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Monday, 21 February 2011 07:05

Adding ammunition

 

Zack Schuler was reading a book about leadership when a stat struck him — 25 percent of a CEO’s time should be spent recruiting.

Schuler can’t argue. Hiring is crucial as his company, Cal Net Technology Group, continues growing. In 2007, he added nine people to the then 40-person IT consulting company, spurring 20 percent growth in one month.

“Unequivocally, the No. 1 challenge is finding the right people,” says Schuler, founder, president and CEO. “If you have the wrong people, it’s devastating to the organization. You cannot achieve sustainable growth without paying a lot of attention to your recruitment process.”

Cal Net, which has offices in Northridge and Anaheim, almost doubled its revenue between 2005 and 2009.

 

 

Create a process. We’ll screen 200 resumes [for a network engineer position]. We’ll boil that down to 10 people that we talk to on the phone. We’ll boil that down to three or four people that we bring in for an in-person interview. Then we’ll boil that down to one or two people to send through our lab, where the engineer spends eight hours building a small network environment.

We’ve implemented similar practices within (other) parts of the company. For example, when it came to hiring our controller, we hired our CPA firm to administer an accounting exam, which took three or four hours to complete.

If they don’t score well on the exam, you can take them out of the race. It actually shows somebody’s interest in the position if they’re willing to go through hours of interviewing and test-taking in order to come on board with us.

Several candidates have said, ‘Are you going to pay me to go through the exam?’ at which point, we chuckle and say, ‘No, we’re not, and as a matter of fact, you’re not even going to be taking the exam now for asking that question.’ When you tell somebody, ‘You’ve got to take an exam,’ you can gauge their attitude. [If] they’re like, ‘Great, I’d love to show you how well I can perform,’ that’s the kind of person we want to hire.

Inspect resumes. If somebody says something [on their resume] like, ‘Possesses experience with server operating systems,’ that’s not good. I want to see: ‘Expert in Windows Server 2008 R2.’ I want them to list out their skill sets in detail. (Frequently,) the candidate could be qualified for the position, but their resume is just too thin to attract my attention.

Another thing I love to see is where somebody will have received promotions and they’ll have dates listed like, ‘From March of ’07 to February of ’08, I was at this company in this position. Then from February of ’08 to December of ’09, I was at the same company but in this position.’ First, I like the fact that the person was promoted. The second thing that I like about it is that they remembered when they were promoted, and if they remember that, it means that job growth is important to them.

If somebody shows up and they have a list of references ready instead of, ‘References available upon request,’ that’s a positive. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m good. Call these people and ask them.’ I also love to see references of former bosses as opposed to a peer. It’s like whatever the departure was, it wasn’t bad.

Start conversations. They can be the best technical people in the world, but if they don’t know how to interface with our client, it’s just not good. The skills come through in our exam. But if they don’t have the attitude, they won’t even make it to the exam. The first thing that we’re going to hire on is attitude.

It all boils down to, when they show up for the interview, if they’re a good conversationalist. One of the questions that we ask is, ‘Tell me about your last vacation.’ We want to ask a question that they don’t have a prepared answer for. It gives us an opportunity to see what their dialogue skills are like. They don’t have a canned answer for it because nobody asks that question. We’re able to figure out how well this person’s going to do [with clients] just through their process of communicating with us through the interview.

 

 

How to reach: Cal Net Technology Group, (866) 999-2638 or www.calnettech.com

 

Published in Los Angeles
Monday, 21 February 2011 13:47

On the move

When Camille Cheney Fournier was 10 years old, she was already well established as a vital part of the family business.

“We used to have three-part commissions, and we had to tear them and get them all sorted out,” she says. “I was pretty little, because I remember I couldn’t reach far enough to put the checks in numeric order.”

But even in such a seemingly small role, she learned a valuable lesson that has stayed with her through the years and helps her as she now leads the family business, SWS Re-Distribution Co. Inc., as owner and CEO.

“It takes everybody to make the business work,” Fournier says. “It really does. Some of those tasks that I was doing, like putting checks in numerical order or sorting salesmen commission reports, all that had to be done, and somebody had to do it. It was something that even a kid could do so that the employees at the office could do something they had the skill to handle.

“It goes to show that there are so many jobs at a company, and they’re all important, and they’re all needed, and they all need to be appreciated.”

By encouraging teamwork and valuing every job at the company, which sources and redistributes food service products globally, people know how important their roles are. This has helped employees work together to increase efficiencies internally as well as for their customers, which has allowed the organization to grow from $159.3 million in revenue in 2006 to $253.5 million in 2009.

“Without everybody doing their part, it doesn’t work,” she says.

Hire and train team-oriented people

For Fournier, having the right type of people who will be willing to work collaboratively with other team members and customers has been critical to the company’s growth over the past few years. That happens by making sure she hires the right people.

“You have to have the right people that care and are proactive and ask questions that go beyond what is just expected,” she says.

It starts in the interview process by clearly laying out how SWS operates and what the company’s philosophies are regarding customer service, teamwork and collaboration.

“By talking to them, you can really feel that they would be the right person,” she says. “If they ask good questions in the interview process, they’re probably going to be a questioning kind of person to begin with.”

The questions people ask can vary depending on the job, but she says that if they ask about how people stay sharp in their positions and how they make sure they do the best work possible, no matter what the situation, that can be an indication of a good fit.

Once hired, cross-training them is critical to success.

“Staying sharp is really important,” she says. “We try to diversify through the type of job that each person has so their job is broken up a little bit more, they have a little bit different responsibilities so that when they come back to one that may be a little bit more monotonous, they can still be sharp doing that task.”

For example, a customer service person would primarily spend his or her day taking orders from customers and helping those customers build their truckloads of various products. The customer service people may take several of those orders and work with the customers back and forth to make the loads as efficient as possible, but they may also have to take a timeout and check someone else’s order to make sure that other customer service person made his or her order the correct way and in the most efficient manner possible.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” she says. “If you have a different set of eyes look at it, all of a sudden you go, ‘Oh, this could be done a little bit differently,’ so they make suggestions.”

Additionally, someone may pull an order for a customer, but then someone else will come through and check to make sure it’s all correctly pulled.

“We try to break up different people’s responsibilities, and then we throw someone in a totally different area of the company to do another task to show them what they’ve done is related to another area of the company, too.”

This approach to training helps not only avoid problems and errors, but it also eliminates silos from being built because employees are constantly doing tasks outside their main area and seeing every aspect of each order from different points of view.

“It’s nice for different areas of the office, whether you’re in customer service or accounts payable or accounts receivable or shipping or purchasing to understand how it all fits together,” she says. “When you understand that, you understand how important everything you do is and how important it is to do it correctly.”

While this approach helps the company, it also helps the employees, as well. As they learn different roles and aspects of the business, it makes them more versatile. One manager started in customer service and then went to shipping and then accounts receivable before landing her management position.

“She knows it from the ground up,” Fournier says. “We try to promote from within, because our business is somewhat complex, and it helps if our employees truly understand all the different aspects.”

Help employees build customer relationships

The greatest compliment that Fournier has received from a customer is that her team is always able to find solutions to any kind of situation or problem that a customer faces.

“Part of it starts within getting all of the people that work in your company to realize how important each of their areas of the company are and that we all make up a cog in the wheel to make it all work,” she says. “It’s important for me to meet with the customer and listen and understand what their needs are and be able to come to them with good proactive solutions and proactive ideas about what they might want to change in the future. It’s important that everybody in my company understand how important they are in making our customer satisfied and happy.”

This started with looking at how trucks were loaded. A typical truck will hold 26 skids of a product, but by being creative, SWS employees can get 35 or 36 skids on a truck.

“When they’re training, they go out and actually see the loads going out,” she says. “What we explain is, ‘This is a heavy product, and it can have something stacked on it. This is a light product, and it cannot, but it can go on top of something. This is really tall.’

“Just to understand what you’re selling when you’re sitting in an office is so important to being able to be a really good partner with your customer.”

One manager took the initiative to create a chart of which products were light, heavy and stackable to give to customers so that the customers could then maximize their orders as well to save money.

“It’s really being proactive,” Fournier says. “I’ve got a great group of people being very proactive that work here.”

That same manager also pulls her customers’ order history so she can see what their needs are and how fast they move through certain products and uses that information to make suggestions to them about what could be a good add-on to their order to create more efficiencies.

“You also have to know what your customers’ sales are and what their needs are and how fast they go through their products, because turns on the inventory is also a very important factor for the customer,” she says. “They have to be able to turn the merchandise fast enough that they want to get as much on the truck as possible so they’re not having to buy another truckload sooner because they’ve run out of a product.”

Beyond looking at their order histories, you also have to communicate with your customers. Fournier and her employees meet with customers over the phone and Internet daily and weekly and also meet with them in person two or three times a year.

“[It’s] communication — meeting with them and talking to them and finding out what their problems are and their concerns and working on solutions to correct any of the problems that their company is facing,” she says.

When she meets with them, she asks them what they like and dislike about different products that they’re currently using, but she also asks what they would like to see changed or made differently.

The approach of trying to save the customer money and time has built strong relationships that have helped fuel the company’s growth.

“We’re all on the same team trying to do the same thing,” Fournier says. “That’s a large, important part of our business — that everybody realized that we’re all on the same team. It’s not just my company that’s a team. The customers are part of the team. The end users are part of the team. We’re all in it together, and if the whole group of everybody isn’t happy and satisfied and saving money and working well, then we’re missing something, and we need to re-evaluate because that’s our job.”

How to reach: SWS Re-Distribution Co. Inc., (972) 466-9720 or www.swsco.net

The Cheney Fournier file

Camille Cheney Fournier

owner and CEO

SWS Re-Distribution Co. Inc.

Born: Dallas — born and raised; I’m a fourth generation.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in textiles and clothing, University of Texas at Austin

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a buyer in a clothing store. University of Texas didn’t have fashion merchandising — the closest thing they had was textiles.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Tell the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it. That’s probably the best. Always tell the truth, always be honest. You have to be fair — that’s another one.

What’s your favorite board game and why?

Monopoly because I like the strategy of trying to buy the different properties. I like the strategy of the different combinations of properties you can buy in your little portfolio. ... I think games keep your brain sharp, and it’s entertainment, and it’s distracting. It’s kind of like going on a mini-vacation, and it takes your mind off of what is going on in your life, and then you’re fresh to come back to it. It’s just like reading. When I read, I usually read fiction, because when I read, it’s a release and I enjoy it, and then I can come back to reality and life and have a fresh perspective. It’s important to have enough down time that you’re always positive and sharp in your business or your family or whatever you’re doing in life.

What’s your favorite book that you’ve read?

Recently, ‘The Kite Runner.’ I’ve read several books that I liked lately. ‘The Help’ was good, too. They’re just different. It’s real interesting to see different people’s perspective. ‘Same Kind of Different as Me,’ that’s probably one of the better books I’ve read.

Published in Dallas
Monday, 21 February 2011 13:38

Take your time

Brett Febus likes to take his time when he’s looking to hire someone at Insource Spend Management Group. If that means he has to put off making a final decision and can instead bring the person in on a temporary basis, he’ll do it.

“It’s a huge responsibility when you, as an employer, hire a person,” says Febus, founder and president at the 20-employee financial consulting company. “It’s a responsibility to their family, and it’s very important. You owe it to that potential employee to make a good decision. You start making reckless hiring decisions or thinking, ‘Oh, if this person doesn’t work out, I can just lay them off or fire them,’ that’s a recipe for disaster.”

The approach of bringing someone in on a temporary basis to better gauge their fit for an opening is one that has served Febus well over the years.

It has afforded him the opportunity to get to know prospective employees and assess whether a role exists that fits both their talents and his needs. His approach is not that much different from the process he would follow when making a permanent hire.

“We still believe that this is a person that with 99 percent certainty is a perfect fit for the job,” Febus says. “But on the off chance that it doesn’t work out, I just believe I don’t want them and they don’t want me. So why not put ourselves in a situation via being a contractor first where a separation can be clean and painless for both of us?”

When you present an opportunity to a prospective employee to get to know them better before making a final decision, you’re showing them that you respect the magnitude that a job has in a person’s life.

Febus is confident that someone who is really committed to working for you and for your company will be willing to go through a longer hiring process.

“Sometimes when an employee is looking for a job, they are going to sit across from you and say, ‘Yes, this is perfect; I love it,’” Febus says. “And really what they love is getting a paycheck every Friday. They wouldn’t care if they were pulling weeds. As long as they were getting a paycheck, they’re going to tell you it’s perfect. It’s important that everybody is honest with each other and that you set expectations.”

Go through your expectations with them and talk about what their role in your company would be.

“Write those expectations down,” Febus says. “Here’s what we expect the job is going to be. … The key is keeping it simple and making sure the expectations are really clear and that you’re being very honest with them.”

If you choose to bring someone in on a temporary basis, don’t treat him or her differently than you would a regular hire.

“We go through orientation, we give them business cards, we do all those things just like they are an employee,” Febus says.

Your goal is the same in either case. You’re trying to determine if this person is committed to your company. Without that commitment, they’re probably not a person you want to hire.

“I have to know you’re not still looking for another job,” Febus says. “I have to know that you are committing to this just like I am, and we have both represented everything to each other in its most true form and you have a desire to stay here for 10 or 20 or 30 years.”

How to reach: Insource Spend Management Group, (800) 397-6880 or www.insourcesmg.com

Keep your eyes open

When is the best time of year to think about hiring people into your business? How about any month on the calendar?

“Don’t just think about personnel moves every December or every April,” says Brett Febus, founder and president at Insource Spend Management Group. “Think about personnel moves all the time.”

Febus keeps a stack of resumes on his desk at the 20-employee company.

“There’s probably 30 of them, and periodically, I just flip through them,” Febus says. “This person was a good person. Do I have a spot? How about this person or this person? I’m constantly thinking about personnel moves.”

Encourage your employees to let you know about people who they think would be a good fit for your company. Talk about moves you’re thinking of making with your leadership team.

“I’ll just bring them in and say, ‘Listen, here’s what I’m thinking of doing. Shoot holes in it,’” Febus says. “They might say, ‘Brett, I know you’re thinking we don’t need that person today, but maybe we do for these reasons.’ You can’t talk about it too much with different people.”

If you have these discussions on a regular basis, you’ll be ready when action needs to be taken.

Published in Columbus
Monday, 21 February 2011 11:09

USA Insulation grew through franchising

When Patrick J. Pitrone took over as president of USA Insulation Franchise Corp. seven years ago, he had to overcome the hurdle of being the founder’s son.

He made sure he did every aspect of the insulation business himself so that he never asked someone to do something that he didn’t know how to do or wasn’t willing to do himself. As a result, he earned the respect of the company’s 135 employees.

Four years ago, he started turning the organization toward growth by transforming it into a franchisor. There weren’t any insulation franchise businesses, so the field was wide open.

Smart Business spoke with Pitrone about how he led the business into this new endeavor.

How did you start franchising your business?

It did take some hard knocks and learning initially. We knew our business very well, but we didn’t know the franchise business — how to take our model and carbon copy it across the country. We learned a lot about ourselves, and we found out that we’ve learned a lot about our business, but we never took the time to put it all down and hand it over to somebody. We had to go back to the drawing board and bring some consultants on board to frame out a system to put in place and put everything out on the table and give them a launch process and how we can help them operate.

The key to that area was bringing people on board who knew the franchise business and could mold it with the existing insulation process and be able to craft a system that can make people successful in this business.

How did you select consultants to help you?

We had some referrals of people who had done this before. There’s nobody in the insulation franchising business, so that was out the window, so we had to look for people who had similar service businesses or folks we met at the International Franchise Association’s annual meeting. It was bringing people on board who knew franchise businesses and molding it with ours.

In choosing a consultant, we made a mistake. Initially, we hired someone who was a fair amount of money, and you don’t know what you don’t know starting out, and we thought we had the right company there.

What tips would you give for hiring a consultant?

Spend time with them to get a sense of the people they were. [Ask] questions to get to where you felt comfortable with them.

I wanted to find out initially how they took companies from ground zero up to 10,000 feet or so. I wanted to find out not only if they did but what they did to bring companies that have been doing one particular thing in one location for X amount of time, and how did they build that business? How did they take a company and build their manuals, build their jump systems for new locations, how did they build the marketing and legal pieces? … Initially we didn’t know what questions to ask, so we had to make a couple of mistakes in the beginning — they were costly mistakes, but they helped us choose that next consultant, the one that has really gotten us to where we are now. So knowing what questions to ask initially was a pretty big thing, and we had to learn the hard way of asking the wrong ones first and learning the second time the right ones to ask.

What are some good questions to ask?

One question that I have asked before is, ‘Give me a reason why I would hire you and a reason why I wouldn’t.’ They’re sort of behavioral-based questions. Give me examples of times and things you’ve done. The closed questions won’t get as many answers.

The best questions are to ask the folks they’ve worked with and the referrals. I’ve actually been a referral now for this consultant, and people talk to me for a half hour at a time. They wanted to do their due diligence. … Those questions can be — the expectations that were set, did they meet your expectations, was the price that you paid the right amount of money for the services you got, or what are the biggest weaknesses that they’ve had in the first six months of getting started? Presentations are presentations. You can have consultants come and go through the front door, but unless you talk to the folks they work with, it’s difficult to get a sense of what they’re all about.

What have you learned from this process?

It takes longer than you think, and it takes more work than you think and you don’t always see progress when you want to see it. But it’s funny, the longer you do it, the more people from the outside looking in give you some perspective on how far you’ve come. It’s been [more than] three years now and we have 17 locations and that’s more than I thought I’d have right now. It’s interesting to see the growth of our company. It’s fun.

How to reach: USA Insulation Franchise Corp., (866) 602-4107 or www.usainsulation.net

Published in Cleveland

Despite a rebounding economy and renewed hope, the national unemployment rate is still around 9.7 percent. In Georgia, the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent, and April 2010 is the 29th consecutive month that the state’s rate has been higher than the national average.

Needless to say, this has created a very large labor pool. Add in the fact that more and more qualified professionals are being added to that labor pool every day due to budget cuts and layoffs, and you’ve got a lot of good people looking for work.

“More and more, people are willing to take jobs that they maybe wouldn’t have in the past, and they’re definitely willing to take less money or fewer benefits,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton Staffing. “This gives companies great opportunities to get more bang for their buck when hiring.”

Still, these skilled people are hard to find. Many of them turn to staffing firms, which means now is the time to take advantage of the people and services a quality staffing firm can offer.

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about temporary labor, how it can benefit your organization and the common misperceptions that come with hiring “temps.”

Why is now a good time to utilize temporary labor?

The long-term cost of employment is uncertain at best. Companies are often less willing to commit to a person full time because they can’t plan long term what the total cost of that employee will be. Among other things, there are questions about the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax. Will it stay at 7.65 percent, or will it go up?

Temporary labor doesn’t have those concerns; there’s no commitment and you’ll know exactly what the cost is upfront. You get the staffing you need without the headaches and the hassles.

What benefits come with temporary labor?

No. 1, the company saves money. Employers have to cover taxes, unemployment, health care and workers’ compensation, just to name a few. And all of those costs are projected to go up in the near future. Temporary labor helps alleviate that, since the staffing agency is the one that takes on those costs. Also, if you’ve got a lot of employees working overtime, you can hire temps to fill in, without the added cost of overtime wages.

Temporary labor also saves you time. The staffing firm does all the interviewing, screening, skills testing and advertising. You just call up the firm, tell them what you need and they find the right person for the job.

Another benefit is increased flexibility. You can hire more people at peak times and pare your staff down when business is slower. Nowadays, you can bring in highly skilled temps to replace key positions that may have been eliminated or downsized. For instance, you can find a temporary director of HR to come in a few days a week to take care of any administrative tasks you may have.

Finally, temporary labor reduces a company’s risk. Bringing in help takes the pressure off of your full-time employees, reducing accidents and absenteeism and preventing burnout. With companies paring down and employees taking on increasing workloads, burnout has become an unfortunate trend. It’s true that your staff is your greatest cost, but it’s also your greatest asset. It makes sense to do whatever you can to protect that asset.

What potential pitfalls should companies be aware of when using temporary labor?

First of all, don’t just look online and call the first staffing agency you find. Compare and interview staffing agencies just like you would potential employees. Make sure that the staffing agency matches your culture, understands your needs and goals and will represent your company the way you want it to.

Also, make sure you know all of the costs involved upfront, particularly the ones that come when you want to hire the person after their temporary trial is up; sometimes a conversion fee applies.

Finally, make sure you have a system in place to measure the performance of the temporary employees. Find out whether or not the temp fits in as soon as possible. The sooner you let the staffing agency know about issues, the sooner it can get you another worker.

So, how can you ensure that you’re getting the right talent?

The key is communication. Clearly define your needs upfront. Give the staffing agency as much information as possible: what specific skills you need, how your company culture works, what kind of personality you’re looking for, the goals of the position, how long the temp will be employed, if it will be a temp-to-hire situation, etc. The more the staffing agency knows, the better it will be at finding you the people you need.

What are the common myths of temporary staffing?

There’s a stigma attached to temporary labor that it’s only unskilled, unhireable people. But the fact is there are thousands of highly skilled, highly trained people looking for work. Not only that, more and more people, particularly younger ones, only want to work on a temporary basis, as it offers them a better work-life balance.

Another myth is that it’s more expensive to utilize a staffing firm than just hiring on your own. With a staffing firm you know what the costs are upfront and you can always control those costs. That cannot be said about hiring an employee yourself.

Melissa Hulsey is president and CEO of Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Friday, 18 February 2011 14:53

Talent scorecard

Companies worldwide are struggling to find and retain the caliber of leaders their businesses need. The increased market intensity and demand for top-shelf, experienced leaders arrive at a time when our population of potential leaders is declining. Stagnant hiring in the early 1980s has resulted in fewer experienced leaders available. On top of that, U.S. census data indicates that the population of potential leaders is shrinking.

In short, we have a challenging business environment and fewer experienced leaders to navigate it.

These challenges represent opportunities to fundamentally change and measurably improve how talent is managed. We must treat talent management as a business imperative and bring it to the strategic planning table — where it belongs.

Whether starting new companies or preparing the leaders of tomorrow, the most successful companies hire great talent, make sure that talent is aligned with the company’s strategy and culture, develop that talent aggressively and reward that talent well, in alignment with their desired culture and future strategy.

To manage talent strategically, organizations must do three things:

Align business and talent strategies.

Every aspect of the talent strategy should link directly to the business strategy and its execution. Anything not directly linked is probably working against the core strategy by consuming time and resources and confusing managers about what is most important. Once the business plan is formulated, the first question to ask is, “Are the current people processes ready to hire, develop and manage leaders to support this business plan for the next three to five years?” Make sure that the competencies for which you are hiring match the skills that leaders will need to execute the business plan. Ensure that leadership development is based upon values that support where the company is headed.

Look ahead, not behind.

Develop tomorrow’s leaders for tomorrow’s challenges. Talent management should be based on where the company is going, not where it has been. Most performance management effort is oriented toward evaluating past performance. While understanding how a person has just performed against current expectations is important, it is equally important to ensure that leaders are assessed against the future demands of the business — three to five years down the road — not just the challenges being faced today.

Track the talent profile.

Talent metrics should be established, tracked and acted upon as part of the business portfolio. They should garner the same attention as other bottom-line metrics. Talent metrics are not second-class measures — they are a vital part of your business portfolio and the best indicator of your future capacity to execute.

Ignoring or ascribing second-class status to talent metrics is a good way to be caught off-guard in midstream. Decision-makers should have a “talent scorecard” to monitor the quality of available talent and track gaps in key talent pools. These data can be used to adjust hiring and development practices and to drive individual accountability for enabling the business strategy.

No matter how brilliant the strategy, it takes people to execute it. It is too easy to be captivated by plans to secure additional market share or tap new markets but fail to ask, “Do we have the people to get the job done?” and “What will it take to ensure we have the talent we need?” Require each business in the enterprise to provide a talent strategy commensurate with the operating plan for executing their business strategy. Without an equivalent talent plan, the business strategy becomes a false promise. Do not approve business plans that fail to address finding, developing and managing talent to execute the strategy.

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick consults with top executives and their boards on issues of executive leadership succession and effectiveness and strategy execution, including merger integration. Reach her at lbraksick@clg.com.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 21 February 2011 14:27

People connection

When Alan P. Shor co-founded The Retail Connection LP in 2004 with Steve Lieberman, they had six employees and one too-large office. But within just a few years, the company has filled that space, growing to about 70 people and three offices today.

One of the keys to building a strong organization has been making sure he gets the right people into the real estate services and investment firm.

Smart Business spoke with Shor, who serves as co-chairman and president, about how to successfully grow an open organization by bringing in the right people.

What have been the keys to your success?

There are just a handful of basic keys to good, strong, successful leadership. One is building the right culture in your organization. Before you can do that, you have to be clear in your own mind of what you want to do and how you want to do it, and then you have to communicate that in a clear way. If you have a plan and a way to achieve that plan and you communicate it right, then you start building your team, and that’s where the cultural part comes in.

First and foremost, it’s hiring the right people. Once you get the right people in the door, then it’s making sure they understand what our goals and objectives are.

How do you hire the right people?

We try to combine experience with entry-level. We look for people who are smart and entrepreneurial and want to work hard and become students of the business. You can accomplish that by hiring experienced people based on what they’ve done, and you can accomplish that by hopefully putting people through a good interview process, particularly the entry-level program.

We have an analysts program where we hire kids out of school that want to have a career in what we do. Then we put them in a six- to eight-month program where we move them around the company to different parts and they see how we interact and work with different teams and see different aspects of the business. At the end of that time, we make an assessment of whether they’re ready to become a full-time employee. Our success rate has been really strong. We have a good feeling going into the hiring. Then we have a much better read coming out of the analyst program as to who can make it and who can’t.

What tips can you provide for making better hires?

Make sure you have a pretty good understanding of what you’re looking for, have a specific job description, and you want to make sure that you articulate the type of person you’re looking to hire and then be very diligent in the hiring process.

The people we bring in will see multiple people here — it could be upwards of six or eight people from different parts of the business — and then we talk about how that interview went. Then we give them an aptitude test. It’s a 20-minute test that really will give us some guidance. It’s not the barometer, but it’s one of the factors. We look at it as to how they’ll be in our business.

Be diligent about it. Call references. Make sure enough people spend time with that person, because you’re making a decision that not only impacts your company but, more importantly, is impacting the life of somebody.

How can you get beyond the interview front to know who people really are?

If they’re in Dallas, it’s easier because we try to get our people together as much as possible. One of the things we do a lot of is we get our guys together and have a basketball game. We invite our recruits to play, and when you get them in a setting like that, where it’s very much a social and competitive atmosphere, you can learn a lot that you can’t learn in an interview.

How to reach: The Retail Connection LP, (214) 572-0777 or www.theretailconnection.net

Published in Dallas
Friday, 18 February 2011 15:19

Three traits of success

It is generally agreed that to succeed in business or any other collective pursuit, there must be the ability to attract and retain the “best and brightest” people. But really, this is just the beginning. In my experience, I’ve found that there are three core value traits that can help organizations to optimize the performance of their “best and brightest.”

These same three value traits surface over and over, year after year. They are: character, competence and commitment.

It requires character to act with fidelity on one’s beliefs. It requires competence to achieve goals. It requires commitment to persevere to a successful conclusion. These core values drive productivity and produce profitability and sustainability for one’s company, its staff, its customers and its investors.

How best to describe these core value traits at the corporate level?

Character

One must be able to demonstrate ethical integrity, an emphasis on seeking solutions not casting blame, an open environment where honest communications are encouraged and honest differences of opinion are allowed, and a commitment to managing on the basis of sound principles. Doing the “right thing” in a professional manner is a demand all must make of themselves.

Competence

It is also important that you find people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and relentlessly seek to innovate within bureaucratic structures. You must also find people who have creativity, decisiveness, initiative for self-growth, leadership ability that encourages small work groups and a continuous seeking of the optimal balance between flexibility and control. A truly disciplined organization continues to learn and consistently applies the best methods to achieve goals and the fulfillment of the idea that competency is a key competency.

Commitment

It is also crucial that the people of your company have commitment to one’s group, one’s company and to one’s fellow colleagues. They must have a missionary zeal in representing the company and its products, responsibility and personal empowerment. They must encourage people to grow and empower them to do so. You also want people who promise to do what has been asked, pledge to provide whatever assistance is required to meet a shared commitment and perseverance in one’s beliefs.

Essential minimums

To be successful, people and organizations must act with character, competence and commitment in a harmoniously orchestrated environment that energizes all and synergizes everything. As an employee or employer, these core value traits are essential minimums. But, they are only minimums.

Studies consistently show that among the three most highly regarded leadership traits are those of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. Leaders who cannot be trusted cannot lead. So, besides the ideals of character, competence and commitment of an organization’s staff and leadership, the firm’s leaders must also be people who are honest, trustworthy and have a sense of integrity.

It is this sense of integrity that integrates all other desirable characteristics into an authentic and harmonious entity, which is a mark of all consistently successful organizations.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Read more about Nies at http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/.

Published in Cincinnati
Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

Bricks in the wall

Rob Kornahrens is in the roofing business, but it’s the bricks — his 400 employees — that keep Advanced Roofing Inc. standing strong.

To make sure he hires staff that can uphold his company’s 26-year reputation, Kornahrens approaches the hiring process with keenness and intensity. The founder, president and CEO starts with behavioral profiling, and after people are hired, he keeps them on track through a rigorous annual review process.

After all, how do you grow a company you started with a $15,000 loan from your father in 1983 to the No. 6 roofing contractor in the nation in 2007, according to an industry magazine?

“You do it through people, through processes, through culture,” Kornahrens, whose company posted 2007 revenue of $75 million.

Smart Business spoke with Kornahrens about how to hire employees who will meet and keep the standard you’ve set for your company.

Separate hires from their personal lives. Obviously, you’ve got to start with resume selection. I

generally look for stability in a person’s life. I know some people get into bad situations, but if I’ve got a resume with five jobs in seven years, it doesn’t go to the top of the pile. I look at resumes for stability.

I appreciate honesty. I’ve had people be honest with me, ‘Hey, I was going through a divorce and this is what happened.’ Something happened in their personal life, something bad, and they had to move on, and they get it straightened out. Things happen to people, and you’ve got to be open-minded and fair with people.

Don’t have a direct manager make the hire. I rely heavily on the interview process, bringing in a couple people to interview. We generally use the manager-once-removed philosophy, which is, if you need to hire somebody for a position, it should be the manager that’s one up. If you allow the manager to do the hiring, in some cases, they’ll overlook somebody that’s better than them.

If we’re hiring a person to be a business development person, I’ll get involved in that rather than just having my head business development guy do the interview himself. Not that I don’t trust the guy, but you want somebody that’s over the person doing the hiring so you’ll get a better hire.

Sometimes they feel threatened if somebody really good comes across in front of them. People have a tendency to fear for their jobs a little bit.

Hire a variety of types. We do personality profiling and behavior profiling. My belief is 90 percent of people repeat their behavior from previous jobs. You’re interviewing and you have had them already take some profiling, and you’re able to figure out what the behavior’s going to be after you hire them.

You look for things and then you drill down on specific cases of experience and not just theoretical questions.

We use an outsource service that’s online. There are questions that steer you to stability. The one profile is called DISC [dominance, influence, steadiness, conscientiousness]. So if we’re looking for somebody

that’s detail-oriented and steady, their personality will come in as a high C high S. If you’re looking for a salesperson, we’re looking for somebody that’s a little more I. I’s are people persons. A D is a ‘get it done, don’t get in my way’ type of person. You need those. Not that any one personality profile is right,

because there are strengths in all of them and weaknesses.

These profiles give you do’s and don’ts for communicating. If they need to talk to Joe Smith, and Joe Smith’s a high D and this other person’s an S, you know you’ve got to deal in facts and talk to them in a certain way — great communication tools once you hire them on.

Keep good hires on track. We use an annual review — the 360 tool. The idea is if I’m evaluating somebody, I get somewhere between six and 10 people that work with this person, not just the person’s boss.

That’s the old conventional way, doing a review and filling a form out. That’s one person’s opinion on how that person’s doing. A 360 is anonymous so people can pretty much say what they really feel.

We sit down with everybody once a year and do that. You’ve got to explain that if one person says something, it might have been a bad day. It’s not that important.

If two say something, they’ve got my attention. And three, there’s something either to build on, because we look at strengths, and then we also look at opportunities for improvement. What are you going to change after this review? Do you want to go to a leadership course?

You’ve got to tell the person, ‘Five people say you’re condescending when you’re talking to people. What are you going to do to make yourself more aware that you’re doing that?’ You do a lot of questions on

what they are going to do about it, not how I’m going to fix it for them. They need to fix it.

Say someone doesn’t have good listening skills. So you’ve got to say, ‘OK, how can you improve your listening skills? Why don’t you make believe you’re Columbo? And rather than not letting the person finish and you not listening, ask questions.’

Listening has to improve when you ask someone a question and they’re responding.

How to reach: Advanced Roofing Inc., (800) 638-6869 or www.advancedroofing.com

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

The orientation advantage

When initiating an employee into a corporation, it’s ideal for the new hire to begin contributing as soon as possible. But, is the corporation giving its new hire the resources needed to effectively bring his or her skills to the table? Amidst simple introductions and training, there’s an opportunity for a company to provide a formal orientation on its procedures, policies and culture that can more seamlessly let a new employee hit the ground running.

“Orientation helps new employees become more comfortable in their new environment, which, in the long run, is going to lead to them contributing more quickly,” says Jennifer Wilson, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International.

Robert Half developed a survey in which 87 percent of respondents who received a formal orientation said that it helped them to prepare for success within that corporation.

Smart Business asked Wilson about the steps businesses can take to develop an orientation program and what benefits this kind of training may provide.

What can employees gain from an orientation program?

The more comfortable employees are — knowing more about their position, the organization’s policies, administrative information — the better it allows them to focus on their role versus having to worry about extraneous details. Most importantly, I think it helps employees feel a sense of camaraderie. They feel as if they belong more quickly when they’ve been orientated to their new work environment.

What benefits might an employer see from an orientation program?

Employees who go through orientation can become productive more quickly because they understand what is expected of them and have been given a foundation for success. A formal orientation program also helps boost recruiting efforts. When people are given tools to succeed, they’re going to have a positive impression of the company, which distinguishes the company among job candidates and, in the long run, leads to better employee retention. When members of a company feel as if they’re supported with professional development and goals, they’re more compelled to want to stay with that organization. This, again, leads to a more positive reputation that helps when recruiting.

Who within the company should be responsible for orientation?

An effective orientation program includes contributions from multiple contacts within the company. Representation from senior management is always powerful and shows that professional development is valued at all levels. The direct supervisor of the employee should explain performance expectations and the job description. A human resources representative should be involved with presenting benefits, compensation and company policies. You may also want to have top performers within the company there to share some of their successes.

Why doesn’t every company have a formal orientation program in place?

Some employers might feel as though they’re not able to dedicate the time or resources to develop this type of program. I’ve seen many companies that have a very informal program in place and feel that it’s effective. The more structured an orientation program, the more beneficial it will be.

What expenses can be expected?

It’s a case-by-case scenario. Some companies may have a large global operation where flights and hotel expenses are involved. For a smaller corporation, it may be a once-a-week training session on-site. It’s really dependent on the company’s size and resources.

What are some components of an effective program?

Start off by sharing the company’s mission statement and core values. Talk about the organization’s structure, the industry and its competitors. Discuss job description and performance expectations. The employee handbook and general policies should be covered, as well as anything regarding benefits, vacation time and compensation. Some companies have security clearance issues to explain or even reporting procedures. There should also be an introduction to the company’s key contacts so that if employees need access to information they know whom to approach.

Should orientation cover company culture? the

Absolutely. Some of that may be covered in the mission statement or in a discussion of company’s values. But if your company has large numbers of satellite offices, the culture could be a little different everywhere, and that needs to be covered.

Should orientation be a one-time occurrence or an ongoing process?

The most successful orientation programs are ongoing. The first couple of days may be more of an informational approach, but that should be followed up by a more extensive, formal program that includes ongoing training, perhaps with a mentor or manager. Supervisors need to find a way for employees to receive ongoing guidance — the process

doesn’t end the first week on the job. Spacing things out also prevents staff from becoming overwhelmed with information and helps from a retention and learning standpoint.

JENNIFER WILSON is St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International. Reach her at (314) 621-5260 or jennifer.wilson@rhi.com

Published in St. Louis
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