Five Steps to Creating Your Own "Personnel Universe"

Ken Tencer

Small, ambitious companies face huge challenges when it comes to hiring. First, they’re on their own: Most don't have a lot of recruiting experience, nor do they have the money to work with recruiters.

Second, they need to get it right the first time. Hiring the wrong person will cost them time and money they can't spare.

Thirdly, most barely have the money to hire people with the skills they need. Yet, young growth firms need not just skilled candidates who can do the job at hand, but smart, adaptable people who can grow with the business and develop new technical and management skills that will help the whole company move forward.

Getting all this right is a tough challenge for any manager. But it’s especially difficult for entrepreneurs who already have too much on their plate, from developing their products and building a customer base to establishing their new companies’ structure and culture. The solution is to develop a model to follow that helps a startup better assess its needs, and takes most of the guesswork out of hiring decisions.

We recently found that we have begun attracting people to our company that seem to be a better fit for our corporate culture. But we weren’t completely certain why. With the help of an HR specialist, we set out to answer that question.

We began by focusing on the levels of internal understanding that a company needs to assemble the best possible team to drive growth. That led us to identify five steps to creating your own personal "personnel universe":

1. Develop a clear understanding of your business and its goals.
What is your product or service? What makes you different? Who are your ideal customers and what would be your ideal size?

2. Clearly articulate the organization’s corporate culture.
Are you McDonald’s or Burger King? Lexus, Toyota, Chevy or Volkswagen? What’s your organization’s mission, and what are the values that set your team apart?

3. Identify the personal traits that fit well within the corporate culture.
Do you need "take-no-prisoners" professionals, or towel-snapping creative types? How important is flexibility, tolerance, team play, or willingness to learn?

4. Define the position-specific "technical" skills you require.
Include the skills you need now, and those you will need a year or two down the road. How can you maximize your chances of hiring people who will be able to master more than what you initially hire them to do?

5. Promote employee engagement for the long term to minimize turnover.
Emphasize character and fit, and match compensation and other perks/rewards to meet the needs of the people you most want to hire and retain. Losing even one key person can set back your progress by months.

As we used this model to fill specific positions, we noticed that the skills of the candidates we met tend to fall into a hierarchy of competencies. As the needful employer who wants to get this right the first time, you have to understand which level of competency will best match the position at hand.

Hierarchy of competencies:

1. Motions:
the ability to learn and repeat a task or duty;
2. Skills: ability to master a task or duty at a high level of speed and accuracy;
3. Aptitude: ability to enhance a process or approach to improve or hasten the completion of a task;
4. Judgement: the ability to choose between two tasks or paths to solve a defined challenge;
5. Reason: the ability to develop synthesized solutions to challenges that incorporate elements from multiple options.

Normally, you’ll expect to pay more for higher levels of competency. But it may be worth it. At any rate, when you are aware of your company’s growth needs, understand its longer-term direction, and fully assess the potential of each qualifying candidate, you’ll have a better chance of making the right hire from the start – whether you're looking for a skilled craftsperson or a potential vice-president.

Too often, hiring, engaging and retaining quality team members turns out like a trip to the drive-through – you’re on the run, making dubious choices based on a raspy voice through a rusting, incoherent speaker. For the sake of your business and the harmony of your team, you have to take the time to develop a custom framework that will help you make more thoughtful choices for the future health of your business.