The right hires Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

If your company is going to live the culture you’ve built, you’re going to need the right employees.

Charlene Greene, the head of Southern California operations for True Partners Consulting LLC — which generated $43 million in systemwide revenue in 2008 — has made that one of her guiding principles when it comes to hiring and staff building.

Greene, who holds the title of managing director in the tax services firm, has helped to design and implement a multiple-stage hiring process for new recruits, which includes activities that challenge each job candidate’s communication skills, team-oriented skills and problem-solving creativity.

“First of all, your goal is to hire people who have similar values,” Greene says. “We have a focus on cooperation and values, and people who don’t really adhere to that don’t last long in the firm. You have to have that mentality coming into the workplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Greene about how you can make the right hires who will help build and promote your company’s culture and core values.

Know what you’re looking for. You have to be careful in hiring. You have to know the characteristics that you want at the outset of the process. Sometimes you’re going to make mistakes, and when that happens, you have to accept that you’ve made a mistake, act to correct it and move on.

If you hire individually on a one-to-one basis, as opposed to in groups, it’s much easier to find those characteristics that you want. That’s a general rule I’ve learned.

There are a number of characteristics you want in a new hire, but a big part of it is about finding someone who shows some leadership characteristics. In a group exercise, you’d be looking for someone who would actually present their ideas to the group and help implement whatever idea they would decide to go with. Someone who would listen carefully to the opening presentation and be able to respond.

We also look at everyone that we’ve brought in for interviews. We have people observing them and we’ll take the feedback of everyone involved in the recruiting process as to whether these people will fit into our group. They need to be outgoing, they need to have positive attitudes, they need to work well in a group setting, and they need to be good listeners.

For me, those are important traits because I do value my partners’ input. I try to reserve judgment until I have their input, but I also try to take into consideration the impact of all decisions on our people. That’s sort of overlaying everything we do and the impact on our managers and all our staff.

Test recruits’ interpersonal skills. Rather than running them through a typical day of interviews where they go from person to person and talk individually to each interviewer, we have the students do some activities, and we’re able to observe how they interact with each other. We also see how well they listen, because at the end of the day, we give them a test on things we presented to them at the beginning of the day. It really helps to bring out those characteristics that we’re looking for in people.

In a group, it is amazing that you’re able to see how people interact with each other. You’re able to see if they can lead without being domineering or insisting on their way or the highway. You’re able to see more of their personality if you have them in a group as opposed to just one on one. They come in prepared to ask questions and to just have a typical interview, and you go through this different group process.

And it’s not as competitive as you might think with recruits vying for the same positions. There is a teamwork aspect to this, as well. For example, one of our activities is we have them go off in groups of three, with one of our people (observing) each group. We give them some newspaper and some tape, and they have to build a bridge. It has to be a certain height, so that we can fly a binder underneath it, and it has to be sturdy enough to hold a water bottle. They have a few minutes to plan, and then they can’t talk when they’re actually constructing it.

From that type of exercise, you see which people take leadership, which ones will work well together, and which ones will just give up and just let the others kind of take over the project. It gives you a good feel for how they’ll react in various work situations.

Don’t stop conveying the culture. You have to keep the culture in front of everyone once you’ve hired them. We have some social things we do over the course of the year, such as a bowling team. The more you get to know the people you get to work with, the more you’re willing to work with them, understand their viewpoint, you start to have a dialogue with them as opposed to telling them the way it’s going to be. It’s a lot more fun to go to work every day if you feel like you have a common bond with the people you’re working with, if you feel like you can have a good time with them.

To continue that communi-cation on a more formal basis, I use e-mail a lot, as many people in leadership positions will do. But anything that is going to really impact people, you should speak to them face to face. You really can’t gauge people’s reactions without speaking with them in person, if you’re not in the room with them. Anytime we have an announcement or decision to make that affects people, we’ll get together face to face with them so that we can have that type of personal communication.

How to reach: True Partners Consulting LLC, (213) 417-2500 or