Over the past three and a half decades I developed thousands of relationships with small business owners. Very little has changed during that time frame, when it comes to hiring and keeping competent employees. Over the last 35 years there have been so many changes in the business environment from high to low unemployment rates; high to low interest rates; war or peace; Democrats or Republicans in office; booms or busts in stocks or housing; or just let your mind wander further about the changing business conditions. Yet the complaints I heard in the early seventies of not being able to find the RIGHT help, still resonates loud today among small business owners from all types of industries. So what gives with this help situation anyway?
The one strategy that I believe is under-used for a variety of reasons, of which impatience is at the top of the list is: to Hire Slow, and Fire Fast! If that sounds novel, it really isn't. What I have observed over the years is that small business owners hire at the last minute, just after an employee quits. They instantly become desperate to hire someone FAST and that's exactly what they do. They do little to check the background of the new hire and employ an individual based on the applicant's ability to tell a good story about their experience and ability to handle the job. Sound familiar?
When I was in the distribution business, I would watch individual employees move from one of my customers to another and a third or fourth in a matter of year. Some were really bad eggs who had a history of stealing from their former employers. Yet even these thieves always bounced back and found a job because there was always another desperate business owner who wouldn't check their work history and would hire them on the spot based on the story they were sold. Some employers even kept people they knew were stealing from them on their payroll, because they were competent and showed up every day, servicing their customers with a smile. They overlooked their bad habits because it seemed easier to do so. I always found that strategy quite fascinating!
One method that I found worked for me when I was hiring key people was to always be looking for help, whether I needed them or not. I felt I could always make a position for a quality employee when I found one. We trained them well and while they were training, we would evaluate our current staff and remove our weakest link if economics proved necessary. You see there are lots of great employees in the marketplace. But the happy and productive ones are not reading the want ads or looking for a job. Thus when you meet that rare find at a meeting, social event or through their neighbors or relative, you have an opportune time to cultivate a relationship and potential new employee with great skills and credentials.
If you are running a better ship than their current employer, you will have a great advantage to hire a quality individual when you are not under pressure to do so. The process may take weeks or even months, but who cares? You are not under pressure. An interview or two alone with the potential employee and then one interview and tour of your company together with their spouse, is a sure fire way to bring a key person into your family of employees. The spouse interview is essential, because he or she will be the strongest influence in the decision making process. And the spouse will be totally impressed to be included in the process. They will see the benefits of making a change more than the potential employee who is comfortable and secure at their present job. Also, by meeting the spouse, you can usually tell about harmony and balance at home. If individuals are happy at home, they seem more likely to be happy at work. Take your time and Hire Slow!
Now let's look at the second part of our equation. Firing Fast! As unpleasant as this may sound, it can save an organization from financial ruin. Too often small businessmen put up with incompetence for years. Employees with chronic late and absentee problems rarely reform their ways. The same goes with troublemakers, thieves, or individuals who verbally abuse other employees or customers. There are laws to protect employees from abusive employers. However, the same holds true for employers. Have a CLEAR written policy of what happens in the event of each infraction that occurs in your workplace by employees. Write up every infraction IMMEDIATELY and have the employee acknowledge their error by signing their notice. Then follow your policies with the consistency of a 24 hour day. Once you are known for making a hundred different exceptions for your policies you will be entering the land of misery every day as you open for business.
Thus, it makes sense to Hire Slow, and Fire Fast. Be viewed as a FAIR and HONEST employer that people want to work for! Then watch your mix of employees change as you solve the age old problems of finding GOOD people.