Wikimedia, CC 4.0
Source: Wikimedia, CC 4.0

Here are the tactics my clients have found most helpful in hiring, training, and managing people.

Hiring

Get referrals from trusted colleagues. Candidates that come from a referral are more likely to turn out to be good employees than unknown respondents to a want ad. Alas, too many applicants are better at applying and interviewing than they are at being employees. Trusted colleagues are more likely vet candidates well.

Except for highly technical and low-level jobs, the most important attributes in an employee are intelligence, drive, and being low-maintenance. For most jobs, a smart, motivated person with no direct experience on that job can usually learn the content and ineffables quickly enough. Let your potential referrers know the candidate attributes you're most seeking..

Screen using simulations of the job’s common difficult tasks. The job ad should include a 10-minute quiz on such tasks. To avoid applicants using a ringer to do the quiz, mention that parallel questions will be asked during the in-person interview.

In the interview, do focus on simulations rather than stock questions that most candidates will have prepared for. Indeed, weaker candidates are more likely to prepare sanitized answers to questions like: Tell me about yourself, what’s your greatest strength and weakness, what did you learn from a failure, why do you want to work for us, and why the employment gap? It's far better to have them, right before the interview take that parallel quiz, and then, in the interview, focus on additional simulations. For example, if the job would require the person to develop and lead a fundraising plan, give them a one-pager of background info and then have them lay out a a draft plan. If they’d be often running meetings, give them a one-pager of background for an agenda item and then have them run a five-minute meeting on it. Simulations are widely used to screen candidates for technical jobs but simulations are as important for not-technical ones.

When checking references, it’s worth the $30 or $40 to do a background check. In addition, contact the candidate’s former boss(es.)  If the candidate doesn’t provide the boss as a reference, beware. Call rather than email the references— You’ll more likely get an honest appraisal, especially if you humanly explain the situation. For example, “I’m hiring for an important position. I need a person who is intelligent, with good drive, and is low-maintenance. I’m considering Mary Jones for the position. Do you think I’d be wise to hire her?" Even if policy is to only state whether the person worked there, the reference's tone of voice can tell a lot. Another approach to reference checking is to ask the finalist candidate for a half-dozen references and their work phone number. Call all six after hours and ask that the person call back only if s/he thinks Mary would be excellent. Unless you get at least four of six callbacks, beware.

Training

The best training is often done by in-house people: They know what’s really needed as well as the workgroup’s culture. If the training would apply to a number of new employees, have your best in-house person who’s not shy in front of a camera  provide it on YouTube. Because each situation is different, after watching the video, each employee should have an opportunity to ask questions.

For ongoing employees, my favorite training model is the employer-paid group lunch. Everyone in the workgroup has lunch together once or twice a month. Each time, a different member trains the group on a topic s/he knows a lot about and feels the group would benefit from, for example: public speaking, stress management, something technical, or the art of calming an angry person.

Managing people

One size doesn’t fit all. Some people need more training, others less. Some need more supervision, others less. Some need more accountability, others might consider that infantilizing. Some need lots of attaboys/girls and respond poorly to “constructive criticism.” Others welcome even lots of tough love. You want to be individualized in how you treat people. If an employee complains that you treat employees differently, explain that your job is to bring out the best in each employee and that, of course, will vary across people.

The takeaway

Libraries of books have been written on hiring, training, and managing but my clients have found these tips particularly potent. I hope they are for you.

On YouTube, I offer a seven-minute video that covers similar content.

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