6 Rules For Hiring a Team

Hiring team

No business grows by itself. Businesses are well-oiled machines (hopefully) that have people, infrastructure, and a set of systems working together to produce things or services of value.

As a business owner, you need to be working on your business not in it.

Hiring a team, and helping them grow, is one of  those things we do to work “on” our business.  And it’s one of the hardest things to do in business.   Tough or not, there are rules for hiring and building a team:

1. Don’t hire friends and family – without thinking twice

Ask Nellie Akalp, CEO of Corpnet.com, about this one, and you’ll likely get an earful.  She wrote a piece on the worst business advice for small business owners, and the first one she points to is “hiring people you know.”

Business owners often look for immediate help from among their friends and family.

Here’s the thing:  you are in business and not in a family get-together. Hiring people you know isn’t a good enough reason by itself to hire. While there’s a strong element of trust here, there may be nothing in terms of validated skills and attitude — key parameters that go into decision-making to hire people to work for your business.

Further, if you have to fire the employee (which could happen), a drama ensues instead of an exit interview. It may be quick and easy to hire family and friends, but far harder to disentangle.  Imagine what it will feel like if you have to fire your friend or a close family member.  That alone may cause you to look elsewhere.

2. Write a good job description

A weak hiring process leads to mistakes that can be expensive.  Why?  You’ve wasted time recruiting and interviewing, only to bring someone in who it turns out was a bad fit.  The person doesn’t last long — either leaving in disappointment or being let go.  Before you know it, you’re recruiting again.

Meanwhile, the work is not getting done. Existing employees are feeling overburdened.  Yet, you’re back to square one.   The entire process ends up consuming more time and money than if it had been done right to begin with.

Start with a thorough job description  – not some vague sense of what you want.  Now, I know this sounds like common sense, but let me tell you, this is often treated as unimportant busywork.  It’s anything but. You need a job description not just for you, but for others.

  • Other managers and coworkers within your company need the job description.  They may have differing ideas on what is required for the position. Don’t assume everyone (a) knows, or (b) agrees.  Putting together a job description and discussing it internally helps get everyone on the same page.
  • The candidate needs the job description.  In my former life as the head of Human Resources for a unit of NYSE company, on occasion we would have someone take a job, only to turn around and leave within the first 60 days.  Why?  Sometimes it was due to not fitting into the company culture.   But just as often, the job wasn’t as the person envisioned.  The duties, it turns out, were actually different from those they expected.
  • You need the job description for you.  Until the job description is put together, you may not consciously think about what you need, especially if it is a new position.  The act of creating and reviewing a job description will force you to pinpoint your true needs.  When I’ve gone through the exercise, I’ve ended up at times with something quite different. For instance, instead of needing a marketing person, I might have realized I actually needed a sales person.

Writing job descriptions is tedious, I know.  But think of it as creating a solid foundation for the rest of the recruiting and hiring process.

3. Hire for attitude

Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude, reveals in a study that tracked more than 20,000 new hires, that 46% failed within 18 months. A surprising insight from the research was that 89% of the new hires failed because of attitudinal reasons and only 11% had to quit jobs because of lack of skills.

Mark further states that while technical skills can be easier to assess for employers and easier to learn for new hires, attitude is a gray area, which is hard to assess.  Also, you can’t train people on attitude (at least not as efficiently as you can train them on skills). Mark helpfully provides 6 tips on hiring for attitude as an afterthought.

Bottom line: yes, skills are very important.  But skills aren’t the only thing.

Skills are what you use to weed out the candidate pool.  Attitude is what you use to select the right person from among the qualified candidates.  And attitude is something that you can assess during the interview process.

4. Learn how to interview when hiring a team

Most businesses just don’t get it. Interviewing is a skill that must be practiced and learned just like any other skill. Behavioral questions that employers ask during interviews are not always the right mode of asking questions and are plagued with mistakes.

Carrie Sloan of Fox Business points to a few confessions HR experts made related to their mistakes in interviews.

I prefer to think of the interviewing process as a mutual information sharing session, rather than a test.  Each side — interviewer and interviewee — needs to gather enough information to decide.  The interviewee needs to decide that the position and company are right for him or her.  And the company, of course, has to decide the candidate has the qualifications and attitude, and will fit into the company culture.

Try to structure the interview so that each side gets enough time to talk.  Don’t dominate the interview  in your zeal to tell the candidate all about the company.  Ask open ended questions to draw the person out, not just “yes or no” questions.  You’ll learn the most by observing and listening to the answers to those open-ended questions.

It’s best to jot down questions ahead of time, after reviewing the person’s resume. Don’t try to wing it. You may overlook key items you need to know.

Besides, you’ll be too busy thinking up the next question, to read body language and listen.  That’s what you really need to do in an interview.

Include others in the interviewing process, too.  Schedule candidates to spend a half hour each with key coworkers and managers on your team.  Have a team debrief after the interview, to get input and try to reach consensus.  Then your existing team will be invested in the success of the person who ultimately gets the job.  If you bring someone in without consulting others, in some organizations the existing people will resist that new person.  You want to give that new hire every possible chance for success.

5. Find “passive” candidates

By passive candidates, I don’t mean passive personalities.  The Adler Group recently conducted research on LinkedIn where 83% of employed professionals classified themselves as “passive candidates,” i.e. ones who aren’t looking for jobs.

As such, the entire recruitment industry technically operates on only 17% of all available and employable personnel pool. For small businesses, that’s a huge pool of employable talent that’s missing from the regular hiring process!  You should try to tap into that pool.

On Ere.Net, Lou Adler – the CEO of Adler Group – points out  a few ways.   For instance, he suggests creating an “ideal persona” for the job including demographics; career and personal needs; and the most likely companies to source from.   Also, in the first 5 minutes be prepared to tell the person about the terrific advantages of working with your company:  career growth, cultural fit, life/work balance, and the great team you already have.

Those sorts of things help you entice the “not currently looking” candidate.

6. Build your team with a vision, clarity of purpose, and training

You developed a proper system to hire people and then put them to work. Yet, work barely happens.

The real key to hiring a team is what you do after the job offer is made:

  • Employees need to know what’s expected of them.  Are you guilty of not using clear instructions?  Does your business lack documented processes and systems?  Does confusion reign?  Training and systems are crucial.
  • They need to see the big picture.  Explain the vision and try to help employees see it – describe it again and again.  We learn through repetition.
  • They need positive reinforcement.  Do you always point out what’s wrong, instead of what employees did right?  Is recognition for a job well done unknown in your organization?
  • Employees need a sense of purpose.   Help them see that they are doing important work that matters.  Your job is to help them feel  needed, excited, motivated.

Team building isn’t a job, it’s an art. It’s a fragile skill that has people involved, including a collective set of emotions, desires, self-propelled goals, varying purposes, and different personality types.  It takes work.  People have feelings and ideas and desires — and you have to figure out how to read them and try to accommodate them, so you can retain them.   It’s not an easy thing.  It’s not a one shot deal.  It’s what you need to do everyday.

You will have times when you backslide, because no manager is perfect.  Don’t beat yourself up. Come back the next day and try to be a better leader.

Which of these rules do you follow? What does your process for hiring a team look like from the inside?

Team image (remix) via Shutterstock

14 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

14 Reactions

  1. Anita,

    “you are in business and not in a family get-together” – very well said!

    When you are in business with family members, you tend to do things informally.

    Everything will be just fine – until you hit a roadblock in business operation.

    And when things got worse and worse, firing is probably the most difficult task of a business owner when you involve family members in your team. It can go beyond business and people tend to take it personally. Not good.

    • Hi Ivan, thanks for your comment.

      So, I won’t say “never” hire family members, because of course I actually have 3 family members working in my business. But I carefully considered them and their skills.

      My point is just to think long and hard about family members. If, like you say, you hit a roadblock and have to downsize, it’s going to be very very difficult.

      Be sure. Be very sure. :)

      - Anita

  2. We’re not quite at this stage yet but do see the need for it within the next 6 to 12 months. Thanks for giving this sound guidance.

    George

    • George,

      One thing I’d add is, expect to do some things wrong as a leader. Try to do things right “most” of the time. I make leadership mistakes … I just hope I make fewer than I did 10 years ago.

      - Anita

  3. Ivan,

    Very well said. One is in business to make a living and try to get along with others instead of disagreeing with them. We try to accommodate each other as best as possible without getting too personal.

    As a business owner, you also need to know what your clients need as they are the paymasters. You have to work as a team with your clients and you cannot do it alone.

  4. Anita:

    I like the phrase: “working on your business not in it.” Is it John Wyckoff that coined that saying?

  5. I like the passive employee hiring stance. Some may see it as head hunting, but I think it is more about getting your own business ahead than trying to take from someone else’s.

  6. A lot of small business owners including me find it hard to not hire family members. Oh well, maybe it is just me. It is just that there is the illusion that you can help these people when really, your organization is better off if it hires other people.

  7. This is a good reminder.Too many companies hire on the basis of talking about how you’d do something rather than doing it.Get a team to do the job, look for potential then train them the skills they need.

  8. I would also add that you should always be in the hiring mode. It doesn’t mean you continue to advertise, but you should be in the lookout for best candidates. If you find one do not hesitate to bring him on board. You never know when you must hire someone as a result of someone leaving. When you have to hire someone in a hurry you end up not getting the best candidate.

  9. Training the team with the goals and the company’s “big picture” is an important factor for business success. Engaging the whole team in the company’s goals builds financial intelligence among the staff. When each member knows just how their duties impact the business overall, they become more engaged with the work which helps improve the business as a whole.

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