Hire slowly, fire quickly

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One of the hardest tasks we face as leaders is building our team. Most often, we inherit a team, rather than build from scratch. Then it becomes our task to train up the people who have the drive and are willing to learn, or trade out the ones who are uncomfortable with (or outright hostile toward) change. Once we get through that phase, we enter what I call the Permanent Recruiting phase. Every leader should always be on the lookout for new recruits. I like to say that I am always hiring truck drivers and sales- people because you never have enough; if by God’s grace you do, hire them anyway and keep the best performers.

Hiring salespeople and managers is where the money can be made—or lost. A good outside sales rep, or OSR, not only can bring you sales, but they often also bring ideas and new areas of business to grow into. A really bad OSR will probably fire themselves, but the worst “bad OSRs” are the ones who sell just enough to stay off the radar and never really grow. The same is true for managers. They clog your pipeline of development and stymy your growth plans. They also are the toughest ones to get rid of because they are probably doing the same amount of business they always have, and now you are changing the rules and saying that is not enough.

Stop hiring the competition’s salespeople or industry retreads, and start hiring for attitude and aptitude. I’ve wasted a fortune bringing over a competitor’s OSR for big and/or guaranteed money, only to find out that they do half the volume they promised, and that there was a good reason they were looking to make a move to a new employer—they were the problem. Identify the culture you want and the personalities that work best in that culture, then go find those people, regardless of what industry they come from.

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Ask the right questions. Try some different questions that may make the candidate step outside their comfort zone. A classic is, “Sell me this pen.” I think it is a little hokey, and there is a good chance they have heard it before; maybe that is a good reason to ask it. They should have a good answer. I like to ask a salesperson, “Name three self-help or sales training book titles that you currently have in your personal library.” Most often, this query is met by crickets, but the ones who do have any books they can name are showing you they have invested in themselves. My last litmus test is to see if a sales-person asks, “How much will I make at this job?” vs. “How much can I make at this job?” The former shows a concern about Day One compensation, whereas the latter shows an interest in the upside potential of the job.

Use tests and personality profiles to help you understand what the candidate is  really like.  There  are a  multitude of tests, many free online. I like knowing a candidate’s Myers-Briggs personality type. If you have a top performer you can benchmark against, the Hogan  test  is  wonderful for assessing whether someone has similar traits.

Once you are personally sold on a candidate, bring in other opinions. I will admit that I often fall in love with my hiring finalists. I find myself looking for things in the candidate that support the fact that the person is a really good hire. Luckily, I have learned always to have a sounding board or a second opinion to review your finalists. At Hope Lumber, we used a process called The Gauntlet, an in-person group interview during which a candidate was asked the same set of questions I had initially asked. It was fascinating hearing candidates offer different answers to the same questions. What happened nine times out of 10 was that I observed the candidate who I was certain was the right hire utterly fail answering questions posed by others in the group. Different environment, different dynamics.

If it walks like a bad hire and quacks like a bad hire, it’s probably a bad hire. Set milestones and objectives in writing at the time of making the offer. Review the new hire’s performance regularly at those milestones. If the objectives are being missed by a wide margin, quickly get into your decruiting mode and find a way to “allow that person to pursue their life objectives at a different venue.” You have to be vigilant about reviewing your new hires and making sure they are growing and staying on course; otherwise, they become just one more person clogging the pipeline.

A wise man once shared that a bad management hire can be a two-year mistake. The same holds true for salespeople. Take your time vetting your candidates before you hire, then react quickly after you hire if you realize you have made a mistake.