Hiring for need Featured

5:19am EDT March 31, 2006
The human resources department plays an instrumental role in the success of any business. After all, without effective hiring strategies in place, training programs to maximize potential and reward systems to increase retention, a company is failing to fully capitalize on one of its most important assets: the employees.

“Your staff is a resource, and they will make or break you,” says Gail Cowan, director of human resources at Sander A. Kessler & Associates Inc. “My goal is to make sure that my organization has the right employees, with the right skill set, in the right places, at the right time.”

Hiring smart and then training effectively, she notes, will reduce turnover and costs while increasing productivity. This applies to the blue-collar environment as well, where sound practices can ultimately lead to reduced workers’ compensation losses.

Smart Business spoke with Cowan about successful hiring strategies, how to effectively develop employees and how to keep them once they are trained.

What are some best practices for locating and hiring employees that fit an organization’s needs?

For most companies, having a good referral system is important. The reason this works well is that you have people who are happy with your company, happy with the environment, they know the culture, they know the business, and they’re referring someone who will fit in well. We have one in place where employees receive a generous bonus if they refer someone that we hire. When interviewing, I look for computer proficiency, which is absolutely key in today’s business environment, and interpersonal skills.

How can effective communication about job expectations help increase retention?

Effective communication is absolutely key. People need to know what is expected of them; not only their job duties, but what type of culture they will be joining and what type of schedule are required. You have to be fair with people and let them know if the job will require more than the standard hours. If a person has the tendency to be an 8-to-5 kind of individual, then they’re not going to fit in that job. When I interview, I give them an idea of the culture, the expectation of the job and expectation of the personalities that they’ll be interacting with.

How can employees be trained and developed to reach their full potential?

There are three types of basic training that occur: business literacy, technical knowledge and computer proficiency.

Training should be easily accessible for the employee, so that they can attend the training as well as maintain their jobs. You have to set a career path for individuals, so that they know how to build the training in a direction that will take them to the next job — where they will have more responsibility and, hopefully, more money. You can also train people by enriching their job. This means adding responsibility and giving them projects to work on, so they’re stretching outside of their usual mundane tasks.

What steps can a business take to decrease the likelihood of losing a key employee to a competitor?

You need to make sure that the salaries and benefit packages are competitive and that there is a work/life balance. In addition, you should provide challenging work. When individuals are engaged in what they’re doing, feel empowered with what they’re doing, and feel that they are making a contribution to the organization’s ultimate success, they’re not going to leave you.

It is also important that employees have good relationships with their manager. That’s the number one reason why people leave a job. When there is a good rapport with their manager and the manager is encouraging and mentoring them, they won’t leave. If the employee is a manager, then it’s up to senior management to make sure that they keep that manager motivated.

What types of reward and recognition programs are most effective for keeping morale high?

There are two types: one that is frequently given and one that is reserved for achieving a long-term goal.

We use spot bonuses which are immediate rewards that can be given at any time. Each manager has a budget that they oversee and they can recognize a job well done and give someone a pat on the back with a $50 spot bonus.

For recognizing long-term achievements, we give out an annual award called the Kirsch Kup, which is named after one of our partners. The criterion for this award is based on our mission, vision and values, with managers nominating individuals who have been with the company for at least one year. The winner receives $5,000 in cash, reserved parking, and their name is engraved on a trophy that sits in our lobby. It’s very meaningful and not given lightly.

GAIL COWAN is the director of human resources at Sander A. Kessler & Associates Inc., a property and casualty insurance and employee benefits firm. Reach her at 310-309-2200 or gail@sanderkessler.com.