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Five Steps to Fireproof Your Hiring Process

Hiring and retaining good employees remains one of the premier concerns of the corporate world. Today is a seller's market; downsizing, rightsizing and reengineering have released a flood of well-qualified, well-trained workers to the marketplace. One of the major problems for the hiring company is that these workers have also been well trained in the art of interviewing - in many cases much better trained than the people interviewing them. In fact, 86% of those hired by interview alone will not work out for the company. So what is the corporation to do? How do they attract the kinds of people with the skill sets they need to succeed in the ever increasingly competitive marketplace? And once found, what does a company need to do to keep these people happy and productive?

Five elements are key to successfully locating, hiring and retaining good employees. I call this POSITIVEsm Management: People, Organization and Strategy Integrated Together In Vital Enterprise. Years of working in one of the largest corporations in the world and subsequent years of consulting to businesses large and small have convinced me that few companies do a good job in all of these areas.


All companies have people and some sort of a personnel department or person to handle the nitty-gritty of employment - benefits, policies, payroll, EEO, OSHA, etc. Unfortunately, many of these departments are relegated to the role of paper pushers rather than people developers. Instead of using these highly trained people as aides in the hiring process, many managers see them only as roadblocks. In a time of tight profits, many corporations find Human Resources departments extraneous and outplace them instead of really looking at the organization and pruning where pruning should take place.


All companies have some system of organization as well, from the traditional hierarchical format to the newer matrix or "flat" management concepts. Typically, however, managers are viewed more highly the larger the organization they have. Managers on an upward push therefore try to build fiefdoms within the corporation and to hold on tightly to their domains. This typical bloat is what led to the waves of downsizing, rightsizing and reengineering.


Most companies have some sort of a strategic plan. Business schools teach that a business or strategic plan is necessary to run a business profitably. However, many times the strategic plan is devised by a group of executives on a "retreat" to hammer out the direction of the company. Once the plan is completed, it is housed in a binder on a shelf and never looked at again until the next planning cycle comes around. The day-to-day tactics of running a business, the constant harping on the "bottom line" and the ongoing pressures of competition seduce businesses into focusing on the short-term pain instead of their long-term strategy and gain.

The pieces of POSITIVEsm Management that have been largely ignored in the past are the last two: Integrated Together and Vital Enterprise. As mentioned previously, most corporations have people, organization and strategy. The failure of businesses in the past has been the improper use and lack of integration of these three elements.

Integrated Together

All three of the first pieces of the puzzle must fit together smoothly if a company is to succeed. Day-to-day tactics cannot be allowed to sway the corporation from its long-term strategy. Ambitious managers building kingdoms must not be allowed to do so unchecked - nor should size be a prime measure of performance or competence. Human Resources professionals must be brought into the equation to lend their considerable expertise to the process of organization design, recruitment, hiring and retention.

A prime example of a successful corporation that utilizes this strategy is Southwest Airlines. The culture of Southwest is integrated throughout the company - from recruitment and hiring to employee development to long-term strategy. All are part of a carefully designed strategy that continues to thrive despite increased competition. Employees crack jokes on takeoffs and landings, the flight crew races to service the airplanes on the ground - morale is high and employees are happy. Even Southwest's clients get into the act - one reportedly brought a large brown bag with food for her seatmates; others enjoy the camaraderie of the lounge (two rows of facing seats at the window exits). Herb Kellaher, the Chairman, continues to motivate and drive all aspects of his company from his long-term strategy - a concrete example of People, Organization and Strategy Integrated Together.

In Vital Enterprise

The last key piece is the one that will most strongly impact a corporation's ability to retain today's employee. So-called "Generation Xers" and even those belonging to the baby boom are demanding relevant work - or they are leaving to find it elsewhere. Many of these employees begin start-up companies of their own and are highly successful in them. How much more the companies that previously employed them might have grown had they provided meaningful work. Granted, some parts of the job may seem like drudgery - how do you motivate a hotel maid for example? Look at the example of Bessie, an employee at a large hotel chain.

Bessie's job was to clean the ashtrays by the elevators - the ones with sand in the top. She would rake and empty them and then put the hotel's initial on the freshly cleaned sand. One day, Bessie showed a friend and me her technique. First she raked the sand and emptied out the debris, then she sprayed the sand lightly with water, pressed down the mold and then lifted it out. She said the water mist helped the initial stay in place. Hers were always perfect. Once she was sent to work in another tower of the hotel - the maids there said she made their jobs "too hard." The hotel recognized the pride Bessie had in her job and made sure to let her know they appreciated her efforts. Even though hers was a pretty routine job, Bessie was made to feel that she contributed greatly to the overall elegance of the hotel. As a matter of fact, Bessie had been named Employee of the Month several times.

What employees want today is not what they wanted in the past. Sure, the needs of food, shelter and safety are prerequisites. Beyond that, what employees want is a challenge, an opportunity to grow, rewards for work done well and recognition of their worth as individuals. They want to be able to try different jobs, not necessarily higher-ranking ones, so that they can expand their knowledge. They want to be appreciated for who they are, as an individual, not just as an employee. They want employers to recognize that to them life is more than work - that family and playtime are also important. The companies that can meet these needs will be the ones who succeed and continue to succeed.

Positive Management - People, Organization and Strategy Integrated Together In Vital Enterprise - is the five-step key to fireproofing your hiring process. Following these key steps will carry companies forward successfully into the future.


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