Apr 6, 2011

Preparing to Hire Your First Employee

Some of the most common questions that I get from small business owners I work with have to do with hiring, especially hiring the first employee. From personal experience, I would have to say that this area is one of the more challenging and confusing for owners of growing businesses.

Entrepreneurs often have two particularly nasty habits. The first is that they finally breakdown and hire someone when they cannot stand to do a particular function anymore. For my business, this was customer service. Although I loved interacting with the customers, I found the stop/start on a dime nature of customer service work makes working on long-term strategic and planning projects very hard.
When faced with this scenario, entrepreneurs will often hire a fully qualified person to fill this roll, and then drop the function like a hot potato in the new hire’s lap. Being so relieved to never even have to use the words “customer service” together again, the entrepreneur will often ignore this function completely.

Inevitably, a real “out of sight, out of mind” mentality develops, and the new hire goes along his/her way to fulfill the function the best way they can. Unfortunately, without an appropriate level of management and oversight by the business owner, the new hire’s function can “go rogue”, losing the qualities the business owner worked hard to create. This scenario can also cause a lot of stress and strain on the new hire, since it feels like they are working without a net, and many/most people like some amount of structure and communicated expectation in their job function.

When people are left to their own devices, the typical reaction is to do things their own way. The problem is, the company has to have a separate identity from either the new hire, or the owner, and things need to be done the business’s way. After all, if the business does not have an identity of its own, how can it ever grow without sacrificing synergy, reliability, and all of the customer-facing qualities that got it to where it is? Businesses successfully grow by maintaining the identity and qualities that got them to where they were. Not that employees are interchangeable, but to truly utilize the power of synergetic growth, ALL staff must fit into the company mold to achieve exceptional results at higher business volume.

The second bad habit many entrepreneurs possess is simply the inability to let go. So many entrepreneurs use their businesses as the container for their dreams, and the business itself becomes not only a part of their life, but also a big part of their soul. In this circumstance, letting go of even the most menial of task can be nearly impossible. Even when attempting to delegate responsibilities to others, the entrepreneur will stand by, waiting for the process to hit a rough patch, and then swoop in to save it at the last minute. In order to truly grow a business, the business owner MUST be able to delegate AND manage functional areas. With a growing business, the role of the business owner becomes more and more high-level, and trying to do all of the day to day work will usually either create a ridiculously difficult job for the business owner, not leave adequate time for proper management and long-term planning, or worse, both. Effective hiring means not only finding people who can fulfill their function, but even more importantly can be trusted, allowing the entrepreneur to release his/her death-grip every little detail of the business.

This mindset is more than understandable. It takes a lot of work to build a business, and often the business owner has a lot of themselves (plus not to mention personal debts, including debts to family members), and it is natural to be risk averse.

Effective businesses are built by finding the best people to fulfill functions, creating an environment worthy of their excellence, and trusting them to follow the management framework to create exceptional results. Your job, as the business owner, is to set the tone, and the expectations, for the organization and trust the folks in your employ to be able to show you just how exceptional they are. Given the room to apply their own unique talents can often yield unexpected advantages (and probably make people much happier in their jobs).

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