By Larry Galler

Not long ago the biggest business challenge was attracting customers. That’s changed dramatically in the last decade. Today’s biggest business challenge is attracting new employees and retaining them once they’ve been trained because unemployment is somewhere around 4 percent, and “help wanted” signs are everywhere — flashing on electronic billboards, plastered on the backs of trucks, emblazoned on banners strung outside stores. I even saw a guy in a fuzzy bear costume holding a “signing bonus” sign at a stoplight on a busy commercial street. Many desperate employers are trying hard to poach staff from competitors, so it’s sort of a hiring frenzy out there.

I’ve even talked to executives who had to turn down work because they don’t have the staff they need. As an employer, you must realize that these days you are in a very competitive hiring environment.

Since I coach and consult for companies in a broad spectrum of businesses from one-person owner operators to some companies with more than 1,000 employees, I’ve created the following checklist to help my clients attract, keep, and elevate staff members. Please realize that, if you were starting from scratch, this might seem to be a daunting list.

As you read, you should see that, for most small firms, it is a multi-year process, so please remember the ancient proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is today!” If you plant this tree today, you will see your business grow because you’ve hired candidates well suited to your company, trained them to do their jobs with skill and excellent attitudes, and they will stay with you longer so you can spend your time doing something more productive than constantly hiring and training new employees only to see them leave for greener pastures or because they were not well suited to the job in the first place.

1 | Know who you are looking for

Create a job description so you can advertise the position accurately. If you need someone who can lift 80 pounds or someone familiar with specialized business software/equipment or other specific capabilities, you don’t want to waste your time interviewing unqualified people. An accurate job description will help you describe the position, the responsibilities, and the personal qualities you are seeking.

2 | Have a competitive compensation package

In a tight job market, highly qualified applicants know they are in a good position to expect good compensation (pay and benefits) with opportunities to earn more as they gain experience. You get bonus points if you can offer the possibility of promotions or other future advancement in your company.

3 | Develop a process

Have an interview process that will quickly identify good candidates and, perhaps more importantly, quickly eliminate poor candidates from consideration so you don’t waste time and energy on those who, for one reason or another, don’t meet your needs (see #1 above). The ideal process would use standardized questions, so you can compare candidates and determine:

  • How candidates will respond to problems and challenges,
  • How they will respond to the pace of the environment,
  • How they will be able to influence others to their point of view,
  • How they’ll respond to rules set by others,
  • How they’ll respond to clients,
  • How they’ll fit in with coworkers,
  • How they will present the company to others,
  • Whether they are comfortable in a sales environment (if selling is part of this job),
  • Whether they are attentive to detail,
  • Whether they have the skills required by the position (e.g., math, writing, computer skills).

There are many aptitude tests available to determine whether they have these skills.

4 | Present an appealing package

Create a job offer that illustrates the entire package — compensation, benefits, training, and your expectations — so the candidate can see how well organized your business is and how they will fit into your environment. Remember, you are competing for good employees and candidates are comparing your business to others just as you are comparing them to others.

This is a marketing action and, if you want to hire good people, you’ve got to market your company and show them how good you are so they will accept your job offer. Good pay is only part of the package.

5 | Onboard

Once a new employee has accepted your job offer, it’s important to have an efficient onboarding process to quickly introduce your new employees to the company. You’ll also quickly get required paperwork taken care of, teach them your policies, introduce them to other staff members, and teach them their responsibilities, culture, and job requirements.

6 | Have a training process

Galler contact infoHelp employees learn their new jobs. Even if they are already familiar with the skills associated with the job, your processes and requirements will probably be different from companies they have worked for in the past. You want them to do their job right, and the only way that will happen is if you set standards and have a method of helping them reach those standards quickly.

7 | Help them grow incrementally

Create a stair-step approach to helping them grow in their roles. It might be a “trainee to normal position to expert” series of skill levels with different compensation levels.

8 | Perform reviews

Help your employees understand how they are performing in their jobs by establishing a series of performance reviews. Certainly, a new hire needs to be evaluated early in employment so they learn where they fall short and where they are meeting your expectations. After they settle into their positions, it is important to discuss their performance and ways they can up their productivity on a regular basis — at least annually, but many companies find that quarterly performance conversations help people do their jobs better more quickly.

If you are in a very small business, the owner or manager(s) typically work side-by-side with employees, and a formal performance review might not be comfortable or even necessary, but brief, informal “coffee huddles” can give employees feedback on their performance without the intimidating stress typically associated with the formal annual performance review meeting that is commonplace in larger corporations.

9 | Realize that staff retention is a never-ending task

Unfortunately, retaining employees is ongoing and something that needs to be constantly reinvented to keep work always fresh, light, and enjoyable yet serious. In order to constantly delight your customers, you need to inspire and engage the entire company to perform at ever-increasing levels. If you get this part right, it will make it so much easier to manage and grow the business rather than spend an inordinate amount of time and energy replacing staff.

I hate to hear employers moan, “I can’t find decent employees these days!” My observation is that people who make that statement don’t work at hiring, training, and retaining their staff at a high level of enthusiasm and productivity.

You can do better, but you must work at it.


Larry Galler has been creating marketing and management breakthroughs for owners of small and mid-sized businesses for more than 20 years. For a free telephone strategy session, email larry@larrygaller.com. Subscribe to his weekly newspaper column and newsletter at www.larrygaller.com.