Before Hiring, Clean Up Your Culture

I know football is America’s most popular sport, but I’ve got baseball on my brain because the Major League playoffs are here. One of the most important positions in the batting order is the “cleanup hitter,” who bats fourth in the lineup and is expected to “clean up” the bases by driving in runners. There’s a parallel in the business and non-profit world. Let me try to explain.

I was recently asked to present on my best practice system for hiring salespeople at a conference in Orlando and realized I couldn’t talk hiring until step four at the soonest. There are three actions you need to take — all related to cleaning up your culture — before you should start hiring.

Raise Your Standards

Workers who are successful, fun, and have high character do exist. Hold out to hire them. A typical recruiter and hiring manager error is to hire only for skills. They make a rushed decision based on the resume and then pray they candidate doesn’t offend them during the interview. If there’s no obvious friction, a job offer is made.

Your pre-employment interviews should be structured to determine if the candidate is a good match for your company in four areas: skills, personality, character, and mapping. Here are some questions you should be able to answer about every candidate’s character before you wrap up your interview process:

  • Do they have a history of making good choices or are they reckless?
  • Are they selfish or team-oriented?
  • Have they shown fortitude? In tough times, do they quit or confront the problem?
  • Are they disciplined or an emotional wreck?
  • Do they have ambition or do they need a kick in the butt?

The core question related to mapping is, “Does the candidate have the psychological makeup to be inclined to perform the activities of the job?” For example, a sales candidate who has the skills to acquire new business (aka. a “getter” or a hunter”) but finds that activity causes then emotional anguish will not perform that activity consistently and is unlikely to succeed at your job. They are better off being a “keeper” or a “farmer” if they choose to remain in sales.

Hold out for a candidate who hits or exceededs your target — your new target after you’ve raised your standards beyond just skills and personality.

Fire Your Lousy Employees

Another key cleaning-up act before hiring new employees is keeping around only the people who match your culture. You need to give underperforming employees a chance to get good, but the time they have to reach your standard should be measured in months at the most, not quarters or years.

I was just talking to a small business manager, and he was lamenting how he’s been too slow to let people go. He agreed with me that when you do eventually terminate an employee for poor performance, you almost always realize in the days or weeks after they leave that you had only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Before you go terminating anyone, you need to have evidence if the employee is performing to your standards or not. If supervisors don’t have these fundamental systems in place, you have some blind spots for employee performance:

  • Productivity reports.
  • Regular one-on-one manager/employee meetings. I say “regular” because you need to choose the frequency based on your situation. My guideline is you should have the meeting as often as necessary, but no less frequent then monthly.
  • A weekly team meeting. This will give insights how the employee engages with the group.
  • Annual reviews that include asking co-workers for their perspective.

The backdrop to those meetings is that you must have two-way candor in all your conversations. Managers need to be skeptical of performance and validate with facts, not make judgments solely on feelings. And this doesn’t just apply to current employees. Your hiring process should be candid; it’s not just a coronation of the least-worst person who applied for the job.

Again, give underperforming employees a chance to meet your standard, but it shouldn’t take quarters or years to do so. If they can’t cut it, you need to cut the cord for the sake of your culture.

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Sit Down and Write a New-Hire Training Plan

In the business best seller Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about not just discipline but “rigorous discipline.” You need to be disciplined enough to develop a thorough plan to ensure you effectively onboard and train new hires. And while I’m throwing around book quotes, let me share this one from Execution: “Execution is the missing link between aspirations and results.”

I know you have limited resources, so I’m not suggesting you create a 350-page epic Ode To Training. But you need something specific and reasonably detailed. Here are seven fundamental aspects of new-hire training programs that I’ve seen work wonders:

  1. Detail a Day 1 plan. This includes initial paperwork and reviewing your employee handbook before diving into the actual job. The new hire should not be sitting by idly at any point during their first day — or during their entire training program.
  2. Map out their first 13 weeks and what duties you expect them to perform week-by-week. The burden is then on them to take initiative to complete these tasks.
  3. List who and what they will be exposed to during the training period.
  4. Regularly test their knowledge — don’t assume the important stuff is all sticking. Realize that a new employee can’t build skills without acquiring knowledge first.
  5. Make training programs broad so they see your entire organization beyond their job. The new hire needs to know how they fit in with your org’s big picture.
  6. Conduct a daily supervisor/new-hire meeting. These meetings can move to weekly as the new hire progresses.
  7. Have a clear job description and share with the new hire how they are pacing against it.

Once these fundamentals are in place and your culture is cleaned up, you’re ready to move forward with hiring a new employee.