In thinking about the best ways to build an effective talent pipeline, the first thing I'm reminded of isn't how to navigate all the best online recruiting sites, nor is it how to develop a solid cast of candidates. It's not even about the luck it takes to land the perfect employee at the right time.
Instead, I reflect on one of my favorite stories from the Bible – Exodus 31:1-6 – in which God brings Moses to the top of Mount Sinai and gives him an exhaustive list of everything He wants Moses to do. Startled and a bit dismayed, Moses finds relief in the knowledge that he'll have a strong team behind him. He wouldn't be alone in his efforts.
To me, it's an accurate metaphor for the hiring process. We tend to get bogged down in all the minute details when searching for the perfect candidate. We agonize over the little things without seeing the big picture, but what really matters is finding people we can trust who complement our skills. After all, we often spend more time with our co-workers than our own families, making an effective approach to hiring absolutely essential.
My scouting process
Whenever there's a critical position on our team that we need to hire for, I tap into my faith. I ask for the right people with the right skill sets to somehow cross my path, and I can't tell you how many times the person shows up within a matter of hours or days or weeks. They've got an amazing story about how they just wound up sitting across from me. Was it God or the universe listening and responding to my request? I'd like to believe so.
I also think there needs to be an alignment of both character and general likability. Again, we spend so much time with our team members that just looking at their skill sets isn't enough. I try to assess whether I could get along with someone on a person-to-person level, regardless of my plans to socialize with coworkers outside of work.
Of course, I don't want to hire people with half the skills I'm searching for just because they're friendly. Avoiding a "style over substance" mentality is key in that area. On the other hand, a wide range of skills and a unique array of experiences doesn't mean much if the candidate doesn't play well with others. And it's not just because they'll be a downer at social events; the team's morale can mean the difference between a groundbreaking project and a lackluster one. Finding talented team members with personalities that harmonize with the group is essential to building a high-functioning team.
Building a cohesive community
Our hiring approach at Nature Nate's Honey Co. is probably why we had such a great experience doing an exercise over at The Richards Group, an ad agency we hired in Dallas. They started by introducing each other – not themselves, but their teammates – with details about their professional backgrounds and a few personal highlights before asking us to do the same. We did it without hesitation or even thinking, and when we were done, they told us they'd never seen a group describe one another in such detail.
I realized this was a reflection of the community we've built inside our organization, a community that's united in its desire to make a difference in people's lives. We're driven not by the primal need for a paycheck but by an altruistic affinity to help others. It may not be as clear-cut as one or two things you look for in people, but I think this is the larger, clearer answer. I don't want to hire someone who just needs any job; I want to build an internal community that's willing to celebrate the successes together and encourage one another through the inevitable failures.
How my experiences shaped my hiring views
I didn't always have this kind of collective mindset. I always saw myself as a great individual contributor. I felt I could work harder, longer and smarter than anyone else, and achieve the best results all on my own.
That mindset changed when I was in full-time ministry. In 2008, we were creating an initiative called I Am Second, which actually became an international phenomenon. We had a budget and were tasked with assembling a team. Not only was it the first time I had to construct a team, but it also felt counterintuitive to me given my preference for working alone. But once we found an ambitious creative director and tenacious project manager, it was the perfect alignment of skills to accomplish this huge task.
Through this exercise, I realized I never initially wanted to be a manager, because I bought into the negative stigma surrounding the term. I didn't want to be a power-hungry autocrat who told everyone what to do. But once I learned about my role as a leader and the impact I could have, it became clear that inspiring people was my primary objective.
Acquiring more effective hiring methods
Ultimately, the last thing I want an employee to think is, "What am I doing here?" I want everyone to understand his or her role and purpose at the organization. Even when they're doing the grunt work and desperately trying to meet deadlines, they should still feel that they're affecting the lives of those around them. And ideally, by incorporating the following strategies into your own hiring practices, you'll achieve that same connection with your team members.
1. Understand the job completely
It sounds elementary, but you can't find the right employees without fully understanding the role they're about to fill. That becomes especially easy to forget if you're running a startup or some kind of fledgling business. You don't have all your needs mapped out yet, and when the best candidate comes along, you won't notice because you don't know where they'll fit into the company.
Entrepreneurs also have a tendency to focus solely on who's available instead of what their real need is. While that degree of pragmatism is commendable, it can become costlier in the long run when you invest in employees with little ROI.
That's why developing and/or revising your job descriptions is one of your first major steps in advancing your hiring approach. Consider that nearly half of all workers (47%) lack clarity in their roles. This is a vitally important characteristic, as high clarity leads to higher levels of effectiveness, retention, and productivity.
A proper job description is the foundation for that clarity. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but you should put some time into figuring out what skill sets you really need. That might mean meeting with your current employees to analyze their roles and responsibilities. It might also entail asking where some of the gaps are. Understanding where your team needs extra help is one of the best ways to identify what you need in the long run.
2. Invest in every employee
As a leader of the organization, you have to be prepared to invest in every person who helps you keep the lights on. And it's not just for them – you owe it to yourself and the organization to help everyone reach their full potential. I see myself at the bottom of the ladder. In order for me to be as successful as I can be, I have to serve everyone else.
The stereotype is that entrepreneurs see hiring someone as the end of a journey instead of the beginning. While hiring someone marks the end of the search for a specific person, it also indicates the beginning of building your relationship with them. New employees need your support to grow within the company. At Corning Glass Works, for example, employees who attended a structured company orientation program were 69% more likely to remain at their jobs for at least three years. The investment pays off.
You have to be ready to encourage your employees in multiple ways, whether that means walking them through a comprehensive onboarding, complimenting them on some of the smaller tasks they complete or holding regular one-on-ones with them to find out what else they need. They've filled a void in your organization. Now it's time for you to return the favor.
3. Treat turnover as the opportunity it is
Successful entrepreneurs recognize that not every employee will be with them for the long haul. People often work at an organization seasonally. Instead of planning for an employee's 20-year tenure and eventual retirement, prepare for the possibility that they may not be there forever.
For employees who leave for a new opportunity, it's important that you appreciate their time with the company and their impact, and that you take the chance to reassess your needs for filling that role. Not only will a positive sendoff enable you to keep a relationship with someone who may cross your path again, but it shows your employees the kind of leader you are.
There will also be occasions when you realize the need to let someone go. It isn't always the result of something as dramatic as negligence; sometimes, it's just not a good fit. Some employees seem perfect in the interview process and perform exceptionally in the first few months before becoming less suitable for the position. That happens.
Make a mutual goal with HR to make the transition as least disruptive as possible for the employee and his or her family. It's that kind of compassion that's propelled Nature Nate's to where it is today. It sounds idealistic because it is.
Not every talent pipeline and vetting process will be successful, but the respect you show every employee can always pay off. If there's one thing my experiences have taught me about hiring, it's that there are more creative, innovative and thoughtful ways to find the best candidates than by asking them about their greatest strengths and weaknesses.