Excerpted from the book on mindful business management, Business Black Belt
There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.
~ Elbert Hubbard, writer
Before you hire anyone just to get some more things done, take some time to plan what you need done and who you need to hire.
The entrepreneurial hiring phenomenon
Here you are, building this business you started by yourself. Ideally, things are booming, which is why you’re hiring an employee. You’ve got customers to take care of, you’ve got orders to fill, lots to do, and you need some help. You’re so busy, and you need so much help that it’s easy to ignore good hiring practices.
Here’s what happens: A friend of a friend sends somebody over because you’ve been complaining about all the work you’ve got to do and how you wished you had some help. People start showing up on your doorstep, and since you are so busy doing what you got to do, you say, “Great, start here, work on this.” And you hire them. Then somebody else comes along, and they can do a little something else, and you say, “Great! Go over there, do that.” You start hiring these people almost indiscriminately because they solve what you see as your immediate problem, and that’s just getting more done. You’ll take almost anybody, because you’re so desperate to get something done. The natural thing is to focus on your market, on your customers and getting the job done. Unfortunately, by doing only that, you shortcut the planning, selection, and hiring process.
To start, figure out what help you really need and what exactly you want each person to do. And then select the person who can best do the job.
Plan for complementary skills
Think about what would complement your skills and abilities. Maybe you’re good at making the product, but not good at talking to customers. Sure enough, somebody comes along and says, “I can help you make that product.” You hire them and then you go off and talk to customers. And there you are with somebody making the product when that’s really your strength, and you’re out selling, which is really not your strength. Although you should be busy selling, it’s in your nature to work on the product, so you and micro-manage production. To begin with, you really should have determined that you are good at making the product. Customers are buying the product because it’s good. You need someone who can sell it better than you can. The person to hire should be a salesperson, so that you can make the product and let them sell it for you.
How do you find a good person? A Zen master would say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In your case, when the manager is ready, a good employee will appear. In my experience, I’m amazed at how I can spot a good person for the job when the job is clearly defined and I know exactly what I need done.
A choice must be made, and it goes something like this:
Who should do this job, them or me?
If you’ve hired the right person, the immediate answer is, “Them!“
Your hiring intention
When I walk onto a 747, I’m very certain that all of us on the flight are better off having the trained pilot fly the airplane instead of me. So, instead of walking up to the cockpit to fly the plane (manage), I go sit in back and relax. This should be your hiring intention. From the start of your hiring process, define the job and select a person to do it so well that you can relax. We sometimes lose sight of this reason for hiring people to work for us.
The job today… the job tomorrow
In the job description, figure out what exactly needs to be done. Some things need to be done immediately. Those are at the top of the job description. You may need someone to call on retail accounts now. You may need someone who can train retail salespeople. That’s your problem today. Also consider what will need to be done in the next few years. You want to hire someone who can deliver what you need now as well as evolve and deliver what you will need in the future.
All the consultants and recruiters I’ve talked to say that the best judge of future performance is past performance. Education is not as important. What matters is that they have successfully handled what you want done before. Start with a list of the immediate things you need done. For example, if you need to hire a salesperson to train your resellers to sell your products—ask, “Tell me about your experience training retailers” or, “We need to train our resellers. How would you go about doing that?” The person you’re hiring should have an answer to these questions. They’re not giving up anything by giving you a detailed answer. One person I asked that question to said, “Well, that’s what you’re paying me for. If I answer that now, why would you hire me?” Wrong answer. I didn’t ask her to do the job for nothing. I simply asked how she would go about it. I didn’t want to learn how to do it myself, I wanted her to do the job, but I first wanted to get a feeling as to how she would operate. Her abrupt answer indicated to me that she would be difficult to work with.
You need to structure your interviews so you know what people would do on their own—left up to their own devices. That way, you can effectively delegate and empower people to do a good job. Otherwise, you’ll never really know. Most people hire someone by telling them what they want done and trusting the applicant to respond honestly as to their ability to perform. “If I paid you a million dollars, could you run my company?” A better question for a COO candidate might be, “How do you justify expenditures?” I know what I think, but how and what does he or she think?
You are the casting director
The idea, at your level of the game, is to keep a constant watch for good people. This seems obvious, but our job (yours and mine) must be to recruit talent if we are ever going to build our businesses and keep our sanity. With almost every person I meet, I wonder to myself where he or she might fit into my company. With this thought, conversations take on a whole new meaning and importance to me. I pay much closer attention to people. I ask them questions based upon the assumption that they might be brilliant at something useful. Often, I find myself referring them to someone I know. You might even think of it like the card game “Concentration.” You spread out all the cards face down and take turns looking at each one—trying to remember which card is where to find a match and pick up the pair. This is how talent scouts and casting directors think and work—how they “discover” people. And it’s an important part of your business no matter which industry you’re in.
Does this person improve your company talent pool
or do they take you back toward the swamp?
Create a high-class problem
I define a high-class problem as having to choose between a variety of excellent options, each of which provides an outstanding result. Should you buy the Porsche, the Ferrari or the Lamborghini? Hmmm… To have this as your problem is an ideal situation. The idea is to have at least THREE enthusiastic candidates, all of whom are highly qualified for the job, who all fit your culture, and everyone likes each of them. If the decision is too simple, perhaps you haven’t looked hard enough. I recommend finding a couple more candidates just to be sure that you cannot do better. If you are really pushing the envelope, there should be several candidates who are a perfect fit. When we hired our Director of Product Management, we had narrowed the field to several excellent choices to agonize over. I met with our management team as well as the people who would work for the new Director. Given some of the additional strengths these potential Directors had, we even had to reconsider a fundamental part of the company’s future direction during the process and the choice was ultimately unanimous in favor of the person who could take us where we wanted to go. It was a wholesome agony to go through and I look forward to more of it.
You’re not running a clinic!
I often see the tremendous potential in people. If they only realized that they had ____ talent then they could do/be ____. I used to think I was just the right guy to bring it out in them. I used to hire people with the thought that I could transform them into the ultimate employee I was really looking for. Forget it. I was actually running a clinic for employee transformation. Truly great managers throughout history get “ordinary people to do extraordinary things.” I’ll still pursue that greatness, but for now, I’m training to be a master at hiring better people in the first place. Then I’ll work with them. My current crew has been selected using this new philosophy, my life has gotten much easier, and we are growing more profitably. I now take prospective employees at face value—what have they done, what can they do right now with the skills and experience they have, where their interests naturally drive them, and will their personality fit with our culture? (Read their resumes and listen carefully and you’ll see and hear where they are likely to be attracted. It’s better to choose people who will naturally gravitate into specific areas of your business as if it were their hobby.)
The priority in hiring is having them do what they’re currently capable of doing. Hiring them for their potential growth is a risky speculation and you probably don’t have the time to give them the attention or the money for the workshops they need to bring it out. Sure, they can be all they can be and I often can see much more potential in them than they can, but they must be able to access and utilize their skills and abilities to be of any use as a productive employee.
When you must make room for someone who can do the job…
It’s a worthwhile investment to put the energy and consciousness into your hiring process to enable yourself to make a good decision, but if you must to undo a past hiring mistake, here are a few ideas.
We recommend in our EmployeeManualBuilder™ employee policy manual software package that you have a 3-month or 90-day introductory period (not “probationary” period) stated in the employee manual and in the offer of employment letter. The employee knows that there’s a 90-day window where we both acknowledge that we can say good-bye with no consequences. Once you go beyond 90-days, your situation can become more complicated.
Never carry someone longer than their mother did.
Jay Shelov, management consultant
A small business, especially, cannot afford to carry anyone for very long. A big company may carry a number of people who aren’t performing without suffering permanent damage, but as the downsizing trend indicates, they seem to be catching on too.
If and when you need to terminate an employee (I prefer to say, “let them go.”) I think you must do it. You cannot be intimidated by the threat of wrongful termination or having a missing person in a key position. The wrong person—whether they’re incapable of doing the job or poisoning your environment—can do more long-term damage than having no one in that key position. They’re going to be more trouble to you by being there every day that they ever could by not being there every day. According to the second law of physics: “Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” While your emotional and intellectual energy is occupied (as well as that of your management team and other employees) with the problems created by the presence of the errant person, you will be unable to fully concentrate on doing what has to be done—including finding the ideal person to fill that position.
One of the keys to a successful termination is doing it with dignity. You must enable your employee to save face. Every decision you make and every word you speak, ask yourself, “will this preserve their dignity?” Violating a person’s dignity is one of the fundamental driving forces behind an employee lawsuit. I have that on good authority from the attorneys who assisted us with the development of EmployeeManualBuilder. Besides, what does a lawsuit cost compared with what it costs to preserve a person’s dignity?
And, don’t wait for them to really screw up to use that as your excuse for letting them go (unless it was a terminable offense as described in your employee manual). Although you probably have a hundred reasons for firing them, they can use that one reason as not enough to warrant being fired. Let me give you an example of a successful termination that I have now used several times.
I called the employee into my office and, after scanning my body for how I felt physically in that moment, told him that I had a sick feeling in my stomach because I realized that I just couldn’t let this go on any longer… It just wasn’t working between us any longer… I knew I was driving him crazy… I’m not getting what I really want… He wasn’t doing what he really wanted to do… And, there must be a place where he would be happy… I’m really uncomfortable doing this, but I have to let him go.
Let me restate what happened from behind the scenes. First, I looked for my feeling in-the-moment to ground myself in preparation for our conversation. I needed to tell him how I felt—my actual physical body sensations in that moment were my true feelings at that moment. So that’s what I communicated. Second, I looked at what my participation in our relationship was. It wasn’t all his fault. And the truth was, he was miserable and he could be much more productive and happy somewhere else. So why bullshit each other any longer? The first person to act in a situation like this does both people a favor. We were both relieved and could retain the friendship and respect that had developed while allowing us both to move on. It’s the job and circumstances that are the problem and—not the person. End the struggle, but preserve the person.
Deliver the good news on Friday.
Deliver the bad news on Monday.
~ overheard Hewlett-Packard manager
This wisdom works like this: Giving an employee a raise or a great review is best done on Friday because they can enjoy the elation for the next two days and be enthusiastically ready to come back to work on Monday. On the other hand, letting an employee go is best done on a Monday or early in the week to enable them to settle their affairs, ask questions and generally complete things while the office is open. Anger and resentment can be dissipated by productive activity and conversation. Terminating them on a Friday allows them two days to smolder about how evil, unreasonable, etc. you are and build resentment.
As part of your termination conversation, tell them that, when they are ready, you’d like to sit with them and write a nice note (e-mail) to everyone in the company and you want to be sure that it conveys what they will feel good about. This way they’ll know that you are interested in saying what needs to be said to everyone else and prevents premature gossiping.
Business Black Belt Notes
- What projects do you have that somebody else could do better than you, that don’t need your direct personal attention?
- Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.
- Plan the job description carefully for today and several years out.
- Hire with the intention that they will fly the plane and you will sit in back and relax.
- Hire people at face value—they can do what they perceive they can do, regardless of the additional potential you think they have.
- Create a high-class problem—an agonizing choice between great candidates.