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Hiring Heros

Hiring Heroes

Please, not another one of those articles on people! Year after year we struggle to 'fill the chairs', to maintain a staff of motivated, productive and loyal. Yes loyal employees. And year after year we watch the almost constant 'churn' of employees. Often, when we lose employees, we don't know why, but we should. And we should understand that the high turnover in our green industry IS NOT a given.

This article will discuss the issues from a positive perspective. You won't find rhetoric letting you off the hook or buying into the common belief that hiring great employees is a lost cause. If that is your mindset this will not be a reassuring read. But if you, like I, have experienced the excitement of hiring someone who actually turns out to be a "hero" in your organization, you will be motivated to learn all you can about who these "heroes" are, how to attract more of them and keep them on your team. Let's begin by clarifying the meaning of "hero". Webster's definition of a "hero" includes the following, "the principal character in an event", "exhibiting marked courage", "a person admired for his/her qualities". Know anyone who fits the bill? I do and I'm betting you do too.

My point is simply this; some of us are succeeding in hiring these special people today. All is not lost. In our search to build strong work teams, we don't have to settle for "the best of the worst" or " the worst of the best". We can hire "heroes".

Key question, are "heroes" born or developed in our organizations? No question in my mind, they are not born, they, like successful leaders, develop and grow over time. Must a "hero" have certain characteristics, like a decent work ethic, honesty, desire and the willingness to discipline him or herself to meet objectives? Of course, but do "heroes" come gift wrapped and ready to go? Not in my experience.

Where are these people? How do we spot them?

"If heroes were reptiles, we'd all be "snake bit"!

What would you give for a real "hero" to walk through your door? About anything, right? Don't look now but it may already have happened.

Heroes are all around us. Before you spend all your time on a search and locate strategy, look carefully at your own organization. Heroes tend to stick out, but you need to be looking or you may assume your "hero" is just another one of the good ones you hope to keep. Here are some of the things I look for:

  • Someone who is more interested in tomorrow's opportunity than today's paycheck.
  • Someone who is hard at work when you least expect it.
  • Someone who is a "finisher", driven to succeed.
  • Someone who asks lots of questions.
  • Someone who makes suggestions and focuses on solutions rather than problems.
  • Someone who volunteers when not required.
  • Someone who places a high priority on team success along with personal gain.
  • Someone who has the self-confidence ask for help rather than failing quietly.
  • Someone who is honest with a clear sense of ethics.
  • Most of all, someone who believes what you believes, sharing your values and philosophies

Remember, you may have a "hero" in the making, not yet fully developed but with the potential to become great. Look first at your team. Have a conversation with those who show you the most and determine the extent to which you can mold and build such people. A "hero" will jump at the opportunity; taking the lead if you provide direction and help them focus their energy.

Attracting the very best to your organization

If you expect to attract "heroes", your recruiting plan (and you do need a plan) must be aimed at the kind of people who share your company values and

objectives. Typically, I don't find these folks in the classifieds.

Here is my recruiting sequence:

  • Define your company. I'm talking about your goals (or mission) and how you'll reach them. If you doubt the importance of this step, you've not successfully interviewed "heroes" because they will want this information.
  • Establish a strong local company image. Get the message out that you and your company are the kinds of people with whom the very best will want to become associated. Do this by sponsoring events that promote community good. Be an active member of the BBB and service organizations. Consider sponsoring a sports team. Work with the high school FFA teacher. Get involved with 4-H clubs. Ask your high school ag or science teacher if you can sponsor an event or project. Do all you can to see that your image is widely known and that it sends one clear message."IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A GREEN INDUSTRY CAREER YOU NEED TO JOIN OUR TEAM". This has worked for others; it will work for you because few hiring managers will take the time to follow this strategy.

    The result of a concentrate community outreach campaign will be to "magnetize" your company. Before you know it, the phone will ring. I see it every day, people searching for a place to work that they are convinced will provide a positive, rewarding work environment. Let people know yours is that company and your recruiting will improve immediate.
  • Focus your recruiting effort where you believe the best people in your area will see your message. If you want an aerator, run a classified ad for an aerator. If you want a route driver, the same. But if you want a growth oriented, driven individual, go a different route. Look in places these people can be found. I've had success in community colleges. Often, people with some higher education go there to restart careers. These folks attend night classes and work hard to get it done. That is what you want. Make teachers your recruiters. Take the professor to lunch. Ask how you can help support their program. Let them know exactly the kind of person you seek. If you help them, forming a strong relationship, your support will be returned in kind. This is a guarantee. It does take some time and money but so does often-fruitless advertising in newspapers that can charge over $1,000 for an ad in the Sunday edition. Put your money and effort where it will yield perhaps fewer people but more high potential candidates.

Another suggestion would be to go to your very best employees. Let them know that you need more people with the very same high level of dedication they demonstrate, and that you are willing to provide great incentives for their recruiting efforts. Finding a potential "hero" is near priceless, so don't be stingy. If it's cost you $1,000, you will have spent the money wisely.

Become an effective interviewer

Effective interviewing begins before the candidate walks through your front door. Take my advice and be sure what they find is what they seek. This is a "biggie" folks. Oh how many times I've traveled excitedly to visit a service branch in peak hiring season, only to be dismayed and disappointed on arrival to find the operation in, shall we say, less that professionally spit shined condition. A potential "hero" will expect a professional operation and won't often settle for less.

I recall on one occasion, standing in a lawn service branch awaiting an expected candidate the manager was to interview. As I stood there peering out the dirty, smudged window, I saw what had to be our man drive up. He approached, slowed down, leaned over to "eyeball" the place, paused then drove away. Another candidate lost without an interview! Shameful. And do you know the worst part? The manager A. didn't see him and B. never knew he'd lost the recruiting battle again. Think about this: as I asked the local manager to do; if a "hero", the ideal candidate had been in that car, would he have driven away? I say, yes. More disturbing, what kind of candidate would have parked his car, made his way past the pile of cigarette butts by the front door and come in? I think we all know the answer.

Don't lose "heroes" before you have a chance to interview them!

How does your business stack up? If the answer is anything but "great" now is the time to make needed improvements. Follow these rules to ensure the "heroes" find what the seek:

  1. Provide neat, clean and convenient candidate parking
  2. Post the interview schedule in the front office.
  3. Appoint a candidate "greeter" to welcome candidates, offering them a beverage and up-front paperwork before the interview.
  4. Keep the office area and restrooms clean and neat.
  5. Confirm that the staff a candidate may encounter is aware of the interview and looking his/her best for the work being done.

You are ensuring that when you have what can turn out to be a real "hero" on the hook, you don't lose him or her prematurely.

Conduct a professional interview

This article does not provide space to lay out a complete interview process. For my purposes today, suffice to say that if you do not know how to interview, you will lose "heroes". A hero will know about your business and may ask questions that even you cannot answer. Talk about embarrassing, but I've seen it happen! So, be prepared for the smart, probing candidate, the person who wants to know just as much about your business and the opportunity to grow as you do about him or her. The future "hero" will give you a challenging interview. Be prepared. Have your business metrics, growth projections and strategies well in mind and ready for discussion. Be ready to explain how you differentiate your business from the competition. You cannot expect to hire a "hero" without communicating why he/she should want to play on your team and the place to build a rewarding career.

The interview should be held in privacy with no interruptions. Get the clutter off your desk. The focus should be on the candidate's employment application, which you should have read in advance.

Have four or five probing questions have been pre-written (to keep you on track and ensure that you learn as much about the candidates past experience as possible). Your questions should probe past experience to lean what the candidate has done to demonstrate he/she has the personal qualities and skills necessary to help you succeed in a reasonable amount of time. Now comes the controversial part. Who exactly are we trying to hire? Is this "hero" the most skilled and prepared to add value today? Is it smarter to "hire athletes" who require more time to become productive but who will learn to play more than one position in the future? Not a simple answer. It depends on what you want the employee to do and, importantly, whether or not you expect the new hire to grow into greater responsibility. You must define, for your operation, what your true "hero" is. And remember, you will need more than one type of employee. Some people are simply not growth oriented. Does this mean they are not valuable? No. You simply need to define how many of each you need and hire accordingly.

Writing from my 20 plus years in recruiting, hiring, training and managing people in the green industry, I can tell you I'll go for the athlete who wants to play on my team every time. Years ago, a crusty old manager looked at me in a hiring discussion and said "Bill, guys in this business have to things, big thighs and big mouths, and we're better off hiring the ones with big thighs". I got his point. Now he's gone and the business we both worked for is gone too!

In today's multi-task work environment, we need people who have brains and the desire to be part of our team. That is why the hiring process must begin by establishing your company as the place to be for the best people.

One last point on the interview process; if a potential "hero" is sitting in front of you, I believe you will know it and should make at least a conditional offer (pending driver's license check and drug test if applicable). Making the offer is fun! For me, it's a simple summary. "John, I believe we have a great fit and that you have what we need. How do you feel"? If he agrees, I tell him that, pending any necessary checks, I'd like to make him an offer. I understand many of you insist on second interviews and that is fine. But I have never gone through a second interview and felt more positive about a real great candidate than during the initial conversation. And I have never conducted a second interview that removed any significant negatives. That being the case, I want to come as close as possible to closing the deal.

On-boarding and training to keep "heroes" on your team

With the right hiring decision behind you, the real fun begins. You absolutely must ensure a positive start up process. And it should be filled with lots of early successes! I firmly believe that, with a decent post-hire on boarding and training program (which must include in-field management follow up) a bright, motivated man or woman, almost regardless of present and demonstrable job skills, is your best entry-level hire. Smart, motivated people can and will learn quickly. Note: when I say I'll hire the motivated, driven person, I am talking about filling lower level positions. When hiring managers, I've learned that the opposite is true. At the management level, the requirements are more specific and demanding. I don't want someone from outside our industry. The learning curve is too steep and the time available always to brief to bridge the gap.

I will avoid hiring a group of "buddies" from another company just because they may not require entry-level skill training. At this level, I will take the "athlete" and train him or her to score, and I will retain and develop more "heroes" in the end.

As every one of you already knows, each time we "hire the competition", we bring into our organization, the bad habits of others. Unless your business standards are sub-standard (in which case you need not bother looking for "heroes") you want to hire people who will learn the business your way and execute according to your philosophies and standards. The only competitor I am really interested in is one I have seen in action and who seeks a more professional working environment. The new hire MUST BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE to become your "hero".

Training must begin day one. The first day on the job is the day each new hire begins to decide whether or not he or she has made a good or bad decision. We often overlook the fact that our new hires evaluate us just as seriously and deeply as we evaluate them. Occasionally, due to poor interview communications of the position and expectations, new hires quit before they have even completed training! Tell me that manager know how to hire a winner. Above, I mentioned manager follow up in the field. Most training includes at least some classroom work. Manuals, pesticide applicator quiz prep and probably some video education. And until the snow melts (in the north) most of us do try to provide decent functional training. But in season, all bets are off. New hires, even potential "heroes" are thrown in a truck with a veteran and taught, well; sometimes it's tough to tell what they are taught.

That is why management coaching in the filed is vital. It is a critical step we often omit because we are too busy. Bad mistake. Don't make it. Coach on the job, confirm an understanding of not only how to do the job right the first time but why you want it done your way. New hires must believe in your system vs. simply the fastest system or eventually they will begin to slip and quality will drop. So, get out in the field to reinforce training and be sure these four things happen:

  1. The new hire and potential "hero" enjoyed the training process and felt it's content made good sense to him or her.
  2. The new hire understood the training content and retained the most important parts.
  3. The new hires behavior has been verified and your best practices have been confirmed as standard operating procedure.
  4. As a result of training and behavioral change, the new hire has performed successfully.

Number 1 you accomplish with a training evaluation process, written, verbal or both.

Number 2 you confirm with a test written, verbal or both

Number 3 and 4 you must see on the job in the field. This process will help your "hero" succeed, which, of course, is the first step in creating the motivating atmosphere required to fuel the desire to grow.

Hiring "heroes". Who are they, where are they, how to hire and develop them. Not a simple challenge. But nothing you do is more important to the success of your business.

I hope this article has not "turned you off" to the process of locating, attracting and building "heroes" in your organization. I truly believe that, without these outstanding people, those who consistently go the extra mile for your team and for themselves, your success will be limited. You can "build" heroes. They will lead your team. Take the first step today. Remember, no resource in your arsenal is as vitally important to your company's success as the human resource.

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