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The Real Basic Skills

September 1, 2006
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Everywhere I travel and have occasion to converse with service-business owners, the conversation always seems to eventually wind up on the challenge of finding and hiring good people.

Considering that in a cleaning and/or restoration service company labor is generally far and away the largest item on the "expenses" side of the business ledger, it's no wonder that business owners are concerned about finding, hiring and keeping the best possible people.

One business I recently worked with was having such difficulty finding good workers that they were running a contest within their company offering a fantastic vacation for two to Hawaii to the employee that recruited the most new hires in a given period of time. Of course, in order to qualify in the contest, the new recruits had to complete their training and stay with the company for a specified period of time.

We aren't looking for warm bodies. We want responsible, dependable, intelligent, hard working, technically competent employees that love to work and never get sick. Seriously, we want more than just anyone; we want the "ideal employee." It's that special "something" that makes the difference between someone that simply puts in their time and someone that you would like to cultivate as a long-term member of your company team.

In a recent seminar on managing a carpet-cleaning business I asked the attendees to write a sample help-wanted ad for a carpet-cleaning position in their company and place it under their notebook. Then, without discussing their ad, I then asked them to call out the attributes of the "ideal" employee for me to list on the marker board.

The descriptions came quickly: reliable and trustworthy; honest; clean cut; mechanically inclined; intelligent; well spoken, and so on. Interestingly, the words "experienced carpet cleaner" were not on the "ideal employee" list.

Once we had a fairly long list of the desired attributes of an employee, I asked the attendees to pull out that want ad they had prepared earlier and compare it to the list on the marker board. In most cases, what they would have advertised bore no resemblance to what they hoped to hire. The lesson here is, if you are not getting the type of person you want, review what you are asking for.

Generally speaking, the attributes of the "ideal" employee are not skills, but fall more into the category of attitude or personality traits. When you hire, hire for attitude, and if the specific skills are there already, consider it a bonus. Skills can be taught, but attitude and personality cannot. The person with the right attitude can quickly learn the appropriate skills through on-the-job training and IICRC-certification classes.

On the other hand, there are not enough hours in the day to instill integrity and honesty if it is not already present. Sometimes previous experience can actually be a detriment if the approaches and attitudes encouraged in a past position are dramatically different from the policies and procedures of your company. It is often harder to overcome bad habits than to learn new procedures from scratch.

Some business analysts calculate that it costs about five to seven times the monthly salary to recruit and hire a new employee. It is therefore very important to take the time to hire the right person in the first place. Resist the tendency to take the first person you talk to simply because you need help right away. Hiring the wrong person can be catastrophic. It is far better to take your time and do a better job of selecting new employees than to be faced with having to dismiss one that has been hired and is a bad fit for your company. One tool that many companies use is a 90-day probationary period that must be completed before the employee is considered permanent. This gives both parties a chance to evaluate each other before finalizing the relationship.

Keep a constant eye open for the right kind of people; hire for attitude, remembering skills can be taught; and, finally, plan for each employee to be a long-term member of your team.

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