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.