Small business: SMEs hiring staff - Clare Parkes

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Clare Parkes, CEO Clarian Human Resources which works with business owners and HR professionals to maximise their people resources through challenge, development and change

Clare Parkes, Director for Clarian Human Resources.
Clare Parkes, Director for Clarian Human Resources.

Is hiring your first few employees frightening for new business owners? They feel that they are entrusting their baby to someone new. How should they get over this?

Hiring your first few employees is daunting. I've been there - you suddenly have salaries to pay and you will come last in the queue! Plus you have obligations, not least of which you are giving someone else a 'free reign' within your business which might result in damaging customer relationships or not getting product orders out on time.

It is a big step to take on the obligations of being an employer, but once you're in it, it's not too difficult as long as you take them seriously. Making the decision to do this though, needs to come from your business strategy even if the strategy is a few bullet points. Are you taking on the risk and cost too early, or is the timing right for investment? At some stage, if you want growth, you need to make the call. You need to see it as an investment just as you might with equipment or software or time spent on securing a contract or a customer.

Be really clear about the behaviours that are important to you and make sure you check their behaviour and personality with the referees you speak with. Don't be shy, it's an investment that you can't get out of easily. Make sure you confront any concerns and take a second opinion from someone you trust.

When interviewing, should you appoint on personality and fit first and skills
second? And should you have someone sit in on the interview to holding you to your goals?

Recruitment is an interesting and hotly debated subject - does the fit or skill come first? You could argue that if they don't have some of the fundamental skills, what's the point of interviewing them? Others will argue that fit is more important and the skills can be taught. Each company will have their own philosophy in this regard.

If it's skill and knowledge, then often the best person to ascertain that is the hiring manager unless it is a widely understood skill or can be easily established through a series of well defined questions. If it's fit, this can relate to a number of things, and often the HR professional is better equipped to identify these. This may include things such as the company values, their behaviour under pressure, their response to different scenarios, personalities, leadership styles and ways of working.

Generally, these things are difficult to pin down exactly with one or two well scripted questions. They take interpretation of the answers, connecting the dots from one answer to the next, and knowing the people and environment within which they will operate. This is often where managers can become unstuck, because whilst they may claim they know their culture, values and people, they may not have the sixth sense or ability to connect all the dots. Having someone else in the room with them - be it another manager or an HR professional can help.

Undertaking behavioural interviewing where you ask questions relating to the types of behaviours you want someone to demonstrate, is a safe way of establishing fit, and there are plenty of examples of how to do this on the web.

When you are helping a small business with their first round of hiring, what do you sit down and talk to them about?

It's really important to have the need well defined. Often, managers can hire in a knee jerk way to ensure a warm body is in place as quickly as possible. This can come back to bite them, and so understanding what is needed is critical. It's useful to challenge assumptions and not just look for an easy fix. Next, it's important to understand where these skills and knowledge might come from - it might be a wider net than you think.

Also, we talk about budget and how much we can afford and what this might buy in the market - have salaries changed since last we appointed someone into this role? We might also ask what would appeal about this job to a candidate, and where might they look for the opportunity - will they already be in a job that they're happy with, or just browsing?

Another way of looking at this of course, is understanding whether there is anyone already in the business that could possibly take on the role - if so, where are they, what would it take to release them of their current responsibilities and how can we make sure there is a transition period with the old incumbent?

What should business owners be looking for in their first true employees?

When looking for your first employees, I often think of some behaviours and ways of working that I like to call "the price of admission" - these are those things that are non- negotiable. If the candidates can't demonstrate some evidence of these, then they're not going to be successful; and this can be for almost any type of job.

Customer Focus: Dedicated to meeting the expectations and requirements of external and internal customers; talks and acts with customers in mind; establishes and maintains effective relationships.

Integrity and trust: Is widely trusted as a direct and truthful individual; keeps confidences; admits and is accountable for mistakes; exemplifies your values during good and tough times.

Priority setting; Values time; quickly zeros in on the critical few and puts the trivial many aside; quickly senses what will help or hinder accomplishing a goal; creates focus.

Real time learning; learns quickly when facing new problems; open to change; enjoys the challenge of unfamiliar tasks.

Results orientation: Commits to aggressive goals and achieves them; holds self and others accountable for results; decisive; passionate about the business.

Teamwork and collaboration: Actively supports one company philosophy; purposefully collaborates to achieve business goals; creates an energizing morale.

What should you be communicating to prospective employees?

When talking about your business to potential candidates, you should be honest about the environment, the tasks you will be asking them to complete and the team within which they will work. If you misrepresent things, you won't get the sustained engagement from them as you would like. It is easy to get passionate about your business in the early days, but you need to be clear about where you are at and what the new employee can expect - often hard work and demanding deadlines. If they shy away from this, then they're not the right person - be okay with that!

In the cases of some fast growing SMEs, they can suddenly get funding to hire a large number of employees at one time. How do they manage this with both their existing employees and the "on-boarding" of the new ones?

If you suddenly find yourself needing to hire a large number of people; the best advice is to get help! The sourcing and onboarding of new hires can be challenging even for the experts, so don't try to do this alone. However, some tips would be:

• Don't let the recruitment activity take over your ability to engage with your current staff otherwise you might need to hire more than you expected!

• It's important that the personalities fit together well - so again, take a second opinion, have the team meet with the potential employees before you make a decision, reference them well

• When you've made your choice, make sure you induct and orientate them to your business well; don't devalue your investment by not giving them the knowledge they need to do their job well (you wouldn't do that if you'd just bought software or equipment)

• Allow the new employee to have a balance in their first couple of months; learning about the business and the job with delivering something that is worthwhile and gives them confidence they can achieve in the role you've appointed them to.

Next week: You would think that any company which has fast growth has nothing to complain about. But sometimes very fast growth can bring a business to its knee if they don't have the systems in place and the advisers on hand. Tell us if you have had the good fortune to be in this situation and survive.

- NZ Herald

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