When it comes to hiring new staff, there’s one thing that businesses owners fear the most - making the wrong choice.
A lot of investment that goes into new recruits - the time managers spend on training them, the financial cost involved, the number of resources it takes to get a new employee on your books...it all adds up! But should you hire based on Candidate A’s “highlight reel”, or your gut-feel on Candidate B’s attitude and potential?
Your ideal candidate could end up being your nightmare employee if you don’t know what to look for, so here’s some tips on how to make sure your next hire is worth it.
MBA or School of Hard Knocks?
I was on LinkedIn the other day and a sponsored post slid into my DMs, “Five ways an MBA will keep your career moving”. Now, I know a lot of people in my circle who wear their MBAs like a badge of honour and no doubt, it’s an incredible feat to be able to submit group projects in business school on top of the pressures of working full-time and juggling some personal (let alone social!) activities between all that.
But I also know many successful people who have built careers and/or businesses through the School of Hard Knocks. You can’t exactly list that as an educational institution on your CV now, can you?
The rise in entrepreneurship that we see today is a product of individuals thinking outside of the box to uncover creative solutions to complex problems. They are shaking up and disrupting industries because they haven’t been shaped to think and act in one uniform way.
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg are the genius brains behind the biggest brands we know and love today. They are also united in their status of: college dropout!
I was 16 years old when I started my first business. If you’re wondering whether I sold homemade lemonade next to a DIY lemonade stand, you’re close - I was a magician!
I loved entertaining and the prospect of delighting audiences with my magic tricks.
At 16, I was still in school (side note: I was appointed school captain the following year - total fluke! I knew it was a popularity contest and I played the role among my peers) still learning about English, Math, Biology and Geography, but nothing that helped me understand business or how to earn money.
When I came home after school, I would immerse myself in learning the art of magic. I read books, watched videos and learned from the greats. But I also had the guidance of a mentor who was in the magic industry himself.
He helped me understand how to book gigs, how to engage my audience, how to structure my shows. These were all the things I needed to know at 16 - how to successfully fund my lifestyle (because having a high-maintenance girlfriend at the time meant that I needed the money and I was tired of my brother’s hand-me-downs!) and setting up my future path.
Now, I might not make a living from magic shows now, but the skills and experience I developed from my first business set the stage for my career growth over the years. I might not have a Business Diploma, a Business Degree or an MBA to my name, but my portfolio illustrates that I know how to run businesses and how to generate revenue out of them. And if you really wanted to understand my story, you would ask me about the many challenges I have faced in order to build the wealth of understanding in business that I have today.
Nothing prepares you in business (or life) more than getting out there and ‘doing’. Traditional recruiters might tell you that education is the number one item on their checklist, but a good recruiter knows that experience will tell you more about a person’s potential within your company. As a business owner, you need to facilitate the process of how to extract the information you need from the candidate so you have full visibility on their relevant experience. Most importantly, you need to explore how you can use that skill and experience within your own company.
Of course, the criteria used to hire the best candidate really depends on the role you need filled. You don't need to know everything there is to know about business, but you do need to ensure that the staff you hire are strong in the areas that you are weak at.
If your business needs a Chief Financial Officer, you’re going to want to make sure they have the basics of business down pat and a thorough understanding of numbers, with a degree at minimum and potentially an MBA or CPA.
If you’re looking for a content writer, you don’t necessarily need someone with an English degree for that. What you really want is someone who is creative, can engage readers with their writing and can turn content pieces around in a timely manner.
Talent or Attitude - What’s More Important?
I almost acquired a cafe at one stage, but the deal went sour. The cafe was operational under old management, but I wanted a line up of talent ready to hire. Hospitality is an industry where staff are constantly moving - people on working holidays, working a few jobs to make ends meet or people just looking for a break and ready to make money.
I have exceptionally high standards when it comes to coffee and believe it or not, it is exceptionally difficult it is to find a qualified barista who knows their stuff. (Compare this to those “baristas” who are simply taught how to press a button. Just. Nope.).
Luckily enough, I found a Head Barista that really, truly, deeply knew his stuff. He understood flavour profiles, the weight of ground coffee that needed to go into each shot (to champion the flavours of the bean), and he was also exceptionally skilled at latte art - (think loved-up swan with hypnotic wings).
It was unreasonable to expect that the other baristas I hired be equally as talented, but that's why he was appointed the position of Head Barista - to train the others up to his level!
The other recruits we had lined up included Janelle - an incredibly bubbly girl with a positive attitude. But Janelle’s barista training was through a popular coffee chain. This was problematic because chains are heavily process-oriented to the detriment of understanding how the quality of coffee beans can change when exposed to different environments.
In other words, Janelle knew what needed to be done, but she didn't understand why. Despite this, I wanted her on board.
There are some things in a job that matter more than technical skills. In customer service roles you are either a people person or you’re not. Janelle was definitely a people person. Exceptional customer service was in her DNA - she was invested in building relationships and she wasn’t precious about showing her smile or offering a friendly greeting to personalise her experience with each customer. Plus, she wanted to develop her skills as a barista, win-win! So I was prepared to hire Janelle based on her attitude and willingness to improve.
You can teach an employee the skills they need to be successful in your company because talent is a result of repetition and mastery. But you wouldn’t want to be hiring someone with a poor attitude - that’s just more work on your hands.
I worked with a CEO, let’s call her Samantha, who wanted me to take a look at her business as it wasn’t growing at the rate she had anticipated. (When I coach and consult with companies, I spend time speaking with executives, managers and general staff to identify exactly where the bottlenecks are). Samantha had a highly skilled product architect named Jack on her hands, who knew the tech better than the names of his own kids (I’m exaggerating here, but he really geeked out on the tech!).
Samantha wanted to venture into new markets to generate more business and she thought she hit the jackpot when she hired Jack. After all, he went to a prestigious university, completed his MBA and had an impressive track record on his CV. I joined Jack in one of his pre-sales meetings one day and it quickly became obvious that he was one of the biggest bottlenecks in Samantha’s business.
As product architect, Jack was responsible for designing and developing technology solutions for the clients. But Jack liked to work at a moderate pace and didn’t want his hands too full. His outlook was more of a “glass half empty” type, completely risk-averse and projects were often placed in the “too hard” basket. Of course, this information never made its way back to Samantha - she simply couldn’t understand why her business wasn’t growing. When in reality, Jack was responsible for turning business out the door, forcing prospects to choose the company’s competition.
I relayed this information to Samantha and she was completely shocked. She didn’t want to let Jack go as she believed he was a valuable asset (after all, if she didn’t keep him, her competition would pick him right up). So I worked with Samantha and built a performance management plan for Jack. We also looked at the extra resources that Jack needed to ensure that he could take on more projects without having to turn business away.
But Jack had a team on his hands, he wasn’t a one-man show. I often saw his team rapidly typing away at their keyboards with papers piled on their desks, or running around the office. But when I looked deeply at the outputs, the team wasn’t actually productive. They just looked busy. Some of it was related to work, but a whole lot of it was not.
As a business owner, you want your employees to be client-focused, because if you look after the clients, they will look after your business.(Need some help with this? Check out Tip #2 to driving your business forward). Jack wasn’t client-focused, he was Jack-focused. There’s a saying that “one bad apple can spoil the bunch” and it’s obvious to assume that Jack’s work ethic had manifested across his team, creating a bad work culture. There’s also another saying in business, “the fish rots from the head down”.
I’ve come to learn that business owners can either be really smart and switched on, or just incredibly lucky. I noticed that when Samantha was away from her desk, there was a slight shift in staff behaviour. Conversations would stop, papers would ruffle and empty seats would quickly have warm bodies on them.
Samantha had a power walk. She exuded authority but her nose was up in the air.
“Did you close that deal yet, Ben?”
“We’re not approving any leave this month, we need all hands on deck”
I witnessed a staff member request for Samantha to sign off on some paperwork - something that would have taken 30 seconds to do. Her response? “Ask Aakash to do it, I have to get to Zara”. Aakash was her CFO. Overworked and underappreciated, while Sam tended to her more pressing matters during the day (shopping and extended lunches), Aakash was saving the company from financial ruin.
The fish rots from the head down.
There comes a point when a business owner must seriously consider stepping away from the CEO title to enable faster company growth. Doing this would enable them to focus on their key skills and strengths - the very foundations on which their business was built.
Samantha was a connector, a relationship-builder and amazing at sales. But she wasn’t the most effective leader and often struggled to communicate the company strategy to her staff. This left teams fragmented and unclear on their actual objectives.
Believe it or not, this is actually quite common. We think we have it all figured out and we are unwilling to look and ask ourselves the hard questions. Let alone, answer them honestly.
When personal weaknesses leave business owners disappointed and angry with themselves, the staff suffer. This results in unproductive outputs. I’m not saying that Samantha is every business owner out there, not at all. But it serves as a reminder that we must always strive to take an objective perspective on our work to truly understand whether we are enabling our business to flourish... or fail.
Sometimes it takes a bit of humbling to accept that you don’t know everything in your business - and you don’t have to! But knowing how and when to hire will help keep your company focused and on track.