Earlier this year, Intertech was named one of the 30 Best Places to Work in Technology in America by Fortune magazine, a top work place in Minnesota by Minnesota Business magazine, and this Sunday a Top Workplace in Minnesota by the Star Tribune newspaper. My thanks to our super-dedicated employees and loyal customers for making us possible.
You probably would not casually throw seeds on the ground, walk away and expect an award-winning garden to pop up in a few weeks. The smart gardener provides good soil, fertilizer and water, and checks in regularly to pull weeds and prop up plants that need a little extra support.
Gardening provides a good metaphor for bringing a new employee into your organization. Here are my top three tips for helping new hires to thrive (which you can read more about in my book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership”):
Set the tone quickly
Newly inaugurated U.S. presidents seek to make a significant mark within their first 100 days in office. That’s important because first impressions matter. In the case of new employees, the first few months are critical in determining whether he or she becomes a valued, long-term employee.
You can begin setting the tone before your new hire’s first day: send flowers with a note of welcome within one week of his or her acceptance. Then send an email explaining what to expect during the first week, about one week before the person’s start date.
The first week on the job is crucial. Take time to explain your company’s history in a personal way, such as over lunch with a few of the employee’s new colleagues. Focus on how the employee fits into your firm’s future and your confidence in him or her.
Check in regularly
I recommend informal check-ins with new employees at 30, 60 and 90 days. Use these conversations to ask how things are going and to determine if the employee understands what he or she should be doing. We always ask if the person needs any training or additional tools, and if there is anything else that might help him/her be more effective. Check-ins usually result in “all is well” comments, but they show employees you are committed to their success and, in rare cases, enable you to catch problems before they get out of control.
Remember that gardener waiting for his seeds to grow? It’s a similar process with new people. It takes time to learn a new environment and hit the “sweet spot” where a person is working optimally. In the meantime, be patient and encouraging. And remind them that “a person who never makes a mistake never makes anything at all.”
In my book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, I devote seven chapters to the hiring process. Why so much focus on something so basic? As Sherlock Holmes might note, “It’s elementary.”
Without great people you cannot build a great company. People are at the heart of everything we do and they are central to client satisfaction. So avoid the temptation to hire quickly. While hasty hires may seem like a simple solution in the short term, you’ll end up spending more time and money in the long run. I’ve learned it the hard way: employees hired in a hurry rarely make a good fit. We use a proven hiring process at Intertech, which includes:
- Hire slowly – take time to thoroughly vet your candidates. If you’re wowed by someone’s technical prowess but concerned about his or her honesty or attitude, don’t risk it (more about this in my next post).
- Consistently ask all candidates the same questions – to ensure the best hiring result, use consistent questions that all candidates must answer. You’ll find it will be much easier to compare candidates if you have an apples-to-apples set of responses.
- Vary the setting with interviewing candidates multiple times – for example, if the potential employee will have substantial client contact or need to interact with top management, take him or her to lunch to observe social skills and table manners.
- Involve multiple people from your organization – at Intertech, the final in-person interview includes meeting with two of our employees for a team interview.
- Use LinkedIn to learn more about any candidates that you may be seriously considering – this is a good way to find common connections, which may help you learn more about candidates from people you already know and trust.
- Always check references and ask open-ended questions,– it’s easy to let emotions, especially positive ones, tempt you to skip your due diligence before offering a job to someone who appears ideal. Don’t yield to this temptation. Always call the candidates three or four most recent employers or clients and ask questions that get the real story. Ask, “What did Bill do?” instead of, “Bill said he was a project manager who oversaw 20 employees. Is this true?” Open-ended questions ensure that you will get a more complete and accurate description of the candidate’s past responsibilities and performance.
Teamwork makes the dream work or as we say at Intertech, “One Team, One Dream”
Last time I shared Intertech’s hiring process (which you can read about in detail in my new book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”) But that was only half of the story. In my next several posts I’ll share my philosophy about how to select top performers and, most importantly, your role in ensuring that they thrive once they come on board.
Why only hire the most accomplished professionals? It takes time and patience to find and recruit top performers. Yet it’s a substantial investment that pays for itself over time. Companies that settle for mediocre employees experience eroding profit margins since lower pricing is their only competitive advantage.
It pays to be picky. In the world of Information Technology (IT), a top programmer is 100 times more productive than someone who rates at the bottom of a 10-point scale. Research (Bryan 2012) and my own experience back up this audacious claim.
Not surprisingly, top performers are not easy to find or recruit. They’re usually contentedly employed elsewhere and not terribly interested in switching jobs unless their current employer fails to recognize their value (and reward them accordingly!).
For this reason, strive to cultivate a “virtual bench” of possible candidates who are exceptional at their jobs even if they are happily employed elsewhere. Stay in touch with these folks because circumstances can change and they may become interested in new opportunities down the road.
When you find a top-performing candidate whose skills, personality and values fit your organization, it’s time to negotiate an offer. Some may consider my approach unorthodox, but I believe in treating people candidly. Ask your candidate what’s most valuable to him or her: time off, telecommuting, money or something else? Take that into consideration when you make your offer. Of course, if someone expects a lot, you should expect – and receive – a lot in return.
Negotiate your offer clearly, present face-to-face, and provide a firm deadline for the candidate to decide, although do give a reasonable amount of time to make a decision. If you require candidates to sign a non-compete agreement, you must disclose that at the same time you make the employment offer. Assuming your candidate accepts your offer, you still have plenty of work to do in ensuring that he or she succeeds at your firm… more about that on my next post.
In my last two The 100–related posts I shared my thoughts around happiness and getting clear around goals (yes, they are connected!). For me, and for most everyone that works at Intertech, being engaged with what we do also is a huge part of what makes us and our clients happy. Engagement is made up of many factors. It ranges from having employees understand how they fit into the big picture to continuous feedback on how they’re doing in their jobs.
Employee engagement has become a hot topic for many in business and for good reason: not only are more engaged employees more satisfied, they happily give extra discretionary effort in their jobs. According to a Gallup poll, engaged employees, when compared to non-engaged employees, are more than 20 percent more productive at work. They also are absent nearly 40 percent less than their non-engaged counterparts.
The good news is that fostering employee engagement is not expensive and it pays off big time. When companies can pair engaged employees with engaged customers, outcome-oriented business performance increases by 240 percent over companies where neither group is engaged (Gallup, 2013).
In my new book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, I define concrete actions to improve a company’s performance in all the major areas of engagement. Here is a high-level quick summary (check out the book for more detailed information):
- Leverage teamwork – It starts with hiring professionals who understand the value of pulling together.
- Use goal alignment – Work with employees to set achievable goals, provide training and support, and hold them accountable.
- Build coworker trust – Find ways to foster communication and trust among coworkers, including social outings and things like Fantasy Football if that fits with your culture.
- Recognize individual contributions – Consciously create a culture that celebrates employee success, particularly when it happens as part of a team effort.
- Cultivate managerial effectiveness – Think of managing like coaching, helping others to see their part in the bigger picture and taking pride in their accomplishments.
- Cultivate trusted senior leaders – To earn trust, senior leaders must lead the way, admit mistakes and communicate that it’s ok to be wrong.
- Cultivate feeling valued – People are the lifeblood of your business. Make sure they know you could not do it without them!
- Encourage job satisfaction—Have systems in place to encourage consistency, communication and teamwork. Provide interesting work opportunities in a friendly and respectful environment.
- Be smart about benefits and pay—Pay people as generously as possible and provide creative benefits without breaking the bank. (Hint: it starts with asking people what they care about most.)
Next time: Building a High-Performance Team One Employee at a Time