had the attention to detail and attention span I was after. Consequently, this ended up being one of the best hires I ever made, mainly because I took the time to design what I wanted first, and probed deep enough to identify the personality characteristics that would make this person a perfect match. After all, when you take the time to build great matches, you not only get a great employee out of it, you get an employee that truly enjoys what they are doing.

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