Big ideas

When building an
organization, Lisa
Stern says it’s important to bring the right people
on board to succeed.

Stern, founder and CEO of
Big Communications Inc.,
which posted 2007 revenue
of about $17 million, uses
the interview process to find
out if someone will fit into
the health care communications agency’s culture.

“The right people for us
are not always that they have
50 years of experience in the
technical skills that we need
them to have,” she says.
“Much of the time, it’s more
about their innate makeup
and the values that they have
as part of their DNA that
make them a good fit with us.”

Smart Business spoke
with Stern about how asking the right questions during the interview process
can help you find the right
people to develop a solid

Q. How do you know a potential employee is the right fit
for your company?

It’s important to ask the
right questions. I think
behavioral-based questions
really help to get an understanding of how a person
would act in a certain situation. It’s really about asking
questions to really (seek) out
who they are at their core.

When you have clearly
defined for yourself what
those things are that you are
looking for, it’s harder for a
candidate to hide. As an
example, we look for people
that are detailed. So, one
thing that I might ask them, depending on what position
they are going to be in, is
how you plan your day, how
you organize your day. That’s
a benign question. I don’t say
to someone, ‘Are you
detailed?’ I ask them about
something specific that they
can say, ‘Well, I find that I’ve
got a great memory and that
I always know what it is that
I need to get done.’

To me, that is not a detailed
person, it’s not a process
person, and all I’ve
asked them is how
you organize your
day. I may interview
somebody that has
been in a position
before and I’ll say,
‘Tell me about a system at your current
job or some other
job that you really
thought could have
been better, that you
really thought could
have been made
more efficient. If you
were king or queen,
what would you
have done?’

If they don’t have
any ideas, then I
know they aren’t a
systems person. I
know they aren’t
going to be thinking about
process and how could we
be more efficient.

If they’ve got a lot of ideas,
that’s just inherent — you
can’t fake that. If you are
making up ideas that you
could have had, then you are
still thinking about process.
But if you can’t think of anything — you can’t fake that
in my mind.

Q. How do you know
what you want out of your

If you are starting a company from scratch and you are
saying, ‘Here’s what we’re
going to establish is going to
be our culture,’ that’s different than if you’re already in
the middle of the organization and you’re like, ‘Oh, I
better think about this cultural thing because it sounds
like it’s kind of important.’
So, how do I analyze what
we have here, and then make
it better?

Q. How do you define your

When we had about 20 people, we really liked our company, we liked our culture,
we liked the feeling; we had
no definition for it at the

But we kind of liked the
‘big’ feeling, and so we said
to ourselves, ‘What is it that
makes it so great here?’ We
broke it down into people
and what qualities those
people had that, if we just
had 100 of these three people, we could just change
the world.

So, what are those adjectives that define those people? Then, pare it back even
further to say, ‘What are the
top five or six or seven?’ I
think we’re at eight that
really define who we are
and who we want to be and
who we want to continue to
be because we liked where
we were.

Then, our next step was to
look at the leadership team
and say, ‘OK, do we have
these things, because if we
don’t, it’s going to be very
hard to live by them.’ So, if
I’m not detailed, that can’t
really be one of our cultural
values because how am I
going to lead by example?
How am I going to teach
people how to be detailed,
how are we going to do that
if we are not inherently ourself — which is not to say
that every person in the
organization on a scale of 1
to 10 needs to be a 10 in all
of the cultural values because
you aren’t going to find that.

HOW TO REACH: Big Communications Inc., (248) 246-5200 or