Connecting people Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

Mark Miller says that great employees want to make a difference — whether they’ve been in the workplace for years or they’re fresh out of college.

“They don’t want to sit in a cubicle for 10 years before their voice really can be heard,” says the chairman and CEO of Allconnect Inc.

Those great employees are a vital ingredient for a company to succeed, Miller says, and without them, your chances for failure increase. As a result, Miller says Allconnect, a 500-employee company that helps people establish essential services during a residential relocation, is very particular about the people it employs.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how to make sure a prospective employee will fit into your culture and why test-drives shouldn’t just be for new cars.

Q. How do you avoid hiring the wrong person and getting yourself into that situation?

You go through an extensive interviewing process, and you have a lot of people involved in that at all levels of the organization.

You do all the obvious reference checking you can and get all the data points you can.

If you possibly can, if someone happens to be a free agent or maybe they’re between opportunities, you might say, ‘Why don’t you come in here and help us on this project? You test-drive Allconnect, and we’ll test-drive you.’

At the end of a month or so, we’re going to know if you love it here, and we want to get married for life, or if you’re going to be uncomfortable.

In a perfect world, you test-drive the opportunity for both parties. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone who joins the company needs to be a consultant, but especially with senior leadership jobs, if you can expose that person to walking the halls for a period of time before everybody signs up in ink for the long term, that truly helps you a lot.

Q. How do you make smart hiring decisions when a test-drive isn’t possible?

When that’s not the case, then obviously you do all the work you can do, and, ultimately, you make the best decision you can make based on the data points and personal observations and experience you bring to the interviewing and discussions.

Here’s what I try to do in a small company like ours or a midsize taking it to the next level: The last interview before we’re ready to offer them the job, I say, ‘You need to go home this weekend, and you need to really think about this.’

In the case of my CFO, he tells the story that my last discussion with him went something like this: ‘Gene, I don’t have the words to describe how hard this is going to be. Now, I need you to go home and think about that over the weekend and decide if you want to do this because this is not a place for the fainthearted. There can be peaks and valleys, and if you don’t really want to do his, I implore you to really think about that.’

So the last thing you do in the interview process is you try to scare them off. If you can’t scare them off, you’ve probably got the right person. It usually works because competitive people, they’re like, ‘I can do this!’

You really see their best virtues come through if they have the competitive zeal that is required to be part of something like what we’re building here.

Q. What is the toughest thing a leader has to do?

In any line of work or in any walk of life, when you’ve got to look somebody in the eye and say, ‘We appreciate what you’ve done, but you’re not going to be able to help us get to the next level’ — it’s those decisions around people that are most challenging and the toughest.

You sometimes are making a decision that can have a short-term negative impact on people’s lives. But you can’t just wait and hope a problem will work itself out.

You can’t shirk making tough decisions around people, especially people who are in invisible leadership roles. They may be hardworking, they may be technically getting the job done, but they can be a cultural poisoner of the well.

Q. How do you handle that problem?

In any company, but certainly in a small company, if you don’t address that quickly, you can really do a lot of damage. You have to remove those people, and you can’t bide your time and hope it gets better. Because fundamentally, with all the training and with all the internal and external opportunities to learn and grow, people don’t change that much once they establish who they are professionally.

So you have to challenge that. You have to give them opportunities to grow and change. But ultimately, if they are not a cultural fit, you have to make the tough call, and you have to do it quickly.

HOW TO REACH: Allconnect Inc., (404) 260-2200 or www.allconnect.com