Hiring Now? Absolutely!

Do you have the perfect mix of people working for you? If you stated yes, perhaps you had your fingers crossed. What if that question was asked three months ago when things were ‘good’? Unfortunately, the time has come for companies to make those tough staffing choices. Do you try and keep everyone? Or do you go ahead and make changes? If and when you make the changes, are you really making the right ones?

Many hiring managers now are debating whether to jettison their poor performers or actually try and replace them with more qualified performers from the outside. Is this another crap shoot or a wise decision? During the good times, when increased headcount approval was easier to come by, managers were more tempted to ignore the mediocre performances by just adding to the team. Therefore, problem employees were swept under the rug and it only became a temporary fix that would only cause more grief later. Now what happens when headcount is under the microscope?

Scenario #1: Let’s say that you’re looking to replace existing talent. There is nothing wrong with that. Every company has their ‘weakest link(s)’. Could these people be in management, sales, warehouse or back office? Maybe it’s a combination of them. Face it-when times are good, people become complacent. Now that we’re in a recession for the long haul, you have to do whatever it takes, with the right people, to meet your own goals and directives. You have to be diligent with regards to your own future, your employee’s futures and your company’s directives.

Southwest Airlines’ hiring philosophy is “hire for attitude.” Libby Sartain, the former Vice President of People department at Southwest Airlines says, “If we hire people who don’t have the right attitude, disposition and behavioral characteristics to fit into our culture, we will start to change that culture.” A company like Southwest has spent years determining the perfect fit. In fact, only 4 percent of the 90,000 people who apply for work there every year are hired.

Right now, even the most ‘desirable’ companies and the best managers around need to be prepared to lose and then replace top performers. The term “flight to quality” now comes to light as the ‘A’ players gravitate towards the safe employment situations. What is safe? An informal poll that we conducted showed that the most important qualities that a company should offer to these people are 1) Job stability (if there is such a thing), 2) Very good and promising opportunities for the future (upwards mobility), 3) Good people to work with AND for (work environment), and finally 4) Compensation & benefits.

Scenario #2: Doing more with less. Perhaps it really is time to clear out a few desks and lockers and not immediately replace them. The positive side is obviously the salary and benefit savings-which are immediate. The downside is plentiful: more work and stress on your existing employees, less assistance and attention for your customers and most importantly, what happens when business picks up? Are you going to be able to find the ‘good ones’ out there when you need them? Doubtful.

Scenario #3: If you decide to keep your current crew, how about redeploying them in different positions? Maybe now is the time for that cross-training that we have heard so much about but never quite found the time to do it. Does that mean that the AP person is taught how to drive the forklift? Maybe not, but it might be fun! But how about having the seasoned people start to train the young ‘uns on anything from technical products (e.g., basic automation, street lighting, etc.), to basic products from gear to the new products in lighting? Lighting retrofits and LED lighting are here to stay-you better get everyone trained on that stuff. How about taking them on joint sales calls to visit the real world out there? Perhaps the inside folks are trained on AP/AR. A SoCal distributor years ago was virtually decimated due to the lack of cross-training because the manager himself became complacent. Well, the ‘unthinkable’ happened when a key employee left to go to the competition with his niche and no one who remained had a clue how to step in or up. The manager was reassigned and they never fully recovered.

Hang on to your key people, keep them involved, trained and challenged. The experience in cross-training has now given them more value to your organization because you have invested the time in them, you have shown to them that they are valuable and they have learned much more about the company, your products and customers. It’s as simple as providing developmental opportunities to your people. Reward and promote those who take advantage of it. That’s what retention is all about!

With the average company having a 33% annual employee turnover due to everyday life; leaving, retiring, firing, moving, etc., there will always be a need to constantly search for new talent, in addition to replacement talent. An earlier column stated the need for bench-building for the future-that is even truer now. Top performers leave troubled companies during tough times. No one wants to play for a losing team. Even sports stars seek out opportunities to play for a more successful organization. After all, does anyone want to see all of their hard work, effort and loyalty be rewarded with that late Friday afternoon meeting with the boss?

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