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Building a team Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2009

John W. Palazzo wants to make a buck as much as the next guy. He’s watched the cooking oil equipment business he started in 2000, Frontline International Inc., grow by an average of 20 percent each year. But Palazzo doesn’t put profit above everything, and he doesn’t want employees who do either.

“We have had a number of candidates that looked really good, but they were like, ‘I have to make this,’” says the president. “And in this economy, that does not settle well. But more importantly, those people may not be the ones who work out in the long term. You want someone with drive.”

Smart Business spoke with the leader of this 20-employee business about how to build a team that fits your vision.

Q. What is the biggest challenge to building a team?

It comes down to finding the right people and the right team to surround yourself with. That’s not only employees, which is a key part of it, but it is the team outside the company, which would be an accountant, an attorney and a banker. They all have to balance. It starts with good people internally, but as you grow, the external ones become ever so important, as well.

There’s a fair amount of due diligence that needs to be done as you interview or bring someone in for a trial or whatever it might be. It comes down to being able to explain the vision and objectives and goals of the organization and explain where the company is going.

You need to be able to explain the growth you’re anticipating and get them to buy in to the process. You’ve got to be a good communicator. If you’re communicating a vision of where the company is going, you need to be excited about it. It’s sincerity and attitude and energy level. Be passionate about what you do.

Q. How do you make sure your need is clear?

If we’re posting an ad or we’re working with an agency on getting a person, we’ll put a pretty good description out of what we’re looking for. I like to outline all the duties and responsibilities that then would be transferred right over to the job description.

It forces you as a business owner to truly sit down and think about what you want this person to do — what is the day-to-day responsibility and expectation level that you have? You have to sit down and challenge yourself as the superior to make sure you know what you’re looking for.

Q. How do you actually find the right people to interview?

There’s a fair amount of due diligence that needs to be done as you interview or bring someone in for a trial or whatever it might be. The first impression, for me, is going to be their resume and starts before I even see the person in the flesh. Do they have the skill set on paper to meet the requirements?

It’s also format and grammar. Is it easy to read? Is it easy to follow? It’s my first impression before I even bring anybody in. I would never interview anybody without a resume, regardless of the position.

Once I get that piece of paper in front of me, I start assessing. That’s how I make the determination of who to bring in for an interview and who we don’t.

Q. What are some tips for effective interviews?

I ask the person to give me a ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of their experience. You can probably read most of that on the resume, but I find it very interesting to hear people verbalize what they do or what they have done. It forces them to talk about themselves and their positive abilities and skill sets.

You always want to try to think through, can this person do more than what they are being hired for? Can they grow within the organization? That’s also a selling point when you’re interviewing people. ‘Here’s where you’re starting, and if you have the right drive, ability and skill set, here’s the potential because we’re growing. And growing means opportunity.’

I’m not looking for someone who wants to climb the corporate ladder in a year. I need someone that has commitment and buy-in to what we’re trying to do. I’d rather start someone out at the lower end of the spectrum and then get them to move forward on a gradual basis based on performance.

If someone has high aspirations to move forward, they have to really show that they have the ability to take on responsibilities.

Q. How do you get a new employee off to a good start?

The biggest thing is being able to work directly with them and making sure there is a clear-cut job description of what they are supposed to do. It’s very important to identify duties and responsibilities so they know clearly what they have to do when they come in.

It’s really spending time, whether it’s with me directly or with other folks in the organization, to make sure they are oriented to how we do things. Make sure that, as a leader, you’re visible and that they know you’re dedicated to the cause.

I don’t line my pockets. What I’m doing right now is putting a substantial amount, if not all of the profits right back into the business. Employees see that. They know when they are operating a piece of equipment, if something should break down, we don’t waste any time or money getting it repaired.

How to reach: Frontline International Inc., (330) 861-1100 or www.frontlineii.com