Finding The Right Employee

“I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”-John Wooden

Mike Covert, the owner of Covert Aire, said the toughest business decision he ever made was hiring his first employee. He wasn’t concerned with how to cover the cost of an employee because he had prepared for that; he was concerned about giving up control. Someone else would be out there maintaining and fixing HVAC systems. He knew the quality of his own work, but would the new person deliver the same? If not, the image of Covert Aire could suffer from Reputation Deficit Syndrome.

If you have ever hired someone, then you know that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you end up choosing the wrong person. If and when this happens, it is your responsibility to learn from the mistake. Were there any warning signs you missed? Did you have any hesitation about your decision, or did you settle on choosing the best from a bad group just to fill the position? Unless you can function alone, then you’re going to have to try hiring again, and you may as well arm yourself by learning as much from your mistakes as you possibly can.

If you’re a business owner, then you know how difficult it is to get a solid chunk of undisturbed time when you can focus on the person in front of you without constant distractions. It’s even harder because your mind never really stops thinking about what’s going on in the business while you’re doing something else. But you can’t split your mind and give total attention to everything trying to occupy it, so you have to fully focus on each interviewee. Put the other things aside for a few minutes. They will be there when you get back. It’s worth it to either bring a great person into your business or keep a bad employee out.

In many ways, hiring is like dating. Everyone is on their best behavior and wants to make a good impression, but you really don’t know what you’ve got until six to twelve months into the relationship. That’s a lot of time invested in training and development, only to find out you have a lemon. When it comes to hiring, here is a proven rule of thumb from Greg McKeown of Harvard Business Review: “Hire slow, fire fast.”

You want to be as sure as possible that you are finding the right person for the job. But as soon as you find out you’ve made a mistake, correct it. How do you know if you’ve found the right person?

Hire Experience?

Some companies only hire people with experience in their industry. That’s fine, but what if that experienced person doesn’t fit the culture of your business? What if they have preferred ways of doing things that are contrary to the way you do them? What if their values are different from yours? What if they don’t really buy into your fundamental purpose and are just looking to fill eight hours and collect a paycheck? Experience is a great asset. However, experience alone is not sufficient.

What about hiring someone straight out of school and teaching them how to do the job? After all, job skills can be learned, and these people won’t come with the baggage of “this is the way we did it where I worked before.” But what if they have a poor work ethic, sloppy work habits, and poor attendance? Again, do they share your fundamental values, and will they be committed to your fundamental purpose? Will they be comfortable working within your fundamental operating principles?

You have to decide what the balance is between talent and experience for your business. Here is some sage advice from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach: “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience, than a lot of experience and a little talent.” You can teach employees just about any skill your business needs.

Look to Your Fundamentals

Fundamental Purpose

Your fundamental purpose defines why you are in business other than to make money and narrows the field dramatically, and your fundamental values and fundamental operating principles even further. When you interview prospective employees, find out if their fundamentals are the same as yours.

Would you agree that passion is an important factor for a business to succeed? Steve Adams wrote the book The Passionate Entrepreneur. He cites passion as the most critical factor in the success of his business, Pet Supplies Plus. As I read his book, I thought, Right on, Steve! Passion is really important! But then the business coach in me took over, and I thought, How can I teach a client to be passionate? Think about that for a minute. If passion is important and we want our employees to be passionate about the success of our business, how do we get them to be passionate?

Passion comes from dedication and commitment to a cause that you believe in and want to accomplish. It can’t really be taught; it has to be felt. Now, think about your fundamental purpose, about which you are very passionate. Is that prospective employee passionate about your fundamental purpose? How do you find out if your fundamental purpose is aligned with theirs? You ask questions designed to find out not only what their work experience and skills are but also in what causes they believe.

In their LinkedIn profile, what do they list under “Causes you care about,” “Volunteer activities,” “Organizations you support,” and “Opportunities you are looking for”? You want to get to know the person you are interviewing as a person and not just what their education, skills, and experience are. You are excited to get up in the morning because you know you are helping people and making a difference in many lives. You want people who share this passion and fundamental purpose.

Fundamental Values

Your fundamental values are principles you will never compromise. Make sure that their fundamental values are in alignment with yours and your company’s. Ask questions designed to uncover their values. One of Reclamation By Design’s values is “never cut corners.” Make up a hypothetical situation and ask them what they would do. One of Covert Aire’s values is “Give back to the community.” If the prospective employee has never done any volunteer work and has no interest in doing so, are they the right fit for Covert Aire?

Fundamental Operating Principles

Then there are your fundamental operating principles – how you do things at your company. These are not SOP’s but preferred methods of operating. An example might be “return calls within 24 hours.” Does the prospective employee buy into those principles? Would they feel comfortable working in your environment? Do they understand and agree with the way you do business? How long will someone stay with you if they comfortable with the way you operate?


When you find an employee who believes in your fundamental purpose, shares your values and is comfortable working within your operating principles you have found the right person.

For a complete discussion of Business Fundamentals read The Alligator Business Solution-Small Business Competitive Advantage.

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