A great company is looking primarily for a person who fits the culture, will feel at home, and is eager to do a good job. It is seeking a colleague, not just an employee - someone who wants to build a career and contribute to the effectiveness of the business. If work is like an extension of the family, then choosing a new addition is an extremely important task.
First you need to know what sort of person will fit into the family. This requires a clear understanding of the elements of the specific culture, what it demands and what it needs. It is back to the guiding principles: not only must you find a person who is comfortable living to these standards, you must demonstrate the standards from the very first contact.
All too often, interviewing concentrates on whether the person suits the advertised job. In great company terms this is a very limited viewpoint. Microsoft interview for three jobs down the line - so if I apply for a job as an analyst, they will be thinking of what I might do over the next five years. Only then will they know if I have the potential to suit their needs. Great companies recruit mainly at entry level and develop people in house. ‘Growing their own' means that the culture strengthens and all that wonderful experience and the customer relationships stay in house. But they must choose people who have the potential in the first place.
It is also really important to recognise that taking the easy option now simply stores up problems for the future. Dealing with under- performance or lack of team fit will take up far more time and have a greater impact on the work outcome than thorough recruitment.
This issue of seeking the right person to fit can be a bit contentious. People become concerned that it may be a recipe for cloning, developing a cult, or putting diversity at risk. Of course it can be all those, if allowed to be - but then that would not really be a great company. Diversity at all levels is what keeps us honest, creative and exciting - and this is what great companies crave.
However, they do need people to fit in with and be comfortable living the guiding principles. It will not work if, like Flight Centre, you believe passionately in equality, to hire someone who loves hierarchy.
It is not fair on them or on other colleagues. Principles are so central to company culture that they must align with the personal principles of the colleagues, or it will be impossible to live them day to day. But honesty, equality, respect and integrity work regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual preference or religion - they choose anyone!
All too often the HR function is left alone to select new colleagues. Great companies bring managers and teams into the loop, clarifying exactly what type of person will balance the team and provide the best business mix. Taking just anyone can slow the team down and cause more problems than the original lack of staff, so it is important to get it right.
There are many ways to advertise for new people. Richer Sounds get a lot of applications via colleagues. Their ‘Introduce a friend' scheme pays out £250 if the new person works there for more than six months. On the basis that the applicant will have heard what it is really like to work at Richer from their friend or a family member, there is a strong chance that they will fit in. This is a method used by many of the companies - recommendations are a great way to find those who will enjoy and benefit from the culture.
There is just one element to watch out for here. People tend to have friends who are like them, so be aware of the diversity balance and take action to ensure that it remains healthy.
Another thing Richer Sounds does is place advertisements in their shops and magazines. Because the company is looking for people who are passionate about hi-fi, the company's customers are a good source of colleagues. Flight Centre advertises where young travellers are most likely to look, and Timpsons place notices in the shops to tempt enthusiastic customers to apply. It is making the best of your attributes - using a positive customer experience also to find the right people to fit the work.
Often this is the preserve of recruitment agencies - to find a clutch of possible candidates, and do the initial testing, so cutting down the workload. This is highly effective when the principles that guide the recruitment agency match those of the company. If they do not, the process will cost time and money, not save it. Great recruiters strive to understand the company culture and get alongside the managers concerned to ensure that they are matching not just to job but to attitude. Then they are worth their weight in gold.
TD Industries, like many of the other companies, put applicants through a whole battery of tests - attitude, intelligence, and so forth. This is one way of gaining information without the risk of seeing only ‘best behaviour'. Putting on the right face for the duration of an inter- view is possible; day after day in the midst of hard work it is much more difficult.
But nothing compares to personal contact. It is common for the interviewing process to take some time, with each prospective colleague meeting a variety of people. Richer Sounds bring in their senior store colleagues to talk with interviewees - ‘We are looking for friendly, outgoing, likeminded people, regardless of their knowledge of hi-fi.' This can be evaluated through conversation in which store managers will be the best judges of how candidates would relate to customers.
It does not always work. As Jack Lowe says:
We spend hours with people and follow up references, but we do get fooled. Often people select themselves out - if they think we are nuts. They don't have to be out of the same cookie cutter, they just need to fit our principles.
Most losses occur in the first six months. If people stay longer than that, they are generally there to stay for the long term.
This serves in three ways.
It enables the team to get a sense of the prospective colleague and whether they will fit in workwise and socially.
It ensures that the applicant has a clear idea of the actual work and is not looking through rose-tinted glasses. They have a clear picture of what the job involves before finally making a decision.
You get to see if they are really aligned to the working principles.
When the team have met the new person and worked with them, it is important to ask their opinion. This is a good way of ensuring that you get the right person in the right job, and it is an opportunity to show respect for colleagues. It is important to be clear how you will use their feedback.
At Flight Centre you cannot say no ‘because you don't like their hair band'. In other words, if you want to reject someone, you must have a very good reason. But if that reason is there, they will listen and not put the person into the team. However, this does not mean that they will turn the person away from the company. Having got that far, it is likely that they will fit into Flight Centre somewhere - it is just a matter of finding the right job. Once that happens, even the most sluggish person can fly.
‘Surely the most important thing is to find people who can do the job? If they want the work, they'll make the effort to fit in.'
You are probably right, but do you want a person who must work at fitting into the environment rather than getting on with the job? Most companies do put most emphasis on skill - it is a natural reaction to concentrate on the most pressing need. However, it will trip you up in the long run. People at work only for the job, who feel at odds with the culture, will not stay - and then you are back to where you started, wasting money on additional recruitment.
If you need a high level of skill, you must recruit for that, but not in isolation. Be conscious of how the person will fit in and what you see as their potential. Remember that if you can choose someone now who can develop a career in-house, you will retain all the company and client knowledge they build up over time, keeping information and skill in the company instead of sending it to your competitors.
The first step is to gain clarity about the people who fit best in your team - ie those who will work together well to give the best results. To make sure you understand, ask yourself and team members the following questions:
What is the team like when everyone is working to their optimum? Be specific about the characteristics - ie friendly, supportive, challenging, exciting, etc.
What is the characteristic in the team that allows that culture to develop? For example, it might be that the team is supportive because they pay attention to each other and listen to what people say. Having realised what make the team click you will know what characteristics you are looking for in a new recruit; for example, if you have a lively, extrovert team you won't want someone who like to work alone in peace and quiet.
What are the difficult aspects of the team tasks? Identify the personalities that are best suited to handling them. For example, if the job requires handling frustrated customers, choosing a highly outspoken person will be of little value - but if the job might involve challenging assumptions from other parts of the business, an outspoken person might be just right.
When you have the feedback, analyse it and build a picture of the person best suited to maximise the positives and handle the difficulties. This will also give you useful information about the present team that will support team development. Talk with your HR department about ways to build on the information gathered.
Once you have a clear picture of the type of person you need, talk with your HR representative or manager to make sure that the present recruitment process will suit your needs:
How effective has it been to date? Take into account your retention rate and the fit of people in your team at present.
Look at the tests that are included to ensure that they give you the information you need about character as well as about skills.
Look at the information given about the company and the team. Make sure that applicants have a clear understanding of the working environment. Telling the absolute truth from the outset will reduce the risk of mistakes. Some companies bring the chosen candidate in for a day or half-day so that he or she can choose from sound knowledge. See if this would work for you.
Review where you advertise and make sure that you are reaching the right audience.