Employing the Best People

“Our people are our most valuable asset”

We have all heard it – but how true is it? Surely WalMart would consider its state-of-the-art distribution system its most valuable asset. While people are important in the process, are they the most important?  Incidentally the staff turnover at Walmart in 2015 was 27% (full time) and 66% (part time), which would indicate lip service is being paid to founder Sam Walton’s famed statement “Our people make the difference”

People are important to the success of a business, whether it is a small business, where it operates almost like a family environment, or a larger business where cultural fit becomes more important.  A quality team doesn’t happen by accident and while improvements can be made over the years, there remains a strong emphasis on getting it right at the start.

The recruitment process is vitally important. When it goes wrong it can be an extremely expensive process to unwind, both financially, and emotionally but when it goes right, it can transform a business and set it on a growth trajectory.

A business owner is more often than not stretched for time and as a result, recruitment decisions can often be perfunctorily performed, resulting in a “near enough is good enough” decision being made. They may get lucky, but probably won’t , and could well spend much more time and money dealing with a poor decision.

Recruiting quality team members is a detailed process and there are few short cuts. Depending on resources, employing a recruiting firm may well be a sensible move; however even then, the final decision-making cannot be absolved entirely – and neither should it be. Also, the selection of a quality recruiter is also a process in itself that should not be underestimated.

The choice of a recruitment firm will depend on many factors such as:

  • The type of job being filled (Some recruiters specialise in management roles, while other specialise in sales roles, for example.).

  • The salary scale.

  • Location.

  • Cost.

Often the best way of selecting a recruiting firm is to seek referrals. nem partners can provide assistance if required.

It may be sensible to employ differing firms for differing tasks, or even have a short list of preferred recruiters that can provide quotes each time a need exists. Some tips for using recruiting firms are:

  • Obtain quotes for the service being sought, noting that the cheapest may not necessarily be the best.

  • If possible have quotes in flat fees, not percentage of remuneration.

  • Ensure they have the resources to deliver.

  • Understand the communication piece to ensure you remain updated during the recruitment process.

  • Ensure they have all the required data to perform the recruitment. This may include copies of business plans, details of culture, employee conditions & benefits, salary ranges, job description documents.

  • Request details of all candidates, ranked if necessary.

  • Ensure the ground rules regarding the final decision and level of your involvement are clear.

  • Ensure a guarantee clause is in place so that if the candidate doesn’t work out (usually 6 months but this can be stretched with senior roles) the process can be repeated for no additional cost.

While not all recruitment decisions have the luxury of time, it is preferable if at least 3 – 4 months can be allocated to the process, especially if it is a senior role being filled. 

The number of final interviews will also vary, depending on the need. High profile recruiters may conduct up to 8 separate interviews. There is no ideal number. However it is worth remembering that you are entering into a long-term relationship and recruitment is not only about skills but also cultural fit, customer connectivity, strategic vision and much more. It is highly unlikely that you will be comfortable in all aspects after just one interview.

Guidelines to consider

Whether you use a recruitment firm or go it alone, there are some key guidelines, which apply to most recruitment scenarios.

1. Take some time to write a job description.  

Clearly define the role, and the core activities that you need this person to undertake.  Describe in detail the personality traits, educational standards and the attitude you expect this person to have.  If there are specific attributes required such as “strategic-thinker” or “team-leader” then these should be highlighted.
Write down what ‘success’ looks like for this role – how will you know that they are doing a great job. By writing these features down you are crystallising key performance results for the role which will assist with the selection process.

2. Then write your ad or agency brief

Make sure that you include the personality attributes.  If you are briefing an agency, ask them how they identify the skill set and personality of the applicants they recommend to you. Refer to the above for further detail.

3. Seek clarity about the preferred method of ad placement

Whether it is print media (e.g. daily press or industry journal) or on-line (e.g. Seek or LinkedIn). Establish clear timelines and stick to them.

4. Remove all non-compliant or unsatisfactory applications  

E.g. do not meet minimal job history or educational standards. If in doubt, do not proceed with the application. 

5. Reduce the worthy applicants to between three and ten

Then, get the best applicants in for an interview using a specifically designed interview template (possibly designed in conjunction with the recruitment advisor), which should flesh out the desired characteristics of the person and specific suitability for the role.

6. Further shortlist the applicants

Continue to shortlist at each round of interviews to around 2 – 3 and conduct further interviews, possibly including others in the process such as business unit heads that will be interacting with the successful applicant.

7. At around this stage (or earlier) test the credentials.  

This involves calling referees, conducting independent testing of qualifications, checking Facebook, or similar, pages for areas of interest (or worse – it can be enlightening see what some people will put on social media) and contacting any mutual connections on LinkedIn

8. The final decision. 

While technical skills are required for the role, often attitude is more important given a basic knowledge underlies the applicant. If the skills that you require the person to have are not particularly specialised, then follow the motto ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’. 
You can always teach someone new skills; you can rarely teach them to have a better attitude!

Integration planning

Once the decision has been made, attention turns to integration planning. All too often good work is wasted on a quality recruitment process by failing to properly integrate a new employee. Some key components of this process are:

  • Proper documentation of the terms and conditions of employment
    This includes provision of signed letters of appointment or contracts, provision of an employee handbook detailing the HR policies of the business, execution of any regulatory requirements (OH & S policies etc.) and non-disclosure agreements for example.

  • Establishment of a trial or probation period of 3 months minimum
    While this appears to fly in the face of the detailed recruitment process you have completed, mistakes still happen and the probation period enables both employer and employee to become comfortable with each other without the hassle of breaking contractual obligations if it doesn’t work out.
    Establish with the successful candidate a 30/60/90 Action Plan so that both parties know whether the Probation period has been successful.

  • Induction training
    No matter how skilled an employee may be, there are aspects of each business that are different, whether they be products, services, working conditions or systems, it is unreasonable to expect all this to be picked up without some support.

  • Establish performance standards and expectations up front
    This can be a separate paper in its own right as performance management is a crucial component of employee productivity and all employees should know what is expected of them. Refer to the blog ‘Getting the Best out of Your Team’ for more specific detail. The following are some high level components of a well structure Performance Management Process:

  1. Reach agreement up front
    Clear understanding makes subsequent assessment much simpler.

  2. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) 

    In this regard Millers Law is relevant, which states that the number of objects a human can hold in working memory is 7 plus or minus 2. KPI’s should be clear, achievable, time lined and measurable.

  3. Establish tracking processes.

  4. Review regularly (at least quarterly). 

  5. No surprises
    Provide clear feedback both good and bad.

  6. Reward over-achievement and address under-achievement.

  • Communicate regularly
    Either personally or through their direct reports. This goes both ways, as often it is employees who are aware of an issue or an opportunity long before it reaches management.

This brief overview of the process of employing and integrating quality people is in many ways the tip of the iceberg. When completed well, the end result can make or break a business. Jack Welsh of General Electric fame was often quoted as saying the Head of HR is one of the top three executives in GE and deserved a place at the side of the CEO. Your business may not be large enough to employ a dedicated HR person, however that does not mean the level of HR involvement in the process should be reduced. 

nem Partners have a wealth of experience in such matters and can provide support in all areas of recruitment.


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