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Hiring Employees: Pursue Greatness, Damn the Budget

Handshake

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Middle managers will find that hiring employees is one of the surest ways to advance or ruin their own careers. No manager succeeds or fails alone. Who they hire is critical.

They are responsible for getting results. If they require the help of other people to get there, good employees will increase the odds of success. Bad ones will simply decrease them.

It seems obvious, but companies have plenty of failures that result from bad hires. At least some bad hiring is inevitable.

Whether employees are good or bad begins with the hiring process. It’s tempting for inexperienced managers to think they have all of the power in that process. But they don’t because there are no guarantees the job prospects want the job despite interviewing for it.

Thanks but no thanks

Even if they apply for the job, get the interview and get an offer, potential employees have several important reasons why they might turn it down.

  • The pay and benefits aren’t good enough (the money part).
  • They have better offers from other companies (the money again).
  • They don’t like you or someone else they met (the people part).
  • The interview went badly (did you screw up or did they?).
  • They have concerns about the job or the company (the boss needs to know but doesn’t want to know).

In other words, a manager who hires employees is undertaking a sales process consisting of compensation, personalities, responsibilities and reputation.

A new middle manager may think hiring people is only about attracting them with pay and benefits. But the list above shows it doesn’t end there.

It means great job candidates in particular often have more power than the hiring manager. They have more than one good reason to say no to an offer.

Getting Good People in the Door

The process of hiring great employees naturally means getting worthwhile applicants. Sadly, I found more than once in my management career that it is possible to get 200 applications and find that none of them or few of them are appealing. My waste basket often got filled with cover letters and resumes from people who didn’t have the right skills and experience.

This can happen for several good reasons. For example, the job advertisement may have been badly written (certainly not by me…) or the company might have a bad reputation (certainly not because of me). In many cases, the applicants apparently didn’t even read the ads closely or come remotely close to the requirements. They submitted applications anyway.

Job ads are elevator pitches

A good job ad is brief, informative, specific and includes a call to action. It is an elevator pitch that appeals to prospective job candidates with pay, benefits, opportunities for advancement, a compelling place to work and any other selling point possible. It says a lot in as few words as possible.

The ad may not give the exact salary and benefits. Rather, it can tell how the pay and benefits are competitive with other companies. Being able to say so and getting better candidates potentially means the hiring manager must fight for better pay and benefits with Human Resources and executive management.

The company’s reputation is a much bigger challenge. If the company is known for firings and layoffs, the hiring manager has a much bigger problem to overcome. If the company has a reputation for being cheap, the hiring manager has a choice: pay for greatness and damn the budget or forget about getting that great employee.

Damn the Budget, Go Nuts with HR

Compensation is the most important ingredient in selling potential employees once they come through the door. No one will work for a great boss if the pay isn’t enough to cover food, mortgage and other expenses or make up for the amount of work that comes with the job. Even so, compensation is usually among the last topics to come up during the hiring process.

But getting approval for that money comes first for the hiring manager. A company may already have a reputation for low pay and weak benefits because it actually does have them. Maybe it is getting outbid for employees by other companies that have better compensation.

Budget

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I worked for 15 years in management at a revenue-driven company that didn’t hesitate to offer great pay and benefits. That same company also demanded exceptional performance from its people.

I worked another five years in management at a cost-driven company that had lower pay and benefits. It didn’t demand exceptional performance. It wasn’t nearly as stressful - or successful - as the first one.

Both companies had salary scales for every employee position. The first one had a much greater range than the second one. The starting pay for a new employee was based on their skills and experience, but ideally the pay was in the middle of the range.

Push the salary range limits

Salary ranges are common in both the private and public sector. The effective middle manager takes advantage of these ranges to pursue and hire the best possible employees.

If it means exceeding budget to achieve results, so be it. The decision is a calculated risk. It means the hiring manager has to go to battle with Human Resources and executive management to get approval for more pay.

Unfortunately, not all such battles are winnable.

The best job candidate I ever failed to land wanted $20,000 over the upper limit of the pay range. I went to bat for him with the executive level anyway and used my carefully built credibility to fight for him. I pointed out he could be my second in command and take over if I ever left or moved up.

After three months, I finally quit trying. He would have brought in far more revenue than the extra $20,000 a year he would have cost. The job prospect went to work at a bigger and more successful company that paid for performance.

Hiring is More Than Just Money

Young and inexperienced job prospects get bright eyes about big salaries. Older and more experienced people know better. A good job is much more than just pay and benefits. It also includes a good boss, good co-workers and a good environment.

So a hiring manager has to sell a great potential employee with benefits beyond the money. My winning personality as a manager (which actually was winning to some people and annoying to others) wasn’t always enough. I did find that dedication to integrity and professionalism had plenty of benefits including the effort to attract good employees.

For example, our operating unit had the lowest turnover rate of any unit in the company. I believe it was the result of creating an environment where everyone was treated with care and respect.

Little perks make a difference

That fact became a selling point with recruits. Likewise, coming up with perks for the staff gave them a higher morale, which showed to any job candidate they met. So the staff also became part of the sales process for attracting and keeping great employees.

These same people help sell the company, boss and operating unit outside of work hours when they interact with friends, people who work at other companies or people they meet at networking events.

All of this comes together in one essential lesson based on experience. A good boss doesn’t always have as much power as a job prospect when it comes to hiring people.

A good boss sells great people in order to hire them. Great people together achieve great goals.

Scott S. Bateman

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