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Happy Employees = Happy Customers

How to hire, train and retain to increase profitability

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Kathryn Inkinen, president of Inkinen & Associates, a managerial and executive-level search agency, agrees that hiring for fit is critical. “Ideally, you should hire for both fit and skill,” she says, “but, we all can learn skills. However, fit, meaning the characteristics or personality that you bring to the job, team or organization, is harder to change — and harder to find.” Inkinen adds that, for a new employee to succeed, he or she must be embraced by the existing team. “If that doesn’t happen, the new person won’t be successful. That’s why I say fit is so important.”

In a face-to-face interview, ask candidates for specific examples, Inkinen says, so you understand how they did their job or approached a situation. “The how is much more important than knowing what they did,” Inkinen says. The first meeting between the employer and job candidate, she adds, should focus on fact-finding, rather than trying to impress each other. “It’s not about selling yourself. It’s more to see if it’s a good fit. And the fit goes both ways.” One company that doesn’t take hiring shortcuts is ProService Hawaii, an HR administration company, whose staff has grown from 42 to 100 in the past three years. In January 2008, ProService implemented a program called TopGrading, an intensive way to assess job candidates for fit and skill, says Jo-Ann Kaita, the company’s director of human resources. The program involves a preliminary phone interview, a meet-and-greet session, an online assessment to evaluate thinking skills, behavioral traits, comprehension and reading ability, and, finally, a tandem interview with two managers.

“Yes, the process is extensive, but [new hires] do appreciate the process because they, in turn, get to know us and they’re like, ‘Wow, they really take the time to interview all the candidates, which means they’re really going to take the time to take care of their employees,’” Kaita says. “And we do.” The most important thing, Padello says, is to keep your employees happy. Once workplace morale is low, she says, “It’s like cancer — like poison — it just spreads and spreads until others quit and the business starts to decline.”

To prevent what Padello calls “cancer in the workplace,” another Altres secret is to hire slow, fire fast. Sometimes employers can take all the necessary steps to hire a great employee, but it still doesn’t work.

“Nothing is guaranteed. Some-times, people have to switch seats on the bus or even get off, and that’s OK,” Padello says. However, she adds, as soon as management realizes an employee is not going to work out, it’s better to let that person go before productivity falls and the person brings down other employees. Olsten Staffing’s Godfrey says what’s popular these days is “temp-to-hire,” which allows businesses to decide whether to hire a temporary worker after a probationary period.

However, employers should look for red flags. Inkinen says job-hopping might indicate a lack of commitment by an applicant. Although it is common for recent college graduates to jump around every few years before they find a suitable career, most employers look for a person with a stable record. “For Hawaii, jumping around every one to two years, I think, is not too good,” Inkinen says. “Maybe if this was Silicon Valley, it would be another story, but it’s not.”

However, another red flag today might be the opposite — someone who’s been at the same job for 15 to 20 years, Inkinen says. “In the past, I think employers viewed that as stability, but today, especially at a managerial or executive level, they might view that as complacency and not being able to grow.” Inkinen adds that employers might assume that these candidates lack the experience to manage a variety of people and could have difficulty rebounding or reacting to different situations. She thinks staying with a company for five to seven years shows that an employee is reliable, but eager for growth. With high unemployment rates, Inkinen says, it’s a fallacy to think employers have the upper hand just because there are more candidates. During cutbacks, it can be more difficult to find qualified candidates since companies want to do more with less, she says. The new hire might be expected to fill more than one position and may face high expectations to help rescue a company or move it forward.

One of the biggest mistakes employers make in tough times, Inkinen says, is to try to secure top talent for substandard compensation. “You absolutely get what you pay for,” she says. “If you don’t want to offer competitive pay, you will get the lesser qualified candidates. Think about it: If you really get somebody for much less than what the rest of the market is offering, that person isn’t going to stay. Once the market or economy changes, that person will leave to get a job that pays better. So, you’re losing money again. … Especially in a managerial or executive role, you want someone to be able to be there for at least five years to create some change.”

Even if you hire a person who fits well into your corporate culture and can perform the duties, “You’re not in the clear yet,” says Altres’ Padello, smiling. The real task — and the fun part, she explains — is to keep employees happy and challenged while giving them the tools and resources to succeed. Inkinen agrees. “Training is one of the best retention tools,” she says. “Training and engaging employees, that goes hand in hand. Giving them additional tools to help them better themselves, to help them better their contributions to the organization, keeping them engaged in what they do and growing their skill sets is definitely one of the most valuable retention tools.” If money is tight, Inkinen suggests, employers and employees can split training costs for seminars or workshops so both are equally invested.

It’s becoming more common for companies to spend time, money and effort to organize team-building activities, offer an employee wellness programs and celebrate staff birthdays and anniversaries to keep their people happy. ProService’s Jo-Ann Kaita says her organization does many things to keep staff engaged and promote healthy communication. Departments meet for team huddles to discuss the day’s agenda and the company held a retreat last summer at Ko Olina, where employees were encouraged to bring family. “We really try to make work fun,” Kaita says. “I don’t sugarcoat anything. We expect a lot from our employees, but I always tell everyone, ‘We work hard, but we also play hard.’”

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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Apr 9, 2009 06:52 pm
 Posted by  crafty808

I absolutely LOVED this article! I hope MANY business read this and apply the useful tips these ladies had to offer.

Workplace morale is important. I don't think a lot of companies consider this to be of importance. They quickly blame the employee for bad morale. This is why I think more companies SHOULD survey their employees and then FOLLOW UP. How do you fix it if you don't know it's broken?

Why don't ALL companies participate in the Best Places to Work Survey?

Apr 16, 2009 07:12 pm
 Posted by  BrownTurtle

Great article. From my experience, the hallmark of a good company is measured by the turnover rate - plain and simple. The turnover rate is the most obvious way to know if the management cares about its employees and not just the bottom line.

I would recommend that job seekers stay away from local companies that are constantly advertising their job openings for the same positions all the time. There is a reason why people don't stick around.

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