Getting the Right People in the Right Positions

As a small business owner, you probably have ambitious goals. Your product or service is great and you know how much it can help your customers. The only problem is that your company is not growing as quickly as you’d like it to.

Some years you’ve come close to meeting your goals; other years you’ve missed the mark by a mile, and you’ve struggled to figure out why. The reason may be staring you in the face: you might not be hiring the right people for the right positions.

Consider a fictitious company called Abington Solutions.

Abington’s employees are holding it back. The company’s founder, Jim, knows he delivers a great product and exceptional service at a fair price, and his customers agree. So why doesn’t the company meet Jim’s growth targets?

In its first two years, Abington grew from 10 to 30 employees. Jim found he could no longer manage the business on his own, so he opened the door to current employees to buy in, become partners and help him run the company. Two salespeople took him up on his offer.

The first was Ben. He had one focus: to make as much money as he could in the shortest amount of time. Customer satisfaction was not a priority for him, so he frequently cut corners to increase his commissions at customers’ expense.

Then there was George. He wanted income for a nice home, car and the lifestyle to go with that. The Great Recession hit and suddenly George’s sales and income dropped. To reverse the decline, he needed more sales, so he started stealing leads from brand new sales reps he was supposed to train.

But there was another problem: Abington did not have a manual that defined job requirements and responsibilities. Managers hired friends to work for them. The friends did what they wanted and avoided doing tasks they disliked. Others were hired who just couldn’t do their jobs correctly.

To make sure orders were filled and to keep customers in the dark about the problems at the company, a small number of dedicated employees did the work the “friends” were neglecting. They also covered for employees who couldn’t do their jobs correctly. Some of the best employees quit out of frustration.

Despite the problems, Abington still grew, just at a slower pace. Every year Jim, Ben and George set goals for the company, but they never reached them, and five years after Ben and George became partners, Abington still had not achieved the success Jim once dreamed of.

Abington is fictitious, but many real companies have similar problems. Fortunately, they can easily be avoided.

Step One: Write Down Your Company Values

Every company’s founders have one desire: they want it to become the company they dreamed of; the company they know it can be; the one that sees a need and fills it.

The first step is to put that dream on paper by answering a couple questions:

  • What does your company stand for?
  • How will you treat your employees, customers, competitors and the public?

As you hire people, describe your company’s vision to them. Review your values with them. Find out if they support those values. Hire people who believe in your company’s values, and avoid those who don’t.

Here are the values of two companies you may know:

Warby Parker

1. Treat customers the way we’d like to be treated.

They call it the golden rule for a reason. Shopping for glasses should be fun, easy and not ridiculously expensive.

2. Create an environment where employees can think big, have fun and do good.

Sometimes people say to us, “If you love your job so much, why don’t you marry it?” (Answer: we would if we could.)

3. Get out there.

No company is an island. Serving the community is in our DNA – from distributing a pair of frames for every pair sold to sponsoring local Little League teams (Go Giants! Go Skyscrapers!). We also work with Verité to ensure that our factories have fair working conditions and happy employees.

4. Green is good.

Warby Parker is one of the only carbon-neutral eyewear brands in the world.

1. Our product mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake.

To make, distribute and sell the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

2. Our economic mission asks us to manage our company for sustainable financial growth.

To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.

3. Our Social Mission compels us to use our company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.

To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.

As you can see, their values are pretty clear.

Whenever you interview someone, first list your company’s values on a sheet of paper. During each interview, ask candidates what they think of those values.

Here is a checklist (it’s a modified version of the People Analyzer tool Gino Wickman talks about in his book, Traction) you can use for this purpose:

 Values Checklist People Analyzer tool from Gino Wickman's book, Traction 

  Here is an example of how it would be completed:

Sample Completed Values Checklist People Analyzer tool from Gino Wickman's book, Traction

As you can see, it would not be worthwhile for you to hire John; he’s not a good match for your company.

Step Two: Evaluate Skills

For each candidate who supports your company’s values, look at the duties and responsibilities of the job and decide if he or she has the right skills to handle it.

There are many different assessment tools available to help you determine a person’s skills. Choose one you think will best satisfy your company’s needs. Have each person you interview take the assessment, and compare the person’s skills with the duties and responsibilities of the job to see if the person would be a good fit.

Remember: don’t hire a person for a job they don’t have the skills for. It rarely works out.

Step Three: Are They Passionate About This Job?

The third step is to assess the level of passion candidates have for the job they’re being interviewed for. Although they may have the talent and skills to do the work required, they may not be motivated to do it well.

Review each of the job duties with each candidate and ask them how they feel about them. Here’s an example:

Passion Assessment Values Checklist People Analyzer tool from Gino Wickman's book, Traction

You are looking for a person whose passion or motivation is an eight or higher for the job. Mary’s at an eight or higher in six of the nine responsibilities. Most people have a problem letting a customer know of a delay, but her score is not that bad. Mary’s weakest area is cold calling, but as long as cold calling is not essential to the job, Mary would probably be a good hire.

It Starts at the Top

The old saying, “A fish rots from the head,” applies to most businesses; you have to start with the executive team.

Make sure each executive is aligned with each of the company’s values. Make sure the work each executive does is in line with his or her strengths and abilities. And finally, assess each executive’s level of passion for the job.

Once you’re confident you have the right executives in the right positions, have them meet with their direct reports and go through the same process with them. Their direct reports should then do the same with those under them, and so on down the line.

Along the way, you might find some employees who are not a good fit for your company. Either they don’t agree with the company’s values, or they don’t have the strengths or ability to do the jobs they have, or they’ve lost their passion. You have two options here: you can either move them to another job in your company, or you can help them find work at another company.

Throughout the process, you are doing what’s best for each and every employee and you are also doing what’s best for your company. If you consistently follow these steps throughout your company, you will get much closer to achieving the success you’ve always wanted.

About Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is President of Ground Floor Partners. Over the past twenty years he has advised hundreds of small businesses on strategy, marketing, real estate and finance. He is passionate about small business, social and environmental justice, and is a proud member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Food and Water Watch, Green America, Food Consultants Group, and the American Planning Association.

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