Finding the right people for your small business

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Finding the right staff for your small business doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge, even when you don’t have the resources and budget that bigger businesses have.

Be transparent and open about what you’re looking for in a new hire with others who are involved in the hiring process. Find common ground and work together to get the right person in the job sooner rather than later. Having a clear picture of your dream hire’s role and responsibilities will make the process smoother and easier.

When trying to attract quality candidates, offer additional incentives as well as a fair (or if possible generous) salary, which may already be limited by budget constraints. Instead, look to offer flexibility around office hours or where permissible, allow remote work days. Other ideas to consider are bonuses such as a work phone, covering their fuel costs, free or subsidised gym memberships, etc., Get creative!

This will also give you something very positive to discuss during the interview process. Ask what the candidate is looking for in a job apart from their pay cheque. Listen to their answers carefully and respond to them honestly to ensure it is a good fit.

Often, in a small business a large onus is placed on finding a ‘cultural fit’ however you shouldn’t be blinded by a candidates talk. At the end of the day, you need someone in the job who can walk-the-walk and not just talk-the-talk. If an employee is failing to do their job then tensions are going to quickly arise. Having the wrong person in a role can actually create work for you.

Another way to ensure your hire is a good fit is to get the on boarding done right. That way the new employee will hopefully start off on the right foot immediately. Ensure everything the employee needs to know to get to work is ironed out on the first few days on the job. Ensure both of you understand and are clear about what is expected of them.

Of course, having someone on your team who is well versed in not only daily HR tasks but also recruitment helps. Utilising your in-house skills to bring in new and qualified staff is going to save the business time and money. It will also boost the bottom line long-term.

Perhaps you need to upskill your HR staff to create an efficient hiring process. Upskilling your staff provides the opportunity to assign them the responsibility of hiring where they might not have had the skills beforehand. Investing in education and training for your staff is sure to result in a great ROI – this helps to boost productivity and also helps with staff retention rates.

Alternatively, can you hire internally? You might already have staff capable of the position you are recruiting for. Or there might be a hardworking employee due for a promotion. Again, could this just be a case for some further education and in-house training?

Recruiting the right candidates doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect for your small business. Sure, you might not have a fancy hiring process like bigger companies. However, you do have a passion for your business and the dedicated staff that work for you. Having a clear vision of what tasks and responsibilities your new hire will have before you even begin looking is a great start. Communicating this with others in the business that many be involved in the hiring process will help make the whole process more efficient.

Consider what benefits you can offer good candidates to help attract their talent to your business aside from money. And don’t get sidetracked by the prospect of a great talker rather than a great worker. Good luck!

Want to hold onto a great employee? Here’s how!

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These days it doesn’t take much for employees – especially the talented ones – to find a reason to move on to greener pastures, and fast.

While it’s unrealistic to expect employees in this day and age to consider a position in your business a ‘job for life’, it is still important to consider how you can attract and retain the best and brightest.

High turnover rates can cost your business financially and also in terms of productivity – think of the time you’ll have to spend on recruitment and extra training when you could’ve just kept a good staff member.

This is why it’s so important that you have a clear understanding of how to get the best staff and keep them. Ultimately, being able to keep your employees with you benefits your business’ long-term success

Here are five tips to make your business the ‘greener pasture’ employees want and ensure you hire and retain great staff.

# 1. Recruit the right people
It seems like such an obvious point, but so many businesses set themselves up for failure by not hiring the right person for the job. You need to have a clear idea of the kind of person you want even before you start the recruitment process.

Employment contracts and new hire documents should be specifically tailored to the employee’s role and needs. Ensure you have a discussion with your existing team as to what kind of employees you want in the company, and make sure the job description is detailed with all criteria agreed upon before even advertising the opening.

If you have an idea of the type of person you want in the company, it becomes much easier to create the specific employment contact you need and help them integrate into the company.

# 2. Have an effective onboarding and management procedure
One of the easiest ways to hire and retain the best staff is to have an on-boarding process that transforms the way new employees are involved and managed. Successful staff retention is about creating long-term employee engagement and growth.

Implement a procedure which allows for the on-boarding experience to be a personalised one, and you will have more success with keeping good employees.

# 3. Create a positive and welcoming work environment
Feeling unwelcome or out of place in the workplace is one of the key reasons that employees start to wander and seek out greener pastures. Ensure your workplace is open with communication, flexible and supportive so everyone feels included and comfortable.

A good way to do this is to ensure workplace policies around bullying and employee conduct are regularly updated and enforced. It’s also a good idea to encourage an environment where employee feedback and communication is valued – for example, have a system or procedure in place where employees can regularly express their opinions and ideas freely without fear of reprimand.

# 4. Make sure you provide feedback and career development options
Employees need to feel like they are valuable to the business and they’re being given an opportunity for growth and development. If your business doesn’t have a performance management system, put together a plan so you can give timely feedback on your employees’ performance.

A good performance management system makes it easier for you to recognise and reward good performance while allowing you to manage underperformance.

Ongoing training is also an important part of your employees’ professional development, and thus, the business’ development. For new employees, having a comprehensive training program and induction process laid out allows them to feel integrated and take on new challenges faster.

Providing training for current employees means they can grow and take on more valuable roles within the business.

A winning formula to deal with difficult employees

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Managing difficult staff is one of the biggest challenges you will face as an employer. They can disrupt the working environment which is detrimental to your business. Poor workplace culture guarantees a poorly performing business in the long run. As the business owner, it is your responsibility to produce the right culture and constantly address, refine and refresh it.

Fundamental to getting the right culture and dealing with difficult staff is knowing that it is a partnership, not an ‘us and them’ attitude that will transform the environment.

Handling difficult staff is more of an ‘art’ than a set of strict rules. Here are some key methods which can be applied across all situations:

  1. Address issues quickly. Don’t let situations get out of hand.
  2. Reflect on what is really going on with the person at hand. By seeing the bigger picture, you may discover what the real issue is. Fixing the problem is far more effective than just covering it with a band aid.
  3. Before you take action, ask yourself is this person a key influencer? Do they have a required skill set in your business? What is their value to you?

Is this issue a short-term challenge (less than 3 months)? If yes, what has changed in their work ecology? Ask if there is another person involved or are there passive aggressive hidden behaviours going on? Are there personal issues that are contributing? Has their work load or requirements changed? It may be more than one issue. A gentle enquiry process of listening and asking quality questions will reveal the answer without undue pressure.

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Short term issues are easier to fix. It is critical to be empathetic and stand in their shoes to see what is going on. Once you have built rapport and trust, create an action plan with regular reviews to support the person. Promises about what will change need to be made to show that you are trustworthy. This in return will increase the levels of productivity in the workplace.

If it is a longer ongoing history of disruption and dissatisfaction on their part and the action plan above did not solve the issue, remember no one is irreplaceable ever. As the business owner, you are able to let staff ‘deselect’ and leave the business in a way that creates opportunity to do things differently. If they aren’t a good fit for a team, it relieves pressure immediately for everyone involved.

Remember ‘hire slow, fire fast’. It’s a game changer.

Three Ways To Streamline Your Recruitment Process

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Ask an architect how to construct a building which won’t crumble and fall, and they’ll tell you the key is in the foundations. The same theory applies in a small business, but in this case, you’re the architect, and your foundation is created from your employees. Recruiting good staff is arguably one of the most important aspects of running a small business. Without good staff, your business will lack the pillars to form a strong team and cohesive workplace culture, and inevitably, everything will come tumbling down.

However, before you jump straight into hiring the next person who walks through the door, you need to prepare to ensure the process goes smoothly and you’re hiring the best candidate for the role. Here are three things to do to streamline your recruitment process:

  1. Create clear position descriptions and selection criteria

The first step starts before you even reach out to potential employees. You need to have a comprehensive idea of who you’re after, and this can be done by creating position descriptions and selection criteria. The description and criteria should be specifically tailored to the kind of employee you want – make sure you have a chat with your existing team so you’re all on the same page about what you’re looking for. Creating comprehensive descriptions will let you have a clear idea of who you are after and make it easier to help new employees integrate into the company.

  1. Streamline and standardise the interview process

Once you’ve reached out and posted the job ad, you need to think carefully about the job interview process. The interview is where you can truly scope out whether a potential candidate is the right fit for the business or not, as well as get a real indication of their skills – and having that process ready and streamlined saves you time and money.

It’s important to have a mixture of competency-based questions built around situations the new employee may experience in the job, as well as questions which touch on the existing behaviour and personality of the potential employee. This can be done by having questions which are fact-based (“Why would you like this opportunity?”), hypothetical (“What would you do if…?”), and behavioural (“Tell me about a time when…”). It can also be a good idea to create a practical task to test their skills if the job role requires.

Have a process of rating the interviewee as well – a standardised rating and scoring system that indicates whether or not the candidate met each criterion. Make sure you give the candidate plenty of opportunity to ask you questions during the interview, too, and be honest with answers – transparency from the start builds trust and a longstanding relationship.

  1. Have an onboarding process ready

Congratulations, you have a new hire! But that’s not the end of it. What happens during your new hire’s first few weeks on the job impacts how quickly they acclimatise and reach their highest level of productivity. To keep your new hire in the company, you need to make sure their introduction into the company leaves them with a good impression, or they’ll show themselves out the door.

Introducing them to and giving them access to your HR team before employment starts allows them to officially sign off on documents regarding their new role, action items, and view company policies. This means by the time they actually set foot in your building, the employee already feels like part of the team, plus they’re ready to start doing what you hired them for from the get-go.

If you have these three aspects ready and prepared, your recruitment process will go a lot smoother. Remember, with a good recruitment process which is straightforward, systematised and covers all your bases, you’re more likely to see the building blocks of your business stack towards success.

Managing employees: From hire to fire

Many business owners start their businesses because they have a great idea that they wish to take to market or they are really good at something technical. People very rarely start a business because they want to manage employees.

If business goes well, however, then you’re likely to end up with employees sooner or later. The bad news is that I can absolutely guarantee that if you have employees, you are going to have an issue at some point. It’s a numbers game ­– the longer you are in business and the more employees you have, the greater the chance of internal conflicts, performance management issues or harassment.

And then what? If you’re like most small business owners, you’re probably ill-equipped to deal with these issues.

Because small business owners generally get into business to launch an idea or leverage their technical skills, they resist learning about employee recruitment, management and dismissal. It all seems too complicated, and with legislation changing all the time it feels impossible to keep up. This leads some owners to bury their heads in the sand, thinking that what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

I’m afraid, though, that lacking knowledge or experience is not a defence. Claiming ignorance and taking a ‘she’ll be right, mate’ attitude will not help you if you are called before the Fair Work Commissioner. As an employer, you are expected to know the legislation

The other issue I commonly see is working around the expense of employees. As many businesses start on a shoestring, they often look for cheaper employment options, like using cash-in-hand employees or independent contractors. This could cost you more in the long run with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regularly reviewing industry segments for cash employees and charging significant fines for this activity. While using independent contractors may feel like a simpler arrangement, if they are acting as permanent employees, this is a breach known as sham contracting, an area that has been a focus of the Fair Work Ombudsman and the ATO in recent times.

Others trying to avoid the complications of hiring take the approach of a handshake or verbal agreement. The issue here is that once you have an employee completing an activity in exchange for cash, the legal view is that an employment relationship has been established, regardless of whether or not there’s a written contract. As such, the arrangement falls under all the legal requirements of an employer-employee relationship and all the same legislation applies.

In one sense it’s understandable – sometimes having employees is simply a means to an end, so of course you want the process to be as simple as possible. The challenge with this approach is that, if you don’t get it right from the beginning, you are likely to be drawn into more frequent and time-consuming interactions and processes later. In short, the less time and effort you put into your employees, the more open you leave your business for problems to arise.

Not having legally compliant processes in place, or worse still, having nothing in place can be very expensive. One example is the area of Modern Awards, which set out all the terms and conditions governing an industry or occupation. There are some very large financial implications for getting this wrong, with each breach of a Modern Award exposing your business to fines of up to $51,000 for a corporation and $10,200 for an individual. Let me be very clear here – this is per breach. A breach can be as simple as not giving out the Fair Work Information Statement to every new permanent employee. Worse still, if Fair Work senses there may be multiple breaches, they can enter your business and conduct a complete audit.

The reality is that having employees and managing the relationship with them can be complex, but it is part of being a business owner. And not abiding by the legislation has serious consequences.

Do I have your attention now?

Good, because beyond financial disincentives, there are even more important reasons for getting your employee-related processes right.

First, employees can make or break a business, so it is critical to get this right. According to CEB in the webinar Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment 2013, ‘To date, business performance gains have come from better labour efficiency and companies getting more and more from their investment in employees.’ If you’re one of the majority of businesses that are looking for growth, then effective employee management is essential.

Managing employees also gives you the opportunity to become a great leader. In Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, a three-year study completed by Rob Coffee and Gareth Jones for Harvard Business Review in May 2013, it was found that employees, ‘will not follow a leader they feel is inauthentic’, therefore, by becoming an authentic leader you will be able to motivate and inspire your team to give you their best effort, which, in turn will help you achieve your business goals.

Additionally, having the correct processes in place means you can:

  • Attract and retain the best employees,
  • Maximise productivity,
  • Grow quickly, and
  • Boost your brand’s and your business’s reputation.

This will give you certainty and confidence, because you will have the tools to tackle any employee issues. What typically happens in a business where there is limited structure and processes is that rules and outcomes tend to be decided reactively. The risk with this is that, very quickly employees will feel that there is inconsistency and become unsettled. According to research conducted by John Halliwell from the University of British Columbia and Haifang Huang from the University of Alberta, employees were seen to be significantly happier in environments where they ranked management trustworthiness highly, so it is important to get this right.

Finally, if you care about your employees you’ll simply want to do the right thing by them. In the interviews completed in preparation for writing this book it became really clear to me that these business owners really cared about their teams and the individuals within their teams. When a leader is coming from this space they will intrinsically try to not only do the right thing for the business, but also the right thing for the employee – a win-win scenario.

So what’s next?

You might be thinking, ‘I hear what you’re saying and I understand how important this is, but it still feels really complicated.’

The good news is that, with education and preparation, you can manage all of these issues. This book will teach you how.

I’ve written this book specifically for small business owners who don’t have the time to go wading through the vast sea of information out there, and who might not have the budget to outsource this part of their businesses. Instead, From Hire to Fire will be your handbook, with practical advice and frameworks for hiring employees, firing employees (gulp!) and everything in between.

My vision for this book (it sits on a Post-It note on my desk as I type) is for it to become a dog-eared employee ‘bible’ for you that lives on your desk. It will give you the confidence to make decisions and implement processes, referring to it as needed. Let’s say you need to have a performance management conversation, or you want to hire the best employees, or you are about to instigate a major change in the workplace and, maybe unlike other attempts, you want this one to stick. That’s when you can refer to this book.

From your perspective, it will help you tackle anything employee-related with confidence and rigour.

From your employees’ perspective, they will love the structure, fairness and sense of order and purpose these processes bring to your business. They will believe you care for them and, as a result, they will give you higher levels of discretionary effort, leading to increased productivity and profitability for your business. And, let’s face it, isn’t that what every small business owner in Australia wants?