Somewhere, he is out there, waiting. You can picture him — dream about him. He is the ideal employee, bristling with skills, energy, and dedication. Ah, but where do you hang out to find such a gem? And once you meet, how can you make him over into your mold? How can you know how well he will fit in with your company’s culture? And, toughest of all, how can you spruce up your company so that he will stay and make a long term commitment?
Most good business owners know that their principal job is to find good people. Unfortunately, knowing seldom makes the task any easier. For owners on the hunt, Raritan Valley Community College’s Small Business Development Center offers “Where to Find and Hire the Right Person” on Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m. at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale. Cost: $42. Call 908-526-1200. Speaker Karen Katcher, founder of Chester-based consulting firm Katcher Associates has designed her talk primarily for owners of small and mid-size businesses.
Katcher is living proof that careers must be assessed. A native of West Orange, she attended Montclair State University, earning a B.S. in biology. She then went to work for Castrol, the motor oil giant, as a chemist analyzing GMX and other products. “I remember seeing that endless line of lab tests and just knew it was not for me,” she says. So, walking away from Castrol, Katcher took herself back to academe, earning an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University, with a specialty in finance. It proved the right fit.
After earning her MBA, Katcher took over a failing data center and turned red ink into black. From there she teamed up with AT&T and put together the AT&T Universal Card — a project that the phone company then sold to CitiGroup for $1 billion. For the past four years, Katcher Associates (www.katcherassociates.com) has helped firms, most of them located in New Jersey, plan strategy, launch new products, and find new markets and employees.
“Your business is your employees,” insists Katcher. “Get the right people and the product, the clients, the stock holders, and the sales will all take care of themselves.” For Katcher, there is nothing lucky or mystical about getting good workers. Like any other business task, it is simply a matter of laying out the right campaign.
Up front work. “The biggest blunder owners make is to begin hiring with absolutely no clear idea of what they want that person to do,” says Katcher. She suggests that before casting the net, employers should write up a personal business plan for this new employee.
This plan should extend beyond the mechanics of experience to include necessary capabilities, fringe capabilities, and personal attitudes. In assessing attitude, remember, you are not just marrying the bride, but the whole family. That candidate for the operations manager may be just the way the owner likes them — strong willed and constantly challenging every decision. But how will he fit into the company culture?
Will he create such disruption that either he or others are forced to leave? The attitude fit must be initially apparent. “You can always teach an employee Microsoft Word,” says Katcher. “You can not teach new attitudes.”
Scouring the countryside. Unfortunately there are no singles bars where employers and employees can hook up. But the best head hunters are right under your nose. They’re your employees. Better than professional recruiters, your employees know exactly what the job needs, and they know others in the trade. Additionally, they are only going to suggest candidates who will fit in. “Boy I know this really talented guy who is a real jerk, we should hire him,” is not something you are likely to hear from a staff member.
“Never hire in a panic,” says Katcher. All too frequently, company owners don’t think about taking on new employees until disaster strikes. “My lord, Jenkins just got hit by a truck. Go out and get me another Jenkins — quick.” The fact that Jenkins was 86, aching to retire, and his duties had been expanding all around him as the company grew never seemed to dawn on this owner.
Instead of this replacement-hire concept, Katcher advises that hiring should be a constant goal of all company managers. If you have good employees, always have your eye out for better. Assume you will grow, assume that you will need more top talent to get you there. This naturally will perk up the networking antennae of every individual in the company, whether they are at conventions or church socials.
Seductive interviewing. The goal of a good interview is to get beyond the paper achievements and discover the individual. In that light, it is wise to frame questions that require story answers.
“Was there some particular coup you pulled off in your last job that saved the company a great deal of money?” While unvarnished, this question calls for the candidate to recount a situation, describe what actions he took, and reveal the result. By using the word “coup,” you are inviting him almost conspiratorially to strut his achievements. By doing so, you will find out the way he thinks and solves problems.
The ideal interviewer is a quiet sounding board and a good listener. The tendency to grill the candidate only leads to more of your voice and less of his.
Keeping commitment. With a national average of only four years with a single company, the hope of retaining employees long term seems ever fainter. Katcher’s solution is to be aware of what truly motivates each individual. Why does he come to work and what elements will he not tolerate? Money is dandy, but study after study has proved that folks don’t stay for the salary. And if they do, their dedication to the company is scarcely laudatory.
The attraction may be the friends around them, the status of their post, or the prestige of the firm. Often employees seek recognition above all — a simple acknowledgment that they have done a good job. On the other hand, an owner may provide all these things and find a worker who is leaving because he can’t work in an office without a window. The lesson here is to provide challenging work, lots of support, and recognition of a job well done. Beyond that, be available, or make sure that a manager is available, to really listen to what it is that prize employees like — and dislike — about their work.
Finally, the best way to keep employees happy and directed is to make the business focused and directed. Katcher suggests that every business owner periodically make a date with his business plan — literally. Write in the calendar “Business Plan Lunch — Tuesday, 1 p.m.” Then take yourself and your plan out of the office. Together, go to a nice restaurant and lift your head up from the daily concerns.
Once in this non-pressured atmosphere, ask if you are going where you planned to go — where you want to go? If not, plot ways of getting there? A little contemplation can do wonders for profitability and peace of mind. Your employees will notice that the ship is moving ahead at a nice clip, and will be far less tempted to jump off.