Fred Potthoff grows Kroff Inc. through hiring motivationally fit talent in his business

Fred Potthoff, Co-Founder and Co=Owner, Kroff Inc.

Fred Potthoff, Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Kroff Inc.

Twenty-five years ago, Fred Potthoff and his partner took out a $300,000 line of credit to start their own company. Potthoff backed his half by putting up his house and his retirement savings, and from that moment, it was a race against time to see if he and his partner could sell enough before running out of money.

Fast forward to today, and the company they started, Kroff Inc., a leading water and wastewater treatment and recycling services company, has more than 80 employees, eight different businesses under the Kroff name and annual revenue of more than $50 million. Potthoff’s entrepreneurial gamble paid off, and today, he isn’t stressed about making enough money to survive but rather about finding the right talent to keep the company at the top of its game.

“We are a bottom-up run organization, and we go by the philosophy of hiring bright, creative, entrepreneurial people and giving them the right tools. Then we get out of their way to let them flourish,” Potthoff says.

Even with the company’s eight different businesses, Potthoff has remained an integral part of its hiring process and ensuring that great talent enters the company.

“Some people are surprised when they talk to me first, second or third in the organization as one of the original owners,” Potthoff says. “I tell them, ‘This is the single most important thing that I do in the course of my workweek or month.’”

Since Kroff’s inception in 1988, the company has experienced an average of 24 percent growth every year. The attention to his company’s hiring process, which he calls motivational fit, is what Potthoff focuses on to make sure Kroff Inc. will continue to grow.

Here is how Potthoff hires the best available talent.

 

Find the best fit

Kroff Inc. has seen some incredible growth over the years and that success is a direct result of the people Potthoff has been able to hire. In fact, each of the organization’s eight businesses started with ideas from sales associates.

“Aside from the original company, my partner and I didn’t come up with any of the other ideas,” Potthoff says. “It was people in our organization coming to us and us listening to them and running with that idea.”

When Potthoff interviews candidates, he is interested in trying to spark that kind of enthusiasm and interest in the company.

“It doesn’t mean that everybody who comes here is going to run their own company, but it’s part of our culture,” he says. “People who fit in well here think that way and look for opportunities. When we interview, the key is looking for that kind of person, so we’ve all been trained in behavioral interviewing and that’s an important component of trying to identify the right person.”

Behavioral interviewing is a key component at Kroff because when the company was first started, Potthoff put a lot of stock into resumes and conventional interviewing. While resumes can provide wonderful statistics about how much somebody sold or how many new accounts they created and a lot of facts and figures, they aren’t as effective at finding the best fit as behavioral interviewing.

“In behavioral interviewing, you get into specific examples and you try to drill down and mine for a number of examples where they’ve shown an attribute in the past,” Potthoff says. “If they say they have an entrepreneurial bent, you say, ‘Give me an example of when you demonstrated this in your past job.’

“Whatever the attribute is, we want specific examples where they’ve done it before and they can tell us a clear story about why they have that talent and where they manifested it.

“It’s a more difficult interview process because often they have to think and dig down to find an example, but that’s what you want. Then you know you’re getting the right person if they can give you a lot of examples where they have demonstrated this capability before.”

While this technique of interviewing has resulted in strong employees for Kroff, it isn’t without its drawbacks.

“Behavioral interviewing is a challenge; you have to sit and wait sometimes for the person to think of examples because you want them to give you very specific, very concrete examples,” he says. “So the interviewing process takes a little patience whenever the candidate is in front of you.”

In Kroff’s case, the company hires a lot of sales engineers, and one of the first challenges is finding an outstanding chemical engineer who wants to have a career in sales.

“Sometimes it’s mixing oil and water, and we’re often looking for personality attributes that aren’t in one person,” he says.

Another challenge is where to find the best talent. The best candidates may be the passive candidates, not the ones shopping their resume around.

“They are the ones who are successful who are doing a great job wherever they are,” Potthoff says. “To try to get their attention sometimes is difficult.”

The third thing Kroff does to find good talent is to check references or see if someone has worked with that person before.

“If you depend on the interview process and the resume, it’s more of a crapshoot,” he says. “If you can find somebody in your organization or get references from reliable people who have worked with the person, then your chance of having success with that person is greater.”

To overcome these challenges and have help in the search process for talented employees, Kroff often utilizes the services of recruiters.

“We’ve picked two or three that we work with and we bring them in to our office and try to educate them to make sure they understand exactly what we’re looking for, because when you’re dealing with recruiters, they’ll often throw resumes at you in hopes you’re going to hire somebody,” he says.

“It is important to invest some time with the recruiter and say, ‘This is exactly what we’re looking for, and don’t send us anybody else.’”

 

Translate talent into success

While a company’s success can benefit greatly from its products or services, Potthoff believes his hiring techniques and the talent he has been able to bring in are the true difference makers.

“You can have the best products in the world and you can have the best computer software and order entry, but it really comes down to quality people,” Potthoff says. “The key component of our success is that we’ve been very fortunate for the most part in hiring great people.”

Another key component of Kroff’s success has been that Potthoff has done a good job of listening to ideas.

“It’s one thing to give lip service to somebody, but if somebody comes to you with a good, creative idea, you can’t summarily dismiss it because maybe you tried it before or it seems a little harebrained,” he says. “You have to be willing to listen and trust the people, and if you think it’s a great idea, be willing to move and invest in it. When you do that, the culture responds to it.”

A lack of listening is one of the biggest mistakes many companies make.

“I don’t think many companies listen well enough to the people in the field who have their fingers on the pulse,” Potthoff says. “If you’ve hired the right people, they’re closer to the action and the opportunities than somebody sitting up in a corporate office somewhere.

“I’ve seen it in the past where some vice president comes up with an idea about what market the company should go after. It may be a brilliant idea, but oftentimes, it’s not. I think you are better served by getting intelligent, creative people and listening to them when they come to you with a market opportunity, because they’re in a better position in a lot of ways to see opportunities.”

To incorporate this kind of thinking into your organization you have to make the behavior part of your company’s culture.

“View company meetings and company culture as a meritocracy, which is the way we look at it,” he says. “In other words, if we are in a manager’s meeting, I set the tone for the meeting. It’s not myself and my business partner pontificating about where the company is headed and what we’re going to do.

“When you present ideas, everybody has to chime in with what they think the best idea is, and we will hash it out here and the best idea will rise to the top.”

This mentality is an easy thing to say, but it’s a hard thing to accept because you have to set your ego aside and listen to comments and criticism.

“That’s where some entrepreneurs and business owners go array because they are so vested in the company,” Potthoff says. “The way they got the company off the ground is the right way to do it, and it’s hard for them sometimes to hear somebody criticize it. It is vital to stay vibrant and alive, so you have to listen to the new people that you bring in.” ●

How to reach: Kroff Inc., (412) 321-9800 or www.kroff.com  

 

Takeaways:

Be involved in the hiring process.

Utilize resources to help you find the best talent.

Once you have the talent use it to grow your business.

 

The Potthoff File

 

Fred Potthoff

Co-founder and co-owner

Kroff Inc.

 

Born: Latrobe, Pa.

Education: He attended Shippensburg University and got a bachelor of science degree in business.

 

What was your very first job?

I was a lifeguard in the town of Latrobe. It was a great summer job.

 

What is some business advice you would give to others?

The bulk of my time in business has been in specialty chemical sales … and if you graphed how much time I spend listening and how much time I spend talking, I probably listen 75 percent of the time and talk 25 percent of the time. For anybody in business, that is a good ratio. You can learn a lot more and get a lot more accomplished if you use that ratio to build your business and career.

 

Who do you admire in business?

Andrew Carnegie.

 

If you could have a conversation with someone from the past or present, who would you want to speak with?

I’m a history buff, so there are a lot of people that I’ve read about over the years that I’m intrigued with. Out of the Founding Fathers, I think the most fascinating person to speak with would be Thomas Jefferson. I think he is one of the most brilliant people that I have ever read about, and how fortunate we were to have him as one of the founding fathers.

 

What are you looking forward to in the future of your business?

What excites me now and what motivates me is watching people underneath me do well personally and professionally.

Home Depot to hire 10,000 more seasonal workers in spring

ATLANTA, Wed Feb 6, 2013 — Home Depot Inc. said it will hire 10,000 additional seasonal workers for its key spring selling season as it sees higher sales growth during the period.

The home-improvement retailer said it will hire 80,000 seasonal workers this year, 14 percent more than it hired last year.

Home improvement chains such as Home Depot and Lowe’s Cos. Inc. and retailers selling home goods and furnishings see higher sales during the spring season as people start to rebuild their homes after the cold winter.

The uptick in the U.S. housing market is also benefiting home improvement chains.

Shares of Home Depot closed at $66.39 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

How to focus on building future relationships, even if you aren’t hiring

Sarah Finch, Business development manager, The Daniel Group

Many businesses may have taken a step back from hiring, especially when faced with uncertainty from the fiscal cliff changes, health care reform and overall budget costs.

However, Sarah Finch, business development manager at The Daniel Group, says even if you’re not hiring right now that doesn’t mean you should lose track of planning for the future.

“The current landscape of your business environment may not dictate adding to your work force, but it’s important to be proactive and plan accordingly with a staffing company if that’s the route you choose to go,” she says. “Communication is key so be very open and honest with your staffing company. They can help save you time and money by creating a plan that fits your budget and then sourcing qualified candidates to stay within that budget.”

Smart Business spoke with Finch about how to create long-term relationships so your staffing representative is always aware of your company’s hiring needs and can build a strong candidate pipeline accordingly.

Why should you always be aware of the current talent pool in your industry when planning for future needs?

It is a tough market right now for finding qualified candidates. While the demand for jobs is there, the supply of strong candidates actively seeking new jobs is low. Candidates who are actively seeking new positions move quickly, so forecasting what your future needs may be in advance and discussing that with your staffing representative gives you an advantage when it comes time to hire. Staffing companies will be aware of the current market and supply based on location and industry.

Working with a staffing firm allows communication lines to stay open between the candidate and the client. This can easily prevent losing excellent candidates because of delayed feedback or lack of candidate involvement.

How critical is it to hire quickly? 

It’s imperative to acquire the talent your business needs quickly. Strong job candidates, especially for higher-level positions or with niche industry experience are always in high demand. If the candidate is interviewing elsewhere, he or she is more likely to take another offer if they do not hear a response from the hiring manager in a reasonable amount of time.

Therefore, be open and honest — ‘that position is on hold,’  ‘we’re looking to fill it in two months,’ or ‘the position was canceled or filled by someone else.’ If working with an agency, it can be as simple as letting your representative know the candidate is a top choice, but that the hiring manager isn’t available to make a decision.

What can employers do to leverage the best relationship with their staffing firm?

It goes back to keeping the candidate warm and being open with your staffing firm. Let the staffing company know every step of the hiring process so they can relay the feedback to the candidates. In all aspects, communication is most important. The staffing firm will also try to gain as much information from the candidate to relay back to the client.

Having a relationship with the staffing agency, even if not currently hiring, allows the agency to know your business and what type of people you typically target. Once each division has created its budget, meet with your staffing firm, even if just for a few minutes, to discuss your goals and evaluate your upcoming needs. The agency can work with you to help create different options to build the best candidate pool while staying within budget. Doing this in advance also allows the staffing firm plenty of time to build a strong pipeline specifically for your industry needs.

What if you are unsure of whether your budget allows for the assistance of using a staffing firm?

The staffing agency can discuss alternate options to accommodate your budget, such as hiring a contractor and allowing the agency to cover workers’ compensation, unemployment and benefits. Staffing firms deal with companies of all sizes and budgets so firms will do their best to suit your needs and cut costs simultaneously.

Sarah Finch is business development manager at The Daniel Group. Reach her at (713) 932-9313 or [email protected]

Website: Visit www.danielgroupus.com to access more information on this subject.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group

Wal-Mart plans to hire 100,000 veterans over five years

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Tue Jan 15, 2013 — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said it plans to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the United States over the next five years, a move supported by first lady Michelle Obama.

Most of the veterans will be placed in the company’s stores and clubs, and some will be employed in distribution centers, Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon said in a speech to be to delivered on Tuesday at the National Retail Federation conference.

The retailer will start issuing job offers to veterans from Memorial Day in May. The offers will be given to any honorably discharged veteran within his or her first twelve months off active duty.

“Hiring a veteran can be one of the best business decisions you make … veterans have a record of performance under pressure,” Simon said in the speech, a copy of which was provided to Reuters.

Wal-Mart said in a statement that it had spoken with the White House about the hiring commitment and Michelle Obama’s team had expressed an interest in working with the retailer.

“As our wars come to an end and our troops continue to come home, it’s more important than ever that all of us – not just government, but our businesses and non-profits as well – do our part to serve those who have served us so bravely,” Michelle Obama said in the Wal-Mart statement.

Walmart U.S. is the largest retail chain and the largest private employer in the United States, with about 1.3 million employees.

Terry Cunningham: Hire better, fire faster!

Terry Cunningham, president and general manager, EVault, A Seagate Co.

One of the questions I wished I focused on earlier in my business career is, “How do I ensure my company remains a great place to work?” The answer: You consciously craft its culture.

What is culture? Try to think about your company as a person, with a specific personality. Do you like it?

You may be thinking the personality (culture) of your company happens organically, or that it’s simply an extension of you. Most founders I’ve met start their companies with a strong vision and a passionate belief in what they’re doing.

When a company is small, it often adopts the personality of its leader because the leader is in direct contact with every employee daily. His or her personality is so dominant that it outweighs all others.

But before you know it, you’re on the road to success and it’s time to hire more people to grow your business — and this is when culture can get away from you.

New people bring new attitudes to work that may be different from yours. But in the spirit of working together, accommodations are made to try to keep people happy. Soon, the company isn’t what you imagined. People aren’t handling customers with the same care you would. Going to work every day isn’t fun. You find yourself thinking: How did we get here?

Assessing an individual’s fit is always a challenge. We all want to hire smart, hardworking, creative individuals. A touch of genius is nice too. Yet if you’ve ever hired anyone, you know that the hiring process is tricky. All kinds of personalities show up for interviews. One candidate arrives with an extensive skill set or impressive resume but a questionable work ethic or flat personality. One shows up with a great personality but less-impressive resume. Whom do you hire?

Use the ultimate test

A friend of mine, who had a successful career as a venture capitalist, once told me about an ultimate test he would apply when investing in a company, called the “Toledo Test.” Here is a variation: Imagine a massive snowstorm in Toledo, Ohio, and you and your hiring candidate are stranded. The airport is closed. You must spend the weekend sharing a hotel room with this person while the storm passes.

If the thought of being with this candidate in this situation strikes fear in your heart, do not hire the person. If the thought sounds fun, evoking images of the two of you solving the world hunger problem over a few drinks, then hire the person.

We can’t always accurately assess someone right off the bat, and that’s OK. Mistakes happen.

Admit your errors

The other key to building and maintaining great culture is admitting when you’ve made a mistake and fixing it. The greatest mistake I made in all my years of business was not firing people fast enough. A bad fit negatively affects the business and also the good hires — employees who are killing themselves for the cause, sacrificing family time and vacations while they watch others goof off.

Now some of you may feel this sounds a little harsh. However, I’ve learned that firing a person who is clearly a bad fit is not only good for the company, but it’s good for the individual. Don’t believe me? At a wine tasting in California, I ran into a woman whom I had fired years earlier. Now she owns the beautiful winery and is so much happier.

So the answer to crafting a successful culture is hire better, fire faster. Spend more time finding the right people so you make fewer mistakes hiring. And when you discover you’ve made a bad hire, remove the person as quickly as possible, before they affect the “personality” of your company.

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault Inc., A Seagate Co. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. His accomplishments include serving as president and COO of Veritas Software and founding, building and leading two other successful software companies.

 

How Jim Henry attracts and develops top talent at PwC San Francisco

Jim Henry, managing partner, PwC San Francisco

PricewaterhouseCoopers was biding its time. Like many other professional service firms, the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009 kept the company’s leaders conservative in their people strategies, but they were also waiting and ready for growth to resume. Because when it did, they were ready for it.

“During the recession, we were really focused on retaining the people that we had across the firm, expecting that when things started to turn around and client demand increased, that No. 1, we’d want to make sure that we kept as many folks as we could by avoiding reduction in force during the recession — a big investment,” says Jim Henry, who was PwC’s U.S. client and industry leader before becoming the managing partner of the San Francisco market in 2010. “And then No. 2, coming out of it, we knew that we’d need to significantly build up our resources to match client demand.”

As the new managing partner, Henry walked straight into the hiring blitz. In just 24 months, he helped PwC San Francisco grow its head count from 1,000 to 1,400 people, all while retaining a top team in one of the most competitive talent markets in the country — the Bay Area.

Here’s how Henry builds a team of talent that can serve the needs of PwC’s clients.

Expand your search

At PwC, building a top-performing team starts with the hiring process.

Historically, the firm has been a big recruiter of entry-level employees, using local campus hiring as a primary source of new talent. However, as other Bay Area businesses have rebounded, it’s been more of a struggle to attract enough local students to build out the firm’s advisory, assurance and tax business lines.

“To meet the demand, we’ve really expanded our recruiting network to bring in people from schools outside of the Bay Area,” Henry says.

Today, about half of the firm’s entry-level hires come from outside the Bay Area, a significant change from the past. Companywide, PwC has also opened its campus recruiting programs, which used to target only local accounting graduates, to students from a variety of backgrounds — information systems majors, engineering majors and MBAs.

The firm has also put a greater emphasis on acquiring experienced employees from other companies to help broaden its capabilities in strategic and high-growth areas. And again, it’s achieved better results by taking the search national.
“It’s all about us having the right capabilities to serve clients in the areas of their growth strategy, their operation effectiveness, and making sure that they’ve got efficient and effective risk and compliance processes,” Henry says.

“We prefer to find local people, but given that the Bay Area is a really attractive place right now, how vibrant the economy is and that it’s a very desirable place to live, it’s becoming a bit easier to attract people here from out of the area. So we’re really approaching it as a national search in most of our experienced hiring.”

Today, the company utilizes a combination of internal recruiters and outside search firms to identify experienced hires who would be a good fit with the firm. Still, whether these efforts are local or national, the best recruiting leads tend to come from the firm’s existing employees.

“We’ve asked them through our internal communications, and then offer recruiting referral bonuses to help them identify talent that they think would be a good fit in the firm,” Henry says. “As a result, we’ve had more than 40 percent of our experienced hires come through employee referrals. That’s absolutely the best source.”

Offer helping hands

Just because someone makes it through the screening process doesn’t mean that he or she will have immediate success at your company.

As PwC has hired more people in entry-level positions and management roles, Henry has found that many people need help and support as they integrate into their new job and corporate culture.

“It’s critical that both the new people who join the firm and our existing employees have very clear and frequent feedback about how they’re doing and get the support they need to make sure that they’re successful,” Henry says.

One way the company helps employees adapt to the new environment is by plugging new hires into teams where they can quickly understand what’s expected of them. Working in teams allows people to seek guidance and feedback from more experienced peers, who can also serve as coaches and mentors.

“That’s really key to success,” Henry says. “As people are working in teams they better understand how their background and experience fit together with the rest of our people when they are out serving the needs of our clients.”

It also provides opportunities for different teams to learn about each other’s activities. For example, as it began adding more new people from other companies, the San Francisco office began holding a monthly “meet and greet” for its experienced hires.

“They bring their own lunch and meet at our office in a conference room,” Henry says. “It’s an open door thing for whoever is interested and available just to talk about their backgrounds and share some of what we’re doing in PwC.”

New teams are also encouraged to get to know other teams and find ways to complement their efforts if possible. The company’s new national sustainability team recently visited San Francisco to share its goals and learn how it can incorporate them throughout the firm.

“They’re getting their goals and priorities aligned and then trying to understand how they fit into the rest of the firm, someone who might be doing supply chain consulting or tax advice on moving operations,” Henry says. “Just about everything else that we do in serving our clients could have some element of sustainability. And that can be brought into making sure we’re creating the most value for our clients.”

Give people success models

Of course, offering competitive compensation is an easy way for employers to show people value when they bring them on board. However, long-term retention requires that companies show people an ongoing commitment to their financial and professional sucess.

As more people integrate into the company’s culture, Henry and his partners have looked for new ways to connect them to the goals of the business. One way is by helping diverse talent excel in the organization by having each partner sponsor three diverse individuals in the firm who represent strong leadership abilities.

“The sponsorship piece of it originated in our diversity programs, looking at the goal of trying to have the same diverse mix of talent at our leadership levels as we do at the entry levels,” Henry says. “What we find is with all the best work and coaching and development, we still have attrition for different groups at different career points.”

The sponsorship relationship goes beyond coaching. Each partner serves as a personal advocate for their sponsees, whether it’s by creating opportunities for advancement or nurturing their professional growth.

“That’s reflective of the work that we’re doing to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for people who really demonstrate the leadership abilities,” Henry says.

In addition to prompting positive feedback from clients, PwC’s diversity efforts have earned it the No. 1 spot on Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2012.

Establishing a “milestone rewards” program is another innovative step the firm has taken to show employees their growth potential. The rewards program gives employees special incentives as they rise to different levels within the firm. So a promotion to manager is now accompanied by a large cash payment or an employee who reaches the level of director is rewarded with a brief sabbatical.

“So when you’re promoted, there’s actually something that’s unique to that promotion on top of the normal compensation and reward system,” Henry says. “It’s those kinds of things that change the conversation from comparing dollars to dollars with one job to another to really understanding what people need and value at different points in their career.”

Build a rep

One of the chief reasons that PwC is able to entice experienced hires and new grads to its ranks is its reputation as an enjoyable and attractive workplace. In 2012, the company was named on Fortune’s top 100 best places to work for the eighth consecutive year.

“The really important aspect of people retention to me, aside from all the programs and different focus areas, it’s got to be an environment that people feel connected to, that allows room for innovation and that they can have fun,” Henry says.

Creating an enjoyable workplace requires leaders to be responsive to their people’s needs. Companies that consider options such as flexibility and work-life balance in addition to compensation will have an easier time keeping employees happy long-term.

“Flexibility seems to be the No. 1 issue that comes up as we talk to people in our surveys and direct feedback about areas that they think we can support and help them in their personal and professional career development,” Henry says.

Ask people what they need to be successful in their jobs, and then look for ways to support that, Henry says. PwC has each team work closely with its members to plan for their desired flexibility as they organize client service work. The firm has also adapted certain company policies, such as the flexible summer Fridays program, to account for the way employees want to work.

“Instead of telling people what day we think would be good for them to take off, we’ve now changed it to just say summer ‘flex days,’” Henry says. “Each week everyone should be working with their team, determining what flexibility they would like to have in their work schedule and building that into their team plans. For one person, it might be that they need a Tuesday afternoon off to do something, and for others, it may be a Friday. But that’s got to be something that’s very individual-based.”

Henry knows that another key ingredient in an attractive workplace is an atmosphere where people can let their hair down from time to time. So when it comes to having fun, he is happy to lead by example.

“We’ve done a lot of things here to just put a little humor into work and allow time for people to get together and hear the strategy but also have some celebration and some fun in the process,” he says.

For the firm’s Promotion Day celebration in June, Henry coordinated a celebration at San Francisco’s Port Mason entire office, emceed by an employee who works as a part-time comedian. And when the Giants made it to the World Series several years back, he showed his team that he was more than game for a practical joke.

“Someone got the crazy idea of the Giants wearing beards,” Henry says. “Therefore, I had to have a beard. Even though I didn’t grow one, because I can’t grow a good one, any time I sent out a memo with my picture, my assistant would Photoshop in a beard on it. And then I started wearing fake beards to meetings with our people. We had some real laughs with that.”

In just two years, Henry’s office has added more than 400 new employees, a clear sign that these people strategies are working. But, of course, the number that says the most about the firm’s success is its employee turnover rate.

“Studies generally show that people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses if they go somewhere else,” Henry says.

“We are at record low numbers right now in San Francisco as well as in PwC for voluntary turnover. That’s maybe the best indication considering, in most cases, people vote with their feet.” ●

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers, (415) 498-5000 or www.pwc.com

The Henry File

Jim Henry
Managing partner
PwC San Francisco

Born: Pontiac, Mich., and grew up in San Diego
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from San Diego State University

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

Working in an emerging technology company.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

Working out in the morning — after my first cup of coffee!

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? 

I enjoy surfing.

What do you do for fun?

My wife and I entertain a lot at our house, and she is teaching me how to cook.

What are best pieces of advice you’ve gotten in your career?

First, as a leader you’ve got to have a clear vision of what’s important. And by that I’d start with what really are your values. What are you really trying to accomplish from a broader mission perspective? Then agree with your team on a few things that for the next year are most important that you are trying to accomplish. Consistently reinforce that in communication and monitor progress. The other thing I’d say is always be thinking about creating opportunities for people who may be your successor down the road.

How careful attention to screening can produce stronger hires

Lisa Deramo, branch manager, The Daniel Group

An effective screening process tailored to each job opening can help eliminate candidates who are unsuitable for a position early in the hiring process and minimize hiring mistakes. And in today’s sluggish economic environment, the process of pre-screening applicants is more critical than ever.

Lisa Deramo, branch manager at The Daniel Group, says taking the time to create individualized assessments is worth the effort.

“You need to be thorough with your interview questions and your screening process,” she says. “Make sure you’re setting somebody up for an assessment or pre-employment test based on the kind of job for which the person is applying.”

Smart Business spoke with Deramo about the importance of assessing a job applicant’s skills, knowledge and personality through testing.

Why should employers use pre-employment assessments?

Tests and other selection procedures screen applicants by gauging skill levels, which helps determine the most qualified candidate for a particular job. A number of assessment tools can be used, including cognitive and personality tests, medical exams, and credit and criminal background checks.

Pre-employment assessments are important for high-skill jobs such as machinists or welders in the manufacturing and oil and gas industries. A welder applicant, for example, might be required to take a welding test and demonstrate his or her ability to read a blueprint. For other jobs, such as receptionist, the applicant should take a software test to prove they can utilize common programs like Excel.

How should the interviewer approach the interview?

As an interviewer, you should tailor your interview questions to each candidate and ask probing questions. It’s important to investigate any gaps in the resume and discover the applicant’s exact experience. For example, if the job opening is for a machinist, it’s important to determine what kinds of products or materials the applicant has worked on.

In addition, look at the candidate’s social skills, personal presentation and other contextual factors while the interview is being conducted. How are they presenting their self? Are they twitching or not making eye contact? Are they outgoing or just sitting back as if they don’t care?

If an inexperienced employee is doing the hiring, it is a good idea have an experienced mentor help throughout the process and possibly sit in on the interview.

How essential are testing or screening measures?

They are important and are commonly used to screen out unsuitable applicants and minimize hiring mistakes. You might do drug and personality testing as well as aptitude and integrity tests. It’s worth taking the time to create the best tests for the job opening.

With aptitude tests, it’s a good idea to have job applicants take both written and performance exams. For example, if the job requires driving a forklift, applicants should be qualified by a skills test, where they’re asked to successfully perform certain commonly used maneuvers, and a written forklift safety test. It’s surprising how many applicants aren’t as strong on the forklift as they claim to be, which can be shown by how they do with the safety questions.

Personality testing is used a lot. Does it make much of a difference?

Personality testing can make a difference. Maybe you’ve got a number of quiet people working in an office and then someone with a strong, dominant personality comes in, making a big impact.

The personality tests are customized, based on what you’re looking for, and give an indication of how people will likely work with each other. Outside sales is a good position for employers to apply that type of test because it can offer clues as to how successful a candidate is going to be.

Lisa Deramo is a branch manager with The Daniel Group. Reach her at (713) 455-6600 or [email protected]
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How paying attention during downturns can improve results in boom periods

Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO, M/A/R/C Research

Everyone knows the economy has been challenging, difficult, irritating and many other things in the past few years. When did it start to affect your enterprise? When did you start feeling business was a little soft? For us at M/A/R/C Research, it was July 2008. The interesting thing for me is that was more than four years ago.

In my opinion, the last four years have been the most difficult that my generation of business executives will ever face. Since I always wanted to be a professional athlete, I think of this environment as my seventh game of the World Series, my Super Bowl, my NBA final.

In some ways, this is my quest. There is no better way to see how good you are as a business executive, strategist, leader or motivator than to see the results you have had during the current economy.

I also believe there have been tremendous lessons during this time. Here are a few I wanted to share with you.

1. Don’t hire ahead of the curve. I have made this mistake more than once. This volatile economy has taught me many things and at the top of the list is this one. I don’t want any of our staff working 60 hours a week consistently, but occasionally, this type of extra effort will be needed.

Before we have traction with a new strategy or a new revenue stream, we need to find a way to use internal resources. Once the revenue starts to roll in, then we can add staff — not before.

2. You have a new best friend. Not everyone wants or needs a new best friend, but this is one everyone should have. I am actually not talking about a person; your new best friend is LinkedIn. You need to be a power user and understand all the benefits associated with this amazing tool.

LinkedIn is the single most important business tool I use daily. With industry contacts changing jobs frequently, it’s critical to stay in touch and know where they are. LinkedIn is the largest business database that exists, and the basic version is free.

3. You need to be relevant. You need to be relevant to your staff, your clients and the industry you are in. If you aren’t relevant to your staff or clients, they eventually will leave.

You need to be considered an innovator or thought leader in your industry. If you are, this will give you a tremendous lift over your competitors and protect you during economic declines.

4. Don’t let clients pigeonhole you. This is one of the more painful mistakes that companies make. When we have senior leadership meetings and discuss clients and partnerships, our team gets confused with longevity as a core reason they consider a client a partner.

Longevity is great with any given client, but if they are using only one of your services or think of you for only one solution even though you sell 10, are they really a partner? I say no, and we have changed our thinking and spent months strategizing about increasing revenue with current clients and expanding our service offerings to them. And, thankfully, it has worked.

5. Expect the unexpected. What are you going to do when your largest client has a layoff? Or you lose a significant amount of business to a small competitor? Or your top salesperson leaves? All of these things are real. They can happen. Are you prepared? Do you have a solution ready that you could implement quickly? If not, sudden events like this could cost you a lot of money.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of Dallas-based M/A/R/C Research, one of the top 25 market research companies in the United States. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than six years. He can be reached at [email protected] or (972) 983-0416.

How to keep your younger workers engaged and on the job longer

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO, Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght

The average American worker today stays at his or her job for less than four years, while millennials, also known as Generation Y’ers (those born between 1977 and 1997), are leaving in a fraction of that time. Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to stay in a job fewer than three years, and the average is eight to 12 months.

New data reveals that a lack of longevity with one company has no effect on length of stay at the next, so the old stereotype of “Once a job-hopper, always a job-hopper” is becoming less relevant to employers, possibly debunking workers’ fears of not being offered new work just because their lengthy resumes are littered with short-stint positions.

As an employer, you obviously want to keep turnover among workers low. Losing workers after a mere year means wasted time and resources invested on recruiting, training and development. Millennials with high expected potential to perform are especially precious to keep around, even more so than workers with proven achievements in key positions such as engineering.

So how do you prevent millennials and other workers from leaving your company quickly? Try the following:

  • Hire well initially. The economy has made every open position look tempting to a wide array of job seekers. Even if your company’s applicant tracking system successfully weeds out over- or underqualified candidates efficiently, some workers who aren’t the right fit inevitably make it through.

To keep high-potential millennials and other workers at your company, ensure you’re hiring the right people first. Use video interviews to broaden your search efforts geographically and to better establish an accurate feel for potential workers, all while saving time and money.

  • Embody values. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 58 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to take a 15 percent pay cut in order to work for a company that has values similar to their own.

To keep high-potential millennials at your company, do more than just hand employees a list of the company’s values on day one; actually embody the values day in and day out and reward employees who do the same.

  • Encourage communication. If today’s social marketing campaigns illustrate one thing, it’s that consumers enjoy engaging in open conversation.

Likewise, employees, especially millennials, appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and opinions openly in the workplace. To keep high-potential millennials at your company, encourage open two-way communication among all employees through various channels.

  • Integrate technology. Millennials are stereotypically the most tech- and digital-savvy generation in history. In fact, Gen Y’ers are prioritizing acquiring the latest smartphone or tablet above purchasing a car.

To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, demonstrate your company’s desire to be a technology leader by implementing the latest technology, beginning with video interviews in the hiring process.

  • Offer flexibility. More young workers in industries that don’t demand in-office face time prefer to do their work outside the office, according to a recent Detroit News article. And for Gen Y’ers in industries where face time is required, flexible hours can be more important than high salaries.

To keep your high-potential Gen Y’ers around, try to offer more workplace flexibility. If more schedule and telecommuting flexibility isn’t possible at your company, see the next tip.

  • Ask for input. Assuming that Gen Y’ers at your company want holiday gift baskets or other outdated employee perks that won’t inspire gratitude will have them running out the door before their first year is up. To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, ask what benefits they want to receive or take inspiration for employee benefits from other companies with cool perks.
  • Offer training. Information today is doubling every 18 months. By some estimations, that means workers need to recover a quarter of their college education every five years just to keep up with industry standards.

To retain Gen Y’ers value and keep them at your company, offer training opportunities for workers to learn new and refreshed information and knowledge. Your company can even offer education benefits for Gen Y’ers itching to return to the classroom.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at [email protected]

How to build strong global teams to enhance your prospects for success

Sang Yook, Chief Strategy Officer, CorFire

The U.S. Army briefly used the slogan “An Army of One” for its recruiting efforts. While I can’t speak to its effectiveness, I’d argue that the slogan goes against the principles for building and growing a global organization.

There’s a Korean proverb that states, “A kitchen knife can’t carve its own handle.” To me, this means that even the strongest leaders often need help from others. For a growing global corporation, strong collaboration is even more critical. In my role as chief strategy officer, I need to work with employees at every level to garner insights into areas where I may not have the experience they do. This provides a different perspective and builds a more positive environment in which everyone feels and acts like a true stakeholder.

For my last article of the year, I’d like to focus on the most critical component for corporations looking to grow globally: teamwork. This year’s Summer Olympics provided a lot of metaphors for the business world, including the importance of building strong teams. The daily life lessons include overcoming obstacles and how to find success, even in loss.

While CorFire understands the importance of individualism and innovation, the team approach is, for us, a better workplace model as it strengthens inventiveness and provides employees with access to a wider array of insights and ideas that help move our business forward.

But it can be challenging to build functional teams across geographic locations or offices. Sometimes this is because of real issues such as time differences or language barriers. In other instances, however, employees may simply not see the value of working closely with a peer with whom they don’t have frequent interaction.

Promote process

To get employees on board, management needs to communicate the value of building well-designed teams. The goal of establishing a team approach within a corporation goes beyond creating good will among co-workers. Although a positive environment is one upside, it is not realistic or practical to believe everyone will get along equally and that a workplace will be free of disagreements.

The ultimate goal is to build better products and deliver better service than your competitors. To do this, successful organizations take a pragmatic approach to building teams by looking at employees’ skill sets, personalities, and strengths and weaknesses. By building processes around the teamwork philosophy, a company factors the broader organization into decisions such as hiring and restructuring.

I liken this process to a sports team’s recruiting decisions. The smart teams look to complement their core players in skill sets and personalities. In some cases, talent trumps all, but team chemistry and the ability of a player to work within the system need to be weighed heavily.

Get personal

As companies become more global, they may want to implement personality tests or behavioral assessments as part of their hiring and team-structuring processes. There are a variety of tests available, and many do not require a lot of financial or time investment from the company, its employees or its prospective hires.

These assessments do more than ensure that organizations hire the right people; they also help companies build efficient teams in which the people mesh well and build on each other’s strengths.

Keep doors open

While an open-door policy may not be practical every working hour in every organization, the overarching philosophy is a good strategy for companies as they grow and build teams.

By encouraging communication and feedback, employees can share issues that need to be addressed before they boil up and become a serious problem. Even better, employees can discuss their views on what is working well within the organization so management can do more of it.

Work hard, play hard

I don’t think CorFire employees will be walking over hot coals any time soon as a way to build stronger teams or individual confidence. However, we strive to provide an environment where employees can have fun inside and outside the office.

Activities are not always formal. They include signing up a group of employees to attend a business or association luncheon. More formal “fun” activities such as employee cookouts are another way to help employees learn more about each other in a stress-free environment.

Look at the dynamics of your company to determine what optional activities will generate excitement in your workplace and enable your organization to “be all it can be.” <<

Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.