Monday, September 15, 2008

Selecting and hiring great employees.

A company policy that often needs redesign is the selection and hiring of new employees.

Hiring good people is like getting married - if you do it right, you don’t have to do it often. The first rule of staff degradation is that people who rank a seven on a scale of one to ten usually hire people who rank a five or a six. Aim to break that rule, and never hire anyone you wouldn’t want to work for. An organization’s hiring process should be consistent with the values it wants to live by, so start with that end in mind.

If you’re in a situation of excessive risk, hire someone who's already learned to shave on someone else’s beard. Hire the management team you think you’ll need five years from now if everything works out. Hire people who share your vision and agree with your business principles (make sure these are clear to the people being recruited). Have the best candidates spend time with the people they’re going to be working with. Hire backups for key people; the biggest weakness in smaller companies is often a lack of bench strength.

Options to improve employee selection typically include:

• Change hiring requirements to place greater emphasis on personal values and a willingness to learn, in addition to assessing current credentials and past experience.

• Use work simulations to assess a job applicant’s attitudes and skills.

• Involve those who will work with the new employees in their selection.

In considering these ideas, it’s important to bear in mind that staffing for high-performance requires hiring people who are assertive, ambitious, and have an expansive attitude toward work and life. Current employees should participate in choosing the candidates because it develops their ownership for the success of new employees. In the long run, time spent screening and scrutinizing potential staff should pay off handsomely in terms of commitment, loyalty and service to customers. A formal buddy system, pairing new hires with veteran employees, helps to get people up-to-speed quickly once they're hired.

Skills can always be taught on the job, but attitude is pretty well hard-wired in people and is difficult, if not impossible, to change. As a result Southwest Airlines interviews are full of questions designed to expose an applicant's personality, congeniality, style, and coping skills. Typical questions include 'Describe a situation in which you handled a crisis at work' and 'Give an example of when you were able to change a co-worker's attitude about something.' The right answer is an expansive one, a well-told tale, and it's crucial that the applicant demonstrate a sense of humor. Southwest used to also ask interviewees point-blank to tell a joke.

I'll provide some more innovative and successful examples of hiring processes tomorrow.

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