IS IT TIME TO HIRE? The 6 Biggest Mistakes I Made When Growing My Team

After 22+ years in business I still find recruiting new team members to be one of the most challenging tasks. So much rides on having a productive, skilled and harmonious workforce, and I feel the pressure every time I step into recruitment mode.

However, over the years I have fine-tuned my recruitment process and turned something that I used to find incredibly stressful into something that I can now approach with more clarity and confidence.

I admit, this fine-tuning was largely the result of many ‘teachable moments’ I experienced along the way (aka learning from my mistakes).

Below are some of those learnings. Hopefully I can help you skip the mistakes.

Mistake No. 1: I Didn’t Start Recruiting Early Enough

Recruitment is a lengthy process. It requires commitment and time (and lots of it). Defining your requirements and job descriptions, crafting and posting ads, vetting applications, interviewing, screening and testing, contracts and documentation, acceptance and notice periods, time, time and more time. And that’s before they even pull up a chair and start the onboarding and training process (more weeks and weeks, by the way).

Don’t be put off by all this time. Accept it, account for it and be prepared for it. And keep in mind with the current shortage of skilled workers, even more of a buffer needs to be allowed for here.

There are many catalysts to recruitment, and some are more obvious than others. Look out for the signs that you may soon need to step into recruitment mode and get out in front as early as you can. There will always be curve balls, and unfortunately even I am yet to master the crystal variety, though I have learnt to look for the signs and be ready to go.

Early Signs That You May Need to Start Recruiting

  • Everyone’s kicking goals and your business is growing, though you and/or your team are starting to hit capacity.
  • You and/or your team are showing signs of frustration and fatigue, you’re struggling to service your clients well, you are stressed and stretched, and work is creeping into family/personal time.
  • You have a new client or big project in your sights, though aren’t quite sure how you’re going to be able to resource it.
  • The market, tools of the trade, or technology is shifting and you foresee a skills gap.
  • There’s talk of a current employee moving on or taking extended leave (career/study move, relocation, parental leave, long service leave).
  • There’s someone in your team who is not suitable for or capable of the job.

You can’t sit back and wait for these things to happen before you start the recruitment process. If you do, you risk losing weeks and even months of you and your team being under resourced, stretched and stressed trying to plug the gap. This in turn can lead to under serviced and unhappy clients, inefficient work practices, and low team morale. You may even end up losing good employees  due to them being over worked and stressed out, you could even start to lose clients.

I truly value my team and am very happy where we are at, both personally and professionally, though I know that any business or team is fluid and evolving. I try to envisage where mine will be in 6 – 12months time, and all the things that may impact them. I consider what I need to do to protect and nurture valuable employees, foster successful growth and development, manage any obstacles, and prepare for evolution. I find that not only does this help me be prepared and mitigate certain risks, though I feel calmer and more confident when things do evolve, and so do my team.

Mistake No. 2: I Didn’t Define WHO I Wanted to Employ

To be honest, in the early days of running my own business, I was winging it (and yes, sometimes I still do). I didn’t have a clear picture of what my ideal employee looked like. I didn’t know what character traits, skills, experience or values would make them the right fit. This lack of clarity often resulted in hiring people that were, strangely enough, not the right fit.

Sometimes it was really obvious when I got it wrong. Like when I handed over a simple task and realised they had no idea how to do it, or when I introduced a new hire to a client or the rest of the team and realised there was an immediate personality clash. At other times, it was more subtle – a lingering feeling that something wasn’t quite right or that everything seemed to feel harder than it should.

I quickly realised that if I didn’t know exactly WHO I needed to hire, there was little hope of them miraculously appearing in front of me.

So, I set out to create a Job Scorecard and a Job Description for each role.

The Job Scorecard is a one-page document, usually in table form that defines the position, its desired outcomes, and the skills, experience and character attributes that the ideal employee should possess. Once you define these attributes, you can use the scorecard to help build the job advertisement, and throughout the recruitment process to score prospective employees.

The Job Description provides a specific outline of the expectations, requirements and tasks associated with a specific job.

Mistake No. 3: I Didn’t Truly Understand The Reason WHY I Needed to Recruit

As mentioned above, there are many catalysts to recruitment, though what you see isn’t always what you get, and it is important to understand exactly Why you are in the position you are in. Recruiting for the wrong (or a misunderstood) reason can lead to recruiting for the wrong position, or the wrong person.

For example, if you and/or your team are hitting capacity, it’s important to understand Why. Is it for all the good reasons  – your processes are humming, your team is working efficiently, your clients are profitable and growing, all your Christmas’ have come at once, and you need to clone your workforce? Or is it the flip side – employees are stretched because processes are inefficient, scope creep is out of control, the team is under skilled or under supported, and you need to hire the missing piece of the jigsaw? Both of these reasons are legitimate, though the Why very much affects the What and the Who you need to recruit.

Likewise, if you are recruiting because there’s a new client or project in the pipeline, consider how you are going to service that client/project and the skills and experience required. Will the new-comer take on this project or will it be managed by the current team? What is the snowball effect of potentially reassigning clients/projects amongst the team and where will the gap end up?

Or, if you are facing a skills gap due to new regulatory requirements, tools or technology, think about the impact on the rest of your team and the long-term affect on your business. Will the existing team need to be re-trained and require a mentor? Does this represent a long-term change in direction, does it need a more short-term solution, or is it fluid and requires a more agile approach?

Mistake No. 4: I Hired In Desperation

This old chestnut. Despite our better judgment, hiring the wrong person because you’re desperate is easier to do than you think.

I have done it a few times. I’ve been flat out, posted a job ad in haste, and haven’t received any applications that really peaked my interest. At this point, Wise Me would have said “take a breath, review the ad, repost and be patient”. However, Desperate Me didn’t have the time or head space for that, so proceeded with the best of the bunch, and told Wise Me to pipe down. When the top applicant still didn’t meet the minimum requirements, Desperate Me over-ruled and proceeded anyway.

Big Mistake! Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, most of my desperation hires made it past the probation period. There’s an adaptation of that old saying – ”Hire in Haste. Repent in Leisure”.

I now know the consequences of letting Desperate Me win. Not only is there the financial cost of the recruiting and training process, there is also an emotional cost. It’s horrible for all parties (you, them, your existing team) when it doesn’t work out, particularly when you know it could have been avoided if you had recruited correctly in the first place.

Mistake No. 5: I Didn’t Skill Test 

This one is important.

Just because someone says they have specific skills and experience, at a specific level, doesn’t always mean they do. It’s a hard truth and another I learnt the hard way.

In the early days of my business, I didn’t skill test. It didn’t really occur to me that people may stretch the truth, or that their opinion of their skill level (or even their referee’s opinion) may differ from my own.

And I can tell you that there is nothing more disappointing than going through the recruitment process, offering someone a job based on their skills and experience (with a salary to match), only to find out that they do not in fact have the skills for the job. You then need to make the decision on whether to end the probationary period early and re-recruit, redefine their role, and/or train them up to get them to a level you thought they were already at (all of which are costly exercises).

So, I introduced skill testing to my recruitment process. And it was a game changer!

A Skill Test allows you proceed with confidence to the next stage of recruitment. It may rule out an applicant, help rank your top candidates, or identify areas that you need to work on with new hire. Whatever the outcome, it is a valuable investment in your growing team and business.

Mistake No. 6: I Waited Too Long To Let Someone Go (Hire Slow…Fire Fast!)

The firing process is awful! Though it is a necessary evil and you really just need to rip that band-aid off!

I consider myself to be a pretty fair, considerate and compassionate person and employer. I’m predisposed to giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving them that second chance (or third, fourth and fifth), and believing that people can learn from their mistakes. This is certainly not a negative thing, though it is one that I have learnt to manage in the context of managing a team.

Part of that process has been learning to identify the tipping point, where they become a risk to your business and you have to let them go, because going past that point can have some pretty horrible outcomes.

  • Team Morale Takes a Dive
  • Loss of Valued Team Members
  • Under Serviced and Un-Loved Clients Leave
  • Productivity and Profitability Drop
  • Lack of compliance (and the risks associated with incorrect work, lodgements, payrolls etc)

Hopefully some of my “teachable moments” will help you avoid some of these same mistakes!

Keep Thriving



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