Thursday, March 8, 2012

7 Tips to Help You Hire the Best People

        Einstein's maxim holds true in the hiring process: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

When I started my current job, I brought along a shortlist of strategic goals to share early and often with the board. Among them: hire the best, hire only the best. We want only the best people available working with us as we move forward.

Full disclosure: We're not Google. We're not on Fortune's radar. We're rural. We're small. And we live and work in Minnesota, a first-class state tempered by notorious geographic and "atmospheric" challenges. That said, we never allow limitations to define us.

In the service sector, everything starts and ends with the people who embody the mission, carry the message and deliver the service. In order to compete effectively for time and attention in a marketplace full of choices, we focus on the sweet spot that unites resources, product and culture: people.

So, with a tip of the hat to kismet, intuition and luck - and with all due respect to Work 3.0 models - here are seven things we do that help us hire the best:

Re-evaluate every position. When someone leaves a position, we reassess the job. Everything. Top to bottom. Your organization - staff, customers, priorities and strategies - have all likely changed since you last filled the position. Re-evaluate and reset.

Hire right and plans come together. (Tiffany Eck photo)
Don't pigeonhole present staff. We see the "inside versus outside" candidate debate as a false choice. It's all about matching talents and skills to roles and responsibilities. If you're hiring right, your next customer relations specialist may be the accounting clerk you hired last year.

Treat people with dignity. We're not necessarily against the "exclusivity" mantra. But our pool is smaller and you never know when you'll meet again. Consider this: With the possible exception of hard-wired recruitment, the relationship with your next hire often begins before you ever meet. Moreover, those eventually turned away may become future colleagues or customers. Consider the implications.

Put the candidate in a position to be successful. Especially during personal contacts such as interviews, we ask revealing, open ended questions; no trick questions. Our questions are tough only if you're not qualified. We want to be warm and engaging but we also want to listen and learn. At the onset, we look to establish a workplace expectation for high support and high expectations. Remember, the orientation process begins during the hiring process.

Seek "secondary" skill sets. Sometimes called "complementary" or "soft" skills, we see them as essential. Be open to latent talent. We want IT specialists with presentation skills, accountants with customer relations skills, sales people with math get the picture. Depth and dimension. You cannot hire stale, then expect magic. 

Benchmark the compensation package.  Although we appreciate the complexities regarding this subject, money matters. As one colleague so elegantly put it: "We may not serve for money...but we need money to serve." We see compensation as a measurable standard to help us compete for quality people in recruitment and retention. Compensation, which goes beyond pay, helps establish the exchange between employee and employer. We look to frame things right from the start. 

Launch well. Day 1 is critical. But a communications bridge from the offer sheet to the start date is equally important. Once on board, develop an acculturation process for the first 100 days. (We fall short here ourselves too often.) Generally speaking, although quality people need very little hand-holding, we all need engagement...on some level.  A structured transition phase is essential and will pay long-term dividends.

Always exercise due diligence including statutory, regulatory and policy standards. Trust but verify. However, above all, remember that compliance forms a foundation. Potential is revealed in architecture and functionality. Look to match well within the spaces you occupy. Because when you hire right, all things are possible.

What works for you?  What inspires you either as a candidate or an employer?


Paul Brinkman has hired people in positions ranging from part-time boiler attendants to CEOs in rural media, education, health care and technology. He enjoys his current work in all its dimensions including executive to the board, recruitment/retention, resident futurist and carrying the brand.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project On Time, On Schedule

Drawing inspiration from the National Broadband Plan, the Northeast Service Cooperative is pleased to be working together with others to help build a stronger Minnesota and create a connected nation.  As we enter the fourth year of our initiative, which my colleague Lyle MacVey calls "Project Destiny," NESC continues to move the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project forward with timely, measurable progress on all fronts:

Although it's been almost a year since the groundbreaking, the energy
carried over from that day continues to drive all of us.  (Jeff Frey Photo)

Construction: The Big Build

The mild Minnesota winter has allowed us the luxury of late season construction, including installation of the Optical Transport Network centers. Considering the fact that the scope of this project - with all its moving parts - has tested time, budget and human constraints, the relatively balmy weather has been a blessing.

Vendors and Partners

For planning, William Barattino of Global Broadband Solutions has helped keep us all on time and on task. (West Point really does turn out America's best and brightest!) For field construction - the 915-mile monster - Rohl Networks has been a great partner. The leadership from David Marinelli and Jeff Lopez, especially their "can do" attitude, has helped us work through the rocky times (pun intended) and, when we needed a miracle, conjured up a clear path for real movement when we needed to "git-r-dun."

Last but not least, we are delighted to have selected Cyan, Incorporated of Petaluma, California and Calient Technologies of Santa Barbara, California to provide the optical solutions for the fiber network. Coupling Cyan's optical packet solutions with Calient's photonic switching will allow us to build a best-of-breed agile optical network connecting the core, the edges and active sites throughout the enterprise. In fact, we see the Cyan 360 multi-layer support system service as a long-term network solution, an essential resource going forward.

Anchors and Services

A mild Minnesota winter's been a boon!  (Tiffany Anderson Photo) 
We continue to work closely with education, health care, critical services, local governments, counties, telecommunications carriers, the State of Minnesota and others. With as many as 500 sites or more scheduled to be connected, we anticipate an aggressive schedule for construction, including termination, testing and optical services. And, as we complete scheduled connectivity, we also continue to develop complementary services for anchors, carriers, partners and other project-based initiatives, including layered services such as unified communications, virtualization, data productivity and e-learning.

People: Committed and Engaged

We're growing! We are pleased to announce the addition of Jonathan Loeffen of Circle, Montana and Bruce Williamson of Perham, Minnesota as our new plant managers. Although their work will overlap, Jon will have an inside facing orientation while Bruce, or "Boots" as I like to call him, will be primarily outfacing or "in the field." Above all, cheers to our current staff: Project Coordinator Tiffany Anderson, CRM Coordinator Melissa Cox, Virtual Architect Greg Peterson, Linda "the Diva" Borchardt and CTO & Project Architect Lyle MacVey. Along with fiscal support from Mike and Jeanette, we have the best crew in Minnesota!

What's Next?

Construction continues. Engineering refinements follow. Sites have been added and priorities clarified. Some things are set, others remain fluid. We anticipate working at a rapid but thorough rate for the remainder of 2012...and, as needed, into 2013. Service provisioning begins this spring.  Essentially, we're at the midpoint of the construction phase with the all new middle mile fiber operation being rolled out in stages over the year ahead.


In 2010, the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project received a federal award of $43.5M in broadband funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) through the USDA's Rural Utilities Service. Under the agreement, the NESC Board of Directors assumes secured risk for 50% of project funds. Additionally, NESC has leveraged project investment through operational reserves, a state grant from Positively Minnesota and various in-kind contributions. Project revenue, including debt retirement, will be generated through network service agreements voluntarily entered into by eligible anchors, public initiatives and market-leading public-private partnerships.

For more information on the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project, please feel free to contact us.  We welcome the opportunity to talk about our project and how it will help Minnesota stabilize its base, grow its economy and secure its future. We look forward to hearing from you.