New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is 2.6%, New England is at 4.4%; this is all great news in the short term for consumers, but it’s making hiring pretty tough for my small business clients. I have a unique hiring process that usually brings the cream of the crop to my clients’ employee roster, but the past couple of months have been a little rough, and I don’t expect the summer to improve. What can a small business owner do?
First and foremost, you’ve got to have a successful mindset. All too often, I hear business owners say “I’ll never find anyone” or they tell me how tough their industry is. The labor market may be tighter than we’d like, but as in all things, a negative attitude does not benefit us. There are employees choosing a new position, a new company every day; we just need to be sure that we are the one being chosen. Here is how a small business owner can win fabulous new employees over “the big guys”:
- Show how working for a small business, over a large or national business, is a benefit to employees. While you may not be able to compete with a large business budget, you can compete on the personal impact they can make, one-on-one leadership training (from you), hands-on learning, and growth opportunities.
- Let prospective employees know that you will rely on them. Survey after survey supports the notion that employees want to make a difference, they want to be engaged. You know how much you’re looking forward to your new hire, all the hopes of what they can give to your organization. Let them know.
- Show prospective employees how their skill set will broaden. Personal example: I graduated from college with a business degree, specializing in accounting, and then became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I could have continued on in large corporations, most likely spending my career in accounting departments, maybe finance (yawn…). Instead, by moving to small business, I developed strong operational skills in everything from manufacturing to human resources, even sales and marketing.
- Fewer people, less politics. Americans, especially millennials, are more likely to live away from their families, so work colleagues often become our “family”. While “family” may invoke the idea of politics to some, a small business family looks out for each other, has fewer spats, and are so focused on customer and client care that politics fall by the wayside. It’s all hands on deck, and there is no time for politics.
- Share how the work they do on a daily basis will make a difference – for you, the owner and your family, your customers and clients, and their colleagues, whether other employees or key third-party relationships. Your team will know the important people in your life personally and will become a familiar face/voice to customers and key vendors; people will rely on them and that brings satisfaction on a daily basis.
If your business is growing and hiring, start with a positive attitude. You know how great it feels (usually!) to work in a small business; be sure to let prospective employees know. What has brought hiring success to your small business recently? Share your great ideas and let small businesses grow.
In last week’s post, I talked about how to start your search for a new team member. Remember, your focus is on narrowing down the resumes you’ll receive so that you can interview the candidates that have the skills and personality that will work best with your existing team. Think of it like this: if you were dating these candidates, would you ask them for a second date? At this point you already know (from their resume) where they went to school and whether or not they have any additional certifications.
That being said, you have to be ready to ask the right questions.
- Choose a set of standard interview questions based on your “must haves” and ideal qualities. The entire purpose of the first round of questions is to determine if they have your “must have” requirements. Here are some sample questions:
- Tell me about your current end of day process. (Must Have=organization skills, work processing).
- We all work better with some people more than others. If I were to speak with the person that least gets along with you at work, what would they say about you? Tell me about a recent interaction between the two of you (Must Have=team player).
Ask every candidate the same questions and record their answers. A table format like the one here will be the easiest. Note their responses, but also watch their body language. Are they open? Are they listening and communicating well?
2. As you begin each interview, let the candidate know that “this is not your typical interview.” Prepare them for the process: you have a list of standard questions, they will do most of the talking, and you have 30 minutes together. Let them know that you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview.
3. Prepare yourself, as well, for a different sort of interview. We worry about job applicants liking us, worry about what they will think about our business and us as a business owner; to compensate, we tell them about our business, how great it is, how our customers love us. This may sound harsh, but this is not the time for that. The first interview is very much like a first date: its sole purpose is to decide if you want a second date/interview. Get comfortable with silence: don’t feel the need to fill it with your voice. The job applicants will also be uncomfortable with the silence; you will learn a lot about them by how they choose to fill the silence.
4. At the interview conclusion, let applicants know what to expect; you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview within the next week, and that you will let all candidates know if they are being invited back.
5. Again, rate each applicant post-interview as a 1, 2, or 3. Invite the #1s for a second interview. Thank the other candidates for their time, but let them know that they are not the right fit for your organization.
6. The second interviews should run fairly similarly to the first; as close in time to each other as possible, in a set schedule, and with a list of standard questions. You are looking for those ideal qualities, the “extras” that each candidate has to set them apart from the other. The second interview is your chance to tell them more about the organization and its future, although they should have already gotten the basics from their research.
Remember the ultimate goal: you need a team member that will be a vital part of your business or organization. With that in mind, this is not a process that is to be rushed or done haphazardly. Take your time. Really focus on what your business needs, and not necessarily on what you think you should have.
Most days, I’m reminding my clients to step into their leadership shoes, their successful entrepreneur shoes, or sometimes their confident small business owner shoes. But this week, I’ve been reminding several business owners to step into employee shoes. That’s right, when it comes to workplace change I want business owners to step into the shoes of their employees.
For the most part, employees and business owners just think differently. Chances are that if you’re reading this you wonder what’s next, how you can improve operations; you’re ready to move on to the next thing before the last new idea is complete. The typical employee prefers work to stay the same and when change is introduced some may dig their heels in. You may be lucky to have some employees who embrace change and some who like to perfect current operations before moving on. Either way, when you are introducing change you need to sit in your employees’ shoes and think through how the changes will affect them. Let me give you some examples:
- A medical practice is bringing on a new practitioner. Other personnel will be wondering not only how this will affect their schedule and work load, but on a deeper level they will wonder “will my boss still have time for me? Will my boss still ask for my opinions, or will he ask the other doctor instead?” Basically, the question they want answered is “will I still be loved?” Be up front that the relationship may change, but let them know how you will still rely on them, and how they will fit in.
- Another business is promoting an employee into a new managerial position. Before the change is announced to the whole staff, it’s critical that the effect of the promotion on the rest of the team is sorted out. Will they pick up new tasks? Will some of their tasks be given to the manager? Who will they report to? Office real estate is important even in small businesses, so decide if the promotion means a change in office or desk space. Employees will ask how decisions will be made; what they really want to know is “do I still have a say?”. Be up front about how decisions will be made, how input is to be given, how they can still reach you, the business owner, with their thoughts and concerns.
If change is in the works for your business in 2015, sit in your employees’ shoes before spreading the word. As excited as you may be about rolling out the changes, take some time to think about how the change will affect your team in terms of responsibilities, communication, and personal fulfillment.
As we approach the first anniversary of the Affordable Healthcare Act’s implementation, more and more small business owners are looking at their options for themselves and their employees. Here in New Hampshire, consumers will have more choices and with more choices often comes indecision. If you are looking at healthcare options for your employees and feel confused or indecisive, read on.
- Healthcare costs can be a significant budget line item especially if you haven’t covered healthcare costs in the past. You wouldn’t be the first small business owner to exclaim, “HOW much is it going to cost me?” While cost is certainly important, start with a broader view and look at it from a philosophical standpoint: do you believe that you have a responsibility to your employees to provide health insurance? What part do you think you should play in your employees’ health?
- If you’re not sure what your role should be in providing health insurance, consider these statistics: A 2012 monster.com survey revealed that prospective employees consider healthcare as the most important benefit a potential employer could offer. More recently, MetLife’s 2014 annual benefits summary reports that benefits are an important reason that 50% of employees stay at a job.
- If you’ve decided that you want to pay for some part of your employees’ healthcare costs, start by contacting an experienced benefits agent. The ACA healthcare environment is confusing; rather than trying to navigate alone and potentially making a costly mistake find someone who has been in the market for years and stays current in the market. These agents are paid through fees from the insurance companies, not by you. They are knowledgeable about options as well as what your competitors are offering.
- Healthcare coverage can vary by employee class, allowing you to provide a higher level benefit to owners or based upon position. For example, one client is offering three levels; owner, professional staff, and hourly staff.
- Healthcare is costly and if you haven’t been offering any coverage, adding the cost can be overwhelming. Look at the cost as a percentage of revenue, in addition to actual dollars. Costs relative to your revenue can be enlightening (both good and bad!).
- If you choose to offer healthcare, education is key for everyone involved. Your employees are probably confused about the new healthcare market and will soak up any information available to them. Rely on your agent to provide this (discuss their employee education plan up front).
More and more small business owners are looking at healthcare options not only for their own family but also for their employees. If you are one of those entrepreneurs, start the decision making process by considering your values – they will never steer you wrong. If you decide to look into your options, save yourself from confusion and overwhelm and get help from an expert.
Recent events have focused the business community on safety in the workplace like never before. While it’s nice to think that “it will never happen to us”, you and everyone involved will feel more at ease with a plan. I’ve admittedly had situations where I thought, “I did NOT go to school for this!” A confrontation with a former employee left me feeling cornered and attacked, and I was not prepared. Whether you’re a non-profit or small business, outline and practice the procedures prior to an incident so that you and your staff know what to do in the event that they occur. It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive.
1. Be prepared to end a working relationship with a client if you or a staff member feels uncomfortable or threatened. Let tempers calm down and, later, contact the client and let them know that you are sending them their records or files so that they can find another service provider that better suits their needs. Keep the conversation and correspondence on what is best for them. Tip: Make sure that these procedures are outlined in a “client manual” so that you, your staff and the client have these procedures, even before an event occurs. This can protect you legally.
2. Neither you nor your staff should ever be alone with a new client. If you are a freelancer, meet your client at a public location, like a coffee shop. If you operate a physical location, make sure that someone else is there with you. Tip: use “stranger danger” procedures in your business. The safety of your staff, as well as your own safety, should always be paramount.
3. Listen to your staff. Your staff meets with the general public for many hours a day and has learned a thing or two about human behavior. Listen to your staff when they say “something isn’t quite right” about a client interaction. Tip: keep notes. Make a habit of documenting the temperament of your clients, current concerns, and behaviors. Do not record financial information, as this can be a liability of another sort. This is an invaluable tool for other staff members.
4. Your staff needs to know that they come first before revenue from a hot-tempered client. Support your team without referencing lost income. Remember that your business is worth more than ONE client, as is your staff.
5. Staff training and role-playing through difficult situations will make staff more comfortable and more able to de-escalate a tense situation. Take the fear out of the unknown and show your staff what is expected, even in a dangerous situation. Tip: have law enforcement come in to do a brief workplace safety workshop. They’ll be able to give you and your staff a few tips on behaviors and body language to look for, and how to stay safe.
6. If you have more than one location, alert other locations of threatening behaviors. Make sure that safety procedures and protocol are the same across all locations. Larger business should have a trained staff member that is responsible for all safety trainings, procedures, and documents.
7. Contact the police. Too many people think “it’s not that bad” or “we don’t need to get them involved.” The risk is too high; always let the police know and they can decide what to do with the information. (See #5)
8. Make sure that you have similar procedures for workplace conduct. Employees should know that they will not be threatened or endangered by a fellow employee. As unpleasant as it may be, disagreements do happen, and they should be handled in a way that respects the dignity and safety of all persons involved. These procedures also need to be known and understood by all staff members. Be willing to resolve conflicts, but also recognize the signs that a work relationship has to end.
Remember, as a business owner you are liable for the well-being and safety of not just your clients, but also your staff. The safety of the people that visit, work, and serve your business is always your concern. Set the expectations and best practices before an incident occurs so that your staff can safely do their jobs and look after the best interest of your clients.