is it time to lower the bar

Retailers that are willing to settle for second best, get second best.

By Mel Kleiman

I was on the phone recently withthe owner of a chain of Midwesternconvenience stores who said, “It justdoesn’t make any sense for us to eventhink about using pre-employment testingor making our jobs tough to get. We’ve gotto take whatever walks in the door.”

I did my best to set him straight, butit got me thinking that there are probablyplenty of other business owners out theresitting in the same boat, thinking anddoing the same thing. The problem withthis is that if you lower your hiring standardsin response to the tight labor market,you’ll shoot yourself in the foot—and mayend up with a limp for life.

When the going gets tough…

Let me take a page from U.S. businesshistory to make my point. When theGreat Depression of the 1930s hit, manyemerging, national-brand manufacturersslashed advertising expenditures. Someeven stopped advertising all together. Onthe face of it, this seemed sensible. Whypromote your products and services topeople who don’t know if they’ll be ableto put food on the table tomorrow?

There were two exceptions, however.Both the Campbell Soup Co. and Procter& Gamble continued their print advertising presence and even entered into early sponsorship of the first radio programs.

Today, both are household words because they stuck to their game plan in spite of changing circumstances and were well positioned to win the lion’s share of the market during the inevitable economic recovery.

What does this have to do with whom you hire? The point is neither company lowered the bar. While they may have made some adjustments, they stuck to their basic strategies in spite of the circumstances. It’s no different now. Just because there aren’t enough good people walking in your door looking for jobs doesn’t mean you have to hire the next warm body that shows up. This kind of reactionary mindset will only undermine any long-term goals or vision you have for your business, your family and your employees.

The question here is do you want to lead or follow your competition?

Customers Create Revenues, Employees Produce Profits
Let me put it this way: Do you purposely buy second-rate or out-of-date equipment? Would you design a new location to look no better than your competitor’s? If not, then why would you think it’s OK if your staff is second-rate? People who will settle for second best, get second best. What they don’t know and can’t believe is that people who expect the best get what they’re looking for too.

I know you’re probably thinking, “But our staff is just as good as anyone else’s.” Well, that’s okay if you just want to survive this month or even this year. But where’s the joy in a slow, painful death? Especially when it takes so little effort to create an enterprise that thrives. You just need to have a vision, some principles or standards you won’t violate no matter what, and then do a few things a little better than the competition.

The best way to ensure your success is to do a better job of hiring than they do. In a Fortune survey of most admired companies, “the single best predictor of overall excellence was a company’s ability to attract, motivate and retain talented people.” Just look at the people who are most respected in the industry—the Sheetz, Wawas and QuikTrips of the world.

Another objection I often hear to my “hire tough” philosophy is that store managers won’t buy in to it because they don’t have enough time or they think they’re doing the best they possibly can right now.

When anyone—your spouse, one of your kids or a store manager—won’t do what you’d like them to, it’s because they don’t understand what’s in it for them. If you corner or command them to do it, they’ll pretend to cooperate, but will do a sloppy job of it.

This is pretty typical human behavior, so if you want someone to do something new or differently, you’d better take the time to explain what they stand to gain. You can no longer use “because I said so” as a reason for anything. It’s futile and, if you do, in the end, the inmates end uprunning the institution. In the case of hiring better employees, you’d think it wouldbe obvious to store managers that the bettertheir staff, the easier their own jobs become,but it’s not.

You don’t have to create a complexspreadsheet to realize that employee turnovererodes profits and morale. We alsoknow now that there’s a strong correlationbetween employee retention and customerretention. What do you think happens thenwhen you hire the next warm body thatwalks in the door?

The greatest cause of employee turnoverisn’t the tight labor market, corporatedownsizing or career advancement. AHarvard University study found that thevast majority of employee turnover, nearly80%, is due to hiring mistakes. How manymore mistakes are you likely to make, howmany mistakes can you continue to affordto make, and what effect will it have on theorganization’s future if you lower the bar?

Your competition can, will and has copiedyour most successful products, servicesand store configurations. The only uniquepoint of difference you can rely on is yourpeople, so you need to select them as carefullyas you would a new location or capitalequipment.

First, spell out your “purchasing” specifications.What are the basic mental andphysical capacities required to do the job?Which personal attitudes and personalitytraits characterized the best employee youever had? That’s what to look for. (And,whenever possible,hire for the attitudesyou need and trainfor skills.)

Once you knowexactly what you’relooking for, justlike a good purchasingagent, youshould use everypossible resource.Ask for referralsfrom employees,customers and vendors.Advertise onjob boards, on yourWebsite and in thelocal newspapers.(If you would likea list of over 100places to find greatpeople, email mkleiman@humetrics.com.)Call the good peoplewho used to workfor you and see ifthey might wantto come back. (Theworst they could sayis “no,” and thenyou can ask if theyknow of anyone elsewho might be interested.) If you alwaysneed new people, put in a 24-hour job hotlineor an in-store employment kiosk, signup for job fairs, rent a billboard, work withlocal schools or create a radio jingle.

Taking Precautions
The heart and soul of an effectiveand efficient employee selection systemis a series of simple, logical steps thatensure better hiring decisions and reduceemployee turnover:

1. A telephone prescreen determines ifapplicants meet the most basic hiring criteria.There’s no point in taking the time to seeanyone who can’t work the shifts requiredor doesn’t have reliable transportation.

2. For those who pass the pre-screen,use the appropriate tests to determine ifapplicants meet the rest of your requirements.The first tests are for the requiredskills and capacities. Is the applicant smartenough and strong enough? If yes, then useprofessional, reliable attitude and personalitytests to screen in the best.

3. Those who make the cut are the peopleworthy of an interview and the interviewerswho get the best results use structuredinterview question sets. By asking everyapplicant the same questions every time,they’re able to compare apples-to-applesand make the best hiring decisions. Createyour own or buy one you can customize toyour needs.

4. The last step is to check references andrun background and credit checks to confirmthat what you’ve seen so far is reallywhat you’ll get.

That’s it in a nutshell. Know what yourlooking for and don’t lower the bar—yourfuture depends on it.


Certified Speaking Professional Mel Kleimanis an internationallyrec
ognized consultant,author and speaker/trainer on strategiesfor finding and keepingthe best hourlyemployees. He is thepresident of Humetrics,a leading developerof systems, training processes, and tools forrecruiting, selecting and retaining the besthourly workforce. Kleiman is the author of fivebooks, including the best-selling “Hire Tough,Manage Easy.” For more information, visitwww.kleimanhr.com or call (713) 771-4401.

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