March 13, 2023 at 7:06 p.m.

Who Owns the Pickup?

The hiring process

By Richard Koenings-

This is the most difficult part of entrepreneurship: Hiring well
I was going to do a pause in this series of steps along the journey to entrepreneurship for some real time stories about that portion of the service sector involving “essential services” and surviving and prospering after Covid. I thought better and have decided to hold that topic for the next article. Instead I want to share some thoughts and experiences in what I consider to be, for many, including me, the challenge of consistently hiring well.
It’s often overshadowed in the middle of finance and product and marketing decisions but has an equally significant impact on the success of the enterprise, for better and for worse. In some cases, maybe many, it can have an even greater impact. 
Those who work for themselves will swear by the independence and self-reliance that comes in a business of one and for some that’s absolutely the best way to proceed. If your strengths/weaknesses self-analysis says your just not comfortable or most effective in group activity, maybe the reason you “went off on your own,” then you’ve made a good decision-for now. 
I’ve had many solo owner clients who wished they had had a partner or two or an employee or two to fill out their “strengths and weaknesses” and/or just to talk over decisions and issues they were facing. On the other hand (talking to a mirror has severe limitations) I know just as many owners with partners or employees wishing or wondering if they would have been better off on their own.

Where’s the truth? In both places!
I remember, maybe you do too, a time I was struggling to be comfortable in a large business. Too many “bosses” interfering with my efforts, too many coworkers getting in the way of those efforts; it’s a feeling of being somewhat without control. One day a good friend suggested to me that maybe I needed to be “off on my own.” Light bulb moment! I did need to be off on my own — then. 
And therein lies the truth. The “truth,” as told to me by a later trusted employee, always came in three flavors, your truth, my truth, and the truth. So even the right decision at one time isn’t necessarily the last “right” decision each of us will make. It wasn’t in my case and I doubt in most cases.
So that brings us back to the title of this article. When you come to the point of hiring, how do you “succeed,” that is hire right for long term. Again, self-reflection seems to lead to generally good results. My rule of thumb is it’s a 50/50 proposition. You may ask great questions and get good answers in multiple conversations or interviews. You may even have others assist for perspective and do the normal “reference and/or background check.” To be fair to the references, few of us get very straight forward in that exchange. Maybe we just don’t want to be negative, maybe we are afraid of issues coming back on us, or just maybe the bad loses it’s bite over time and memory.
Whatever the reason, it comes back to you and your decision, one that will affect you and your business for some time to come. The individual may or may not be honest, could be a great interviewer, or maybe the best future employee is just a lousy interviewer.

How to make good decisions then?
Do your interviewing and second opinion gathering and reference checking but hire for needed capabilities with a gradual “probation” mentality, honestly with the individual. It’s the Ronald Reagan approach, trust with verification. Keep in mind, the individual is doing the same. I’ve hired people who point blank sincerely said they could and would do what was needed, though they couldn’t and didn’t. I’ve hired people who seemed so honest and trustworthy that you felt you could give them “the keys/the checkbook” and it came back to haunt you.
Be prepared to admit a mistaken hire. Be prepared to separate from a bad relationship. Be prepared for that result and outcome from day one. Caution, be low keyed, not accusatory, even if deserved, “its just not working out, we both need to go in a different direction.”
And the likelihood of a good outcome? Back to my rule of thumb, it’s a 50/50 proposition so act accordingly. Show trust but proceed with checks and balances in place, whether it relates to money, or tools, or products, or customers, etc.

The Summary Message
Wise people will say hire for character first, you can teach skills. There’s much to be said for this approach. An interview question which will show much is to ask prospects what they do when they’re not working. Pursue those threads, they will display depth and passion and, therefore character, far more valuable to your business and you, today and tomorrow, than skills.

Next up
Back to a Real Time Stories pause, service sector, essential services, doctors, dentists, and the like. How did they survive shutdowns and where are they now?
Richard Koenings is an instructor and professor at Nicolet College and Concordia University, an executive manager of small and large businesses, a founder of three businesses, and has 30 years of experience as a business lawyer.


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