Cindy Pasky relies on corporate culture and a strong human resources department to build a winning team at Strategic Staffing Solutions Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2010

For Cindy Pasky, talent is only the beginning.

The founder, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions has made acquiring talent for clients a specialization in the 21 years she has led the company. The experience in identifying star performers for clients has given her a unique perspective on the recruiting, hiring and retention of talent at her own company, which generated $171 million in 2009 revenue.

As Strategic Staffing Solutions has grown in the past two decades, the company has needed to continually find top talent. Even in the face of a struggling economy, the need is constantly present, meaning Pasky and her management team have had to place an emphasis on finding, grooming and promoting the people who will lead the company’s future growth.

For Pasky, it has required a balance of both outside recruiting and the training and promotion of internal team members. But she says you should always look within your own ranks first.

“You always want to take people who have already been with you,” Pasky says. “You never staff something completely with people who haven’t been a part of your world. So you select people who you know are good at the activity for which you are hiring; you ask them to take the lead. They’ll find their counterparts and go from there. But you always start out with an existing team or team members before you move forward.”

Finding those existing performers on your staff, and then taking your search outside your office walls, means identifying the foundational principles of your culture, what you want to embrace as a company from the standpoint of ethical standards and operational policies, and then hiring and retaining people who also hold those standards in high regard.

“When you want to hire someone, they have to understand the business you’re in and they have to understand the business of your clients,” Pasky says. “Then, depending on the role they’re in, you work with them and continue to give them opportunities to be stretched. We don’t think someone has to be absolutely ready before they move into a more challenging role, [but] they have to demonstrate that they have the capability to perform the job, and then we can help them fill the voids in their skill set.”

Recognize raw materials

To find the future leaders of your organization, you need to find out what your top performers value in a company and what they believe a leader should be. You need to take a detailed look at their past performance and how they’ve handled tasks that have required them to lead.

“You have to look at it in a couple of ways,” Pasky says. “You have to look at it from their overall background, what they’ve been good at and successful at. You listen to what they are looking for, not just from a compensation standpoint, but the question I always ask is, ‘What is important to you in the leadership of a company you’d work for, and what is important in the leadership of an individual you’d work for every day?’ They’re questions that aren’t expected, and I think the answers can be very telling.”

Pasky doesn’t want to hear answers that might indicate the person isn’t interested in working as part of a team. An employee with a lone-wolf mentality might get the sale, but that person could also be damaging to your culture as you grow.

“An answer I don’t want to hear is, ‘A good leader is someone who leaves me alone and lets me do my job,’” Pasky says. “Don’t you think a good leader is someone who should be engaged in what we’re doing? Someone who wants to help you do better at your job and remove barriers for you?”

You need to employ people who value the opportunity to work at your company because they believe in your company’s mission and are intrigued by the way your company does business. Every new promotion or recruit will be motivated on some level by personal ego. It’s a part of human nature. But you can’t populate your leadership positions with people who are motivated to succeed for purely personal reasons.

“There are indicators you can look at to determine if someone is a cultural fit for your organization,” Pasky says. “They should place a high value on the opportunity to be a part of your company, not just valuing the positions for which they are interviewing. They should have a similar work ethic, a similar definition of what a good business is, what a good corporation is. They need to have a similar definition for what makes a top performer and they are in tune with how you compensate a top performer. All of those things begin to make up your culture.”

It can be difficult to evaluate something subjective like work ethic without actually seeing the candidate in action. But the questions you ask in the recruiting and interviewing process can allow you to start sketching a mental picture and can at least allow you to make a first round of cuts in your search.

“You can check references, which is a basic thing. But what you can do is describe your environment and how your people work, and just watch how someone reacts to that,” Pasky says.

“I’ll describe my workday, my calendar and the hours I work. I won’t say whether you should do the same thing as me or you shouldn’t. I’ll just describe my world and watch how people react. If they seem like they wouldn’t want to do something like what I’m describing, they probably are not going to want the job.”

It also helps to know how a candidate views a company’s role in the community. Your company’s stand on involvement in community functions might seem like something of minimal concern when you’re trying to gauge how a prospective manager will fit into your company. But it speaks to whether your values and priorities as an organization match the values and priorities of the candidate.

If you and the candidate don’t see eye to eye on community involvement, chances are you embrace different values systems, and the hire could lead to cultural discord.

“People need to understand how the company they work for views their role in the community,” Pasky says. “That gives them a sense of the style of the company and how they’re going to be treated. For some people, they don’t care. They want to show up, work hard, do a good job, get their paycheck and be left alone. They probably don’t want to be a part of a company that has an activity that they have to be engaged in four times a week.

“And it works the other way. If someone wants to work for a company that emphasizes community involvement, but the company just doesn’t do that, the person won’t be happy. When it all drills down, it still drills down to a style fit between the person and the company.”

Tailor your HR staff

Of course, finding and grooming new talent in your company can’t fall on your shoulders alone. You need a human resources staff to take the lead on acquiring and retaining new players for your team.

The need for an effective human resources department is fundamental to business. However, an HR staff cannot be a one-size-fits-all for different businesses. Depending on your company’s size and how you conduct business, your HR staff will need to develop strengths in varying areas.

First, you need to recognize exactly what services your HR department needs to provide in order to best suit your company.

“It starts with you recognizing that you need to tailor your HR staff to suit your company’s needs,” Pasky says. “It sounds simple, but it’s really not. If you surveyed some people in business, you’d probably find a lot who have a traditional definition of what a particular department should do in a company. What we do and what we help our customers do is say, ‘You need to look at how you operate and decide what your values are and decide how particular groups are going to be structured to get the most value.”

Recognize the size of your company and how many positions your HR staff oversees, then recognize the field on which you’re playing, including any boundary lines that might be built into your recruiting system.

“At a larger company, an HR department needs to be more of a generalist,” Pasky says. “They have to focus on all departments, including members that might be part of a union. It could be that you have different types of compliance issues, risk issues, different types of hiring that you need to do.

“At a smaller company, HR can be more engaged around talent and how you find and maintain talent. It doesn’t mean that you don’t follow rules and regulations, but you can have more of a focus on the acquisition of talent rather than having to make sure you’re not breaking rules when you do it.”

Define your job

You and your HR team can find the best talent, and find it in the form of people who align with your mission and values. But you won’t be able to leverage any of that until you have set the standards and example from the top of the organization and continuously reinforce it with help from your management team.

The talent and engagement of your employees will power your company’s growth, both from a business and a cultural standpoint. But you provide the direction and the rule book from your perch.

“You say, ‘What is important and what do we value from a business and community standpoint?’” Pasky says. “There are universal things that all cultures need. They have to have ethics, and they have to recognize the importance of caring for people. And that ‘care’ word doesn’t often get put in the same sentence as ‘business.’”

It’s not something that can be communicated with a one-time speech. You need to use all of the communication avenues available to you to keep your employees focused, so you can best leverage the talent, skill and enthusiasm that you and your HR staff worked so hard to identify and cultivate.

“If it all doesn’t start with me, if I let it start with middle management, it just won’t work,” Pasky says. “The CEO has to say, ‘This is how the company is going to function,’ and my expectation is that my leadership team carries that with them everywhere. If employees know that the culture starts at the top of the company, they’re going to have more confidence going to the top with their comments and ideas. They’ll have more confidence approaching you if they think something is being missed somewhere along the line.

“If you have a consistent message along those lines, it’s easier to replicate in different venues. If you don’t have a consistent message or don’t roll it out throughout the company, it might become difficult to use all of your forms of communication to keep everyone connected.”

How to reach: Strategic Staffing Solutions, (888) 738-3261 or www.strategicstaff.com