Do people issues keep you awake at night or remain one of the biggest challenges in your business?
Applying proven techniques to recruiting, retaining and nurturing the right people can make your life as a leader and business owner so much easier and more enjoyable.
This article provides practical tips on how you can get some much needed peace of mind. While this article cannot possibly provide all the information required to be your panacea, it will enable you to start moving the dial in the right direction.
Staff turnover in Australia is estimated to cost AU$3.8 billion per year. This includes direct costs such as advertising the replacement position, fees to recruitment agencies, psychometric testing, any associated termination payments etc. Indirect costs include in-house training/ induction, administration costs and more painfully, the loss of productivity in the early stages of replacing the exiting employee. Furthermore, there is often a negative impact on culture and momentum.
The biggest mistake… is that businesses too often recruit for expediency and end up paying a heavy price when the candidate isn’t a cultural fit
The costs are tangible and we tend not to think about them as our focus is generally on wanting to move ahead and seek to replace an employee when they depart. Naturally there are circumstances when people leave for all the right reasons such as family, illness, retirement and career progression. In many situations, voluntary departures can be avoided.
To understand, let’s start at the beginning.
This can be a long and often arduous process. Your first thought should be to clearly identify what characterises the right person for your business. There is no set formula and it will be slightly different for each organisation. The things you should consider are:
- Alignment to your core values and behaviours,
- Inner drive to be part of something meaningful – candidates who believe what you believe (your purpose or vision),
- Willingness to give discretionary effort,
- Easy to coach and mentor,
- Flexible and agreeable to change,
- Competent, caring and true team players, and
- Vouch for your organisation.
Only you can decide on the most important factors, and they may change according to the role. If you were seeking to employ a new front of house dispenser, for instance, you may consider other factors such as passion, persistence, self-confidence and curiosity. Most people can be trained and attitude is quite often ingrained. I have always lived by the belief that you shouldn’t try and discipline the wrong people in to the right behaviours. Instead, get the right people in the first place!
This means, first and foremost, you should be looking for cultural fit. The biggest mistake I have witnessed over my thirty-five year commercial journey is that businesses too often recruit for expediency and end up paying a heavy price when the candidate isn’t a cultural fit. It has happened to me, has it happened to you? As painful as it can be, be prepared to go the distance to find the right candidate. Someone once told me that it’s better to have an empty house than a bad tenant and in the words of Justin Langer, Coach of the Australian Cricket team, “Be brutal on selection”.
The Interview Process
Let’s assume that you have written a compelling job advertisement (this is a subject for another time) and attracted a number of suitable candidates on paper. I would argue that the interview process is the most important aspect of recruitment and the part that requires the most focus and improvement.
To highlight, I was invited by an optometrist to sit in on an interview with a prospective team member. At the end of the interview I was asked for feedback on the process. I provided a balanced overview and at the end, the optometrist said to me that they recognised how inadequate they were as an interviewer, particularly when I told them that I wouldn’t join their practice if they interviewed me. Ouch!
There are three important aspects to the interview process:
- The interview itself
Set the scene: this is the most overlooked requirement and most definitely an area that requires improvement. People interview best when they feel relaxed so it’s your role as an interviewer to make them feel comfortable at an interview. Setting the scene will assist. I do this by briefly explaining my role and why I joined the organisation, I then provide a brief overview of the business and finally I talk about the role and why it is important to the success of the business. Done well, this will relax the candidate, get them excited about the role and they should respond to your questions with richer insight. This does require lots of practice and I’ve witnessed dramatic improvement after coaching others in the process.
Ask the right questions and drill down: asking interview questions is an art form and also requires lots of practice. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and I’m still getting better and learning new techniques. Most managers and business owners have either minimal experience and/or haven’t learnt the right skills. Beyond that, it’s equally important to listen attentively to the answers being provided and then drill down. This simply means exploring the answer in more detail. It will help you to get a richer insight into the character of the person and their cultural fit.
- Post interview
Ideally, you will have taken notes during the interview process and conducted the interview with a colleague. Immediately post the interview, discuss the suitability of the candidate while it’s still fresh in your mind.
- Next steps
Assuming you have selected an appropriate candidate, there are a number of actions you can take to give you an even greater sense of comfort. These include competency profiles, psychometric testing, spending time with other employees and reference checking (this comes with caveats).
Prepare a list of questions that you may want to ask at an interview. Again, these should be based on what’s important to the business as noted earlier. Some useful questions I typically use prior to drilling down include:
- We like to believe that we recruit for attitude above anything else. How would you describe your attitude to life, either professionally or personally?
- Thinking about your life so far, what would you regard as your proudest achievement? Now, it doesn’t have to be the biggest achievement, simply the achievement that you are proud to tell others. Why did you choose that specific achievement?
- What are you currently working on to be the best version of you?
- Let’s say you were six months into the role, what would you want your colleagues to be saying about you? Secondly, our customers?
- Looking at our core values, which one do you think more closely aligns with you? Why did you select that specific value/s?
Finally, experience tells me that we don’t always use our gut instinct when recruiting. Many years ago I was taught that if there is doubt, there is no doubt! It’s always held me in good stead. Last year I came across a new technique from Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and co-founder of the global financial institution Blackstone. When discussing whether an individual will fit the culture of the organisation, Stephen applies the airport test by asking himself, “Would I want to be stuck waiting at the airport with you if our flight were delayed?”.
RETENTION AND GROWTH
There has been lots of research conducted into the period of time it takes for a new employee to fully acclimatise to their new work environment and be fully productive. The answer – one to two years.1 It’s something that I failed to fully appreciate for many years as a manager. Now, don’t gasp in horror. It’s not that the new employee will be unproductive, it’s simply that they may not be fully productive, and as business owners and leaders, you need to be conscious of the research and manage your expectations. There are also some exceptions to the rule – some employees will hit the ground running.
Would I want to be stuck waiting at the airport with you if our flight were delayed?
Having conducted a robust interview process and selected the most suitable candidate, you need to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity of retaining the new employee and maximising their productivity, engagement and growth. There is an extensive list of actions that you can take and here are a few practical examples that will assist. These tips relate to all employees in the business.
Make sure you have a thorough induction program. There is no set formula and I would suggest that you are abundantly clear about priorities and expectations in the first three months as a minimum. During this time, coordinate regular check-ins and ask lots of curious questions in relation to how the new employee is feeling. Have you lived up to your promises at the interview, is there any additional support they need from you or their colleagues?
- Build trust: respect and listen to your team members, treat them fairly, communicate your mistakes and weaknesses, keep your word and commitments,
- Be a remarkable communicator: as noted in my article on leadership in the July edition of mivision, ensure you schedule regular check-ins with each team member extending to two-way feedback. Remember – a conversation is never wrong, it is never difficult, it is just a conversation,
- Recognise the right things: empirical evidence tells us that recognition delivers a heightened level of engagement, productivity and loyalty. So, make sure you get into a rhythm of recognising and rewarding performance and the right behaviours. Use stories to deliver feedback,
- Invest in the team: have regular career conversations with your team members. If career conversations were more regular, 82% of people would be more engaged with the work they do, 78% would be more likely to share their ideas and 75% would be more likely to remain in the business,2
- Be a great listener: most people do not listen with the intent to understand, instead listening with the intent to reply. There are numerous listening techniques, including using non-verbal cues such as nodding or smiling to indicate you are tuned into conversations with your team. Scan your body language e.g. are you feeling intense, uptight and how is this being perceived?
- Use words to help people excel: performance, for the most part, is related to how people are treated. Much of this has to do with what we say and how we say it. The key is being emotionally intelligent in the moment. Next time you want to provide an observation of a team member’s behaviour try this: Instead of: “Here’s where you need to improve”, use: “Here’s what worked best for me and why”, and
- Inspire your team: galvanise team members around your business and nurture their goodwill.
The importance of your role as a leader cannot be overstated. The number one reason people leave an organisation is their manager. You need to be the best version of you every day to every team member.
To conclude, the apparent burden of managing people can become your greatest reward. Yes, I know it seems incongruous. People are your greatest asset and recruiting, retaining and growing the right people will deliver an outstanding return if you are willing to make the necessary investment.
Rob Ellis is an independent speaker and coach who provides full day workshops on the subjects of people (discussed here) as well as leadership, culture, retail WOW and B2B customer management. Visit robellis.com.au.
- Oakes, Kevin. How long does it take to get fully productive: Training Industry Quarterly Winter 2012
- Talk The Talk: How Ongoing Career Conversations Drive Business Success. Right Management Group.