Hiring great people is absolutely key to running a great business and often, new business owners think that means hiring smart people. Lee Iacocca once said his secret to success was to "hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way." It's great to hire smart, but my experience is that smart isn't the most important quality. "Smart" people excel at certain types of jobs but overthinking can be a weakness, and causes people to go in circles. For me, the best hiring decisions have been made on three factors. Today, we'll look at those factors from least to most important.
This is an easy one to pick out. We all want talented people who can get the job done. Employees are the by far the largest expense in any service business, so having one expert who can do the work of five entry-level workers seems like (and often is) a great deal. Finding a truly skilled individual usually means someone who does fast, efficient, and most importantly, effective work.
Unfortunately, anyone who has spent time trying to hire knows there are a bunch of problems with evaluating potential employees only based on skill. The first and most obvious problem is that a good man (or woman) is hard to find. Candidates often inflate their resumés and it takes your precious time to weed out skilled candidates, especially when dealing with skills that are hard to assess.
Owners often have the experience of being a skilled worker for someone else before they start their business. If describes you, you know that people like you usually end up taking on more than their share of work and are the employees most likely to get burned out. Burned out employees often feel under appreciated and under compensated and end up looking for another job (or starting their own business.) When a skilled person leaves they create a gap in the business that often has to be filled by the owner, leaving the owner back working in the business instead of working on the business.
More important than skill is the ability to acquire MORE skills. Throughout the life of your business, things are going to change. An employee who is an expert in the tools and techniques of today is only skilled as long as those tools and techniques remain industry standard. Some skills tend to last longer (customer interaction) while others (product specific technical skills) can stop being relevant at the drop of a hat.
Growing a business requires people who can change and adapt with every changing circumstance. Owners need individuals who can take on a leadership role and managerial responsibility. These are skills that many technicians don't have.
The best employees have the ability to learn new skills and help others while the worst employees are the ones who stick to how they have always done things because they can't grasp the new, better way of working. Finding someone who has the drive and capability to grow with your business is far more important than any specific skill they have. Start with someone who listens well. You’ll be able to judge this during the first interview. In their own words, can they repeat an answer you’ve given them and get the details right?
As much as I believe in a candidate's aptitude, far and away the most important quality an applicant can have is attitude.
The thing about attitude is that it drives all the other fundamentals that make an employee great. They set an example for the rest of the organization when learn new skills and help others learn, too. Their fellow workers love them because they take time to mentor and to make other employees feel appreciated. And customers really, really, love them.
The other reason to hire based on attitude is because it is, by far, the rarest commodity in the business world. Finding an candidate with a great attitude is like finding a four-leaf clover or a lamp with three wishes in it. People with a great attitude will help you grow your business because they care. They will spend as much time thinking about your business as you do and always pitch in when something needs to be done without complaining. Candidate who can find the silver lining in a bad situation help others stand on good ground when times are tough.
A smart, skilled candidate with the ability to learn and a great attitude is something every owner wants to find but they are few and far between. It's almost impossible to evaluate initially whether someone is, or could be, all of these things. But in my experience, your odds are much better if you start with attitude.