Human Resources is one of the essentials that make your business work. Without people, it is most unlikely that your business will scale to any size. This is a collection of pearls of wisdom, about employing and getting the most from people, distilled from many sources.
In Profit Savvy, Appetisers refer to pearls/nuggets/gems of wisdom that are too small to write a full article on, but too valuable to lose altogether. The idea is that you can snack on Profit Savvy Appetisers on any subject that takes your fancy.
Human Resources are one of the most essential elements of any business. The following are snippets of advice distilled from many sources that we think make a valuable contribution to understanding how to select, motivate and lead the staff that will take your business to success.
Many in business have a borderline admiration for workaholics. We tend to be impressed with their dedication to work and the long hours that they put in. However, many experienced business people consider workaholics as being unnecessary and possibly even unwise.
Workaholics tend to be frenetic and disturb the workplace environment. At a minimum, they tend to interrupt the creative times of others with constant demands upon their time and at worst, if they are a leader, they tend to have frequent, often manic, meetings where they can "star" by demonstrating their commitment to work and their brilliance.
In many places in Profit Savvy we refer to the 80/20 Rule (see the Amazing 80/20 Article). An understanding of this Rule would automatically raise flags when we come across someone who works very long hours at a frenetic pace. It is very likely, that they are paddling in the 80% of unproductive time rather than the 20% of productive time.
Workaholics often miss the point that their productivity is not closely related to the hours that they work. By working fewer, but more productive hours, they might improve their quality of life, and the quality of life of their workmates and family, rather than burn themselves and others out.
Workaholics often consider themselves "fire-fighters" and go around intentionally or unintentionally creating crises that need their attention.
If you have workaholics on staff or (shudder) you are one yourself, it is probably a wake up call to consider their productivity and to counsel them on how to change, and divert their undoubted energy, down more productive paths by reducing the amount of work that they attempt to cover.
If you are in a business that has many meetings, you may well be wasting a very large percentage of the time of your staff on under-productive meeting activity.
If you have 5 people attending a one hour meeting, it is not actually a one hour meeting. It is really a 5-hour meeting; given that you lose 5 hours of otherwise productive time. In fact it is likely to be worse than a 5-hour meeting.
We should add in any time involved in meeting preparation like audio visual aids and business papers. Often, someone also needs to take Minutes which then take more time to edit, circulate and read.
There is also a double barrelled risk that the outcomes of the meeting will be forgotten entirely or that someone's workload will be re-prioritised because of the real or imagined urgency of the meeting’s outcomes and that person slips into inefficient Multi-tasking to try t keep up (see Multi-Tasking Article).
As a leader/owner, a question that you should ask yourself about every meeting you convene, or which others convene, is it worth the time invested?
Keep a Staffer or Not
Two simple questions you ask yourself can give good insight into whether or not to keep a staff member when you are considering that issue;
- how would you feel if that quit tomorrow? Would that cause much distress and problems filling in for them?
- What if you had 10 like them? Would that be a good, bad or indifferent thing?
Test drive this on some of your staff right now as a reality check on these two simple tests.
Stop Calling your Company a Family
Families are a pleasant concept but they are often riddled with somewhat dysfunctional individuals and relationships.
Modeling your business on the idea its a family is sort of cute but probably not very good idea.
Conversely, model your company on a professional sports team.
In the team;
- you hire the best you can. A family comes with what you inherit.
- although they may have different personalities, they work together for the good of the team; or someone goes. A family has no such goal and they can't (legally) be got rid of since homicide is frowned upon!
- team members have different roles but the roles complement each other and, together, offer all the necessary skills. A family doesn't
- even great team leadership won't win working solo. The captain can run themself ragged and still lose every game. Everyone has to pull their weight in a coordinated fashion if there is to be a chance of wining. This is not the case with a family.
When to Hire
In a small business, it is a big decision to decide when to take on another employee. Each employee brings along with them the cost of their salary and also the commitment that your leaders need to make to supervising and training that person in your activities.
For these reasons, employing someone is a matter that you need to consider carefully.
Many would argue that it is best to have a very clear job in mind and a very clear need for a person before you employ them. If you employ them in the "expectation" that work will be there for them, then you are likely to be completely correct. Parkinson's Law (see Parkinson's Law) would argue that work will expand to fill the time available by the new employee so your prophecy will come true; but at the detriment of your profitability.
The Value of Resumes
All employers ask for a resume when they hire. In many ways, these documents are close to useless.
An employer cannot place any reliability on the information otherwise provided in a resume. No person is going to provide a "warts and all" resume. Entire websites and courses are devoted on how to write a resume to get you hired. People are becoming very skilled at producing plausible documents.
So, what can we usefully get from a resume?
When reading through a resume you can look for gaps in the time sequence when they appear to have been unemployed and probe the person as to why this may be.
There may quite good reasons for this. For example, a woman taking time off to start a family. On the other hand, the applicant may be hiding jobs that were less successful in the hope that you won't notice.
Also, look for short periods of work where the person seems to have a history of only staying in any one business for a comparatively short period. This might be due to the nature of the job, but it may also be that they have not fitted in very well. It might also be that this is someone trying to climb up the ladder as quickly as possible, by flitting from one job to another for a slight pay increase or position status. These people are not the sort of employees that you want in your company.
Once you start hiring people, you very quickly notice that Resumes are often not highly personalised to your business. These have gone out on job websites and are aimed often at dozens if not hundreds of potential employers. Many Resumes are largely akin to a work of fiction based loosely upon a true-life story.
A dead give-away of how serious a person is about your position is the trouble they take to personalise the Cover Letter that comes with the application. One can understand that a Resume is a fairly static document and doesn't need to necessarily be attuned to each employer. However, if an applicant doesn't take the trouble to personalise the Cover Letter and perhaps demonstrate that they have looked at your website, or some other background on your business, it is unlikely that they are really serious about your particular business.
When reading the Cover Letter, also pay attention to how well it is written. If you are looking for a Blue-Collar position and the Cover Letter seems to be very well written, there is every chance that it is written by someone else on behalf of the applicant. It is not at all uncommon for a parent to try to assist their child to get a job by writing their Resume and Cover Letters. One would normally expect that a Cover Letter from a Blue-Collar worker may be a little rough around the edges commensurate with their education. One looks more for the enthusiasm in the writing than the quality of the prose.
On the other hand, if the applicant is applying for a job where the written word is more important, poor prose, spelling mistakes and other errors are a red flag. If your applicant will be writing a lot of corporate correspondence, like emails, promotions, business letters, the last thing that you want is someone who can't express themselves well at the critical juncture of applying for a job. Their written work will be all downhill from there.
Also, look at the appeal of this letter to you. This is a sales document, not at all unlike the sales document that you would hope the applicant would write on your behalf to others. If their sales pitch and presentation doesn't resonate with you, it is probably never going to get much better. You could spend a lot of time on training them to write better and still find that there is only a marginal improvement.
Some types of jobs naturally call for experience in the subject area of the job. When looking for an electrician, for example, you would certainly prefer someone with experience over someone who is still an apprentice.
However, in many other jobs, experience doesn't necessarily mean quality. We have seen instances of wait staff and cleaners being promoted to a front desk position who do very well.
The moral of the story often is that rather than looking for years of experience - along with potentially years of bad habits - you look for people with enthusiasm, excitement and drive on the full and certain understanding that they will rapidly grasp the fundamentals of the position. This is particularly true of entry level positions.
When you are looking at taking on a person, they are a complete blank slate to you. In an interview, it is going to be quite difficult to determine just how good they are at various things.
A way of overcoming this is to take them on for a short, intensive, test drive period. Even if you need to pay someone for one or two days of work, it is a thoroughly worthwhile investment compared to the six months it will take you to undo a bad choice.
The test drive might be as little as one to two days, but ideally should cover the situations that this person will come across in a normal working day. If they will be a people-facing person, they should (for example) do some face to face conversations, business emails and other client points of contact.
If they are more of an executive type, they could be given a simulation of a normal work day where they need to talk to an irate client, have multiple demands on their time from various members of staff calling upon them, work through and build a memo of advice to their bosses on a subject which they are already familiar with to test their writing skills. They should send and receive several emails during the course of the day.
The work load should be similar to what they might receive on a normal day so see if they can keep up. The work should be something they are familiar with so they are not disadvantaged by lack of knowledge.
The duration of the test period might be related to their seniority in the job. Admittedly it may be difficult, when people already have a position, to make themselves available for this sort of training. But it is also, to some extent, a measure of their interest and dedication if they will, for example, surrender some of their annual leave.
It is a convention to ask for the referees for people applying for a position with you. What usually happens is that applicants will provide only referees with whom they get on well.
One way to test the quality of your applicant is to ask their permission to ring each person that they have worked for in the last few years who might know them and to look at their response. If they are open to that, they have probably had a good working experience in each of those positions.
Many employment experts strongly recommend contacting a range of referees, not just the ones that are listed.
Refer to other articles on staffing from the Human Resources Menu.