Hiring and Human Resources
You’ve built a pricing model and business plan. You’ve made relationships with vendors and other entities that allow you to grow. And now it’s time to start building a team. Hiring is one of the most important things you can do as a company. You entrust your customers with your employees. And the hardest is the first.
In this blog, we’ll explore complete Human resources planning how your staff will look, hiring your first employee, some basic management tips, and also some of the logistical stuff that goes into actually being a legitimate (a.k.a. legal) employer.
Before you hire, you have some important questions to ask yourself that will guide the types of business you take on, how you grow your company, and how difficult it will be to run your company as you grow. Before we get into how to hire throughout this blog, let’s first look at some of the questions you need to ask before you start.
\ Will, you be hiring contractors or staff? I have to admit, I’ve always been partial to having people on staff, and treating them right. This means getting your ducks in order with 401k, health insurance, and staff development. But if your consultancy is a gig rather than a career, you might choose to leverage contractors.
Additionally, if there are specialties (e.g., Cisco, Jamf, Exchange, etc.) you’re trying to keep in-house, you might choose to bring on contractors to deliver various services. Be deliberate about what you want to be doing, what you want to include in your offer, and who will be delivering each type of service when needed.
\ What traits are you looking for in an employee? Think about your mission, vision, and values. Then write a persona of the type of person you want to have around. Do you value automation engineering or customer service? How do you want someone to represent you when they’re in the field?
\ What will employees be doing? Are you going to sell, do technical work, focus on administration? The skill set you look for might be different based on the personality of the proprietor of a small business. And the type of employee might be different as well.
If you need someone to run the company while you’re out doing all the cool stuff, you need a much different employee than if you are hiring someone to sell services or deliver services. Again, be deliberate about who does what, and be willing to make a concession when you find those special people who might bring something special to the table that you hadn’t previously considered.
\ Do you want referrals coming back to you? For most this is a firm “yes,” but according to how you want to grow the business it might be an, “It’s according to what kind of business it is,” or a, “If my subcontractor does good work, they can have the referral business.” Don’t expect brand loyalty and referrals to stay within the business unless you incentivize your employees based on that (e.g., a finder’s bonus, etc.).
\ How do you want employees to grow professionally? Don’t expect people to learn on their own. As you grow, the depth with a platform required, the ability to learn new technologies, and other factors will determine how you grow, or if not, how you’re able to retain team members.
\ How much can you pay your employees? An easy rule of thumb I’ve always used is 2.5x. This means that I want to be billing any given billable employee for two and a half times what I’m paying them.
This includes the overhead (e.g., Human Resources and training costs), commissions to any salespeople that are hired, and the salary of employees, but also back-office costs. For non-billable employees, the salary expectations will vary. Visit sites like Glassdoor Job Search | for initial comparisons, or as you grow, ask any outsourced Human Resources for salary numbers.
Note Chances are if you’ve got a full-time job that isn’t running your consultancy, then if you hire, you should be hiring contractors and not full-time staff employees.
What if you can’t find the right person? If you can’t subcontractor staff a task or line of business, then you might need to outsource some of your work. This can also be an easy way to deliver various services you don’t consider part of your core business model.
Outsourcing can be tricky. Make sure you are on the same page with outsourcers about how to treat customers, referrals, how they represent you, and billing. And be aware of the legal ramifications of having other businesses (even businesses of one person) as your customers by having solid non-disclosure agreements in place with subcontractors, staff, and outsourcers.
Finally, before you move on to posting a job on the Internet, keep in mind that the posting will potentially be read by customers as well.
Before You Hire
Go to Human Resources Outsourcing Company - TriNet, ADP Official Site | Payroll, Human Resources and Tax Services, Human Resources Outsourcing Services | Insperity® Business Performance Solutions, and Gusto and pick one. If you haven’t looked at Gusto, look at them. Then look at their investors. They are disrupting Human Resources outsourcing left and right, and they are inexpensive and capable of scaling with your business. I’ve used Tri-Net, ADP, and Insperity, and they are similar in the business model, quality, and cost.
If you don’t have a Human Resources consultant, you need one by the time you have seven employees. You need a system that gives you the ability to pay employees, track time and benefits, provide a 401k, and potentially provide profit sharing or stock.
That Human Resources consultant can be provided by one of those companies, or you can get one that will help you manage those systems and your team. Look for a consultant who wants to build repeatable systems rather than doing everything manually and/or for you. That’s often not a person that works for one of the companies whose services you are using.
Once you get to around 20 employees, if you’re going to continue scaling up, you need to hire a full-time Human Resources employee, in a leadership position. This person is meant to help you build excellent onboarding systems, revamp all the stuff that your consultant helped you with, and set the company on a trajectory for rapid growth.
In some states, you will be required by law to hire this employee as your 51 st hire, but chances are that without a concerted effort to provide repeatable onboarding and Human Resources systems that you won’t get there except by luck if you haven’t hired this individual far earlier than employee #51.
Now you know what kind of person you want and it’s time to find them. Where you post a job description can define you, and the type of stuff you’ll bring on. There are several good places that you can post job descriptions for free. In the Apple world, this might mean a specialized vendor site, or you might choose to post jobs to more general places if you don’t have luck there. Consider these:
\ Slack: The Join MacAdmins on Slack! The slack channel has specific channels for #jobs-board and #jobs-chat that you can use to find potential employees and post jobs. You can also click on someone you’re interested in and get a feel for what they’re like by reading previous posts. In my opinion, this is the top place to post your technical jobs when recruiting for Apple skills.
\ Jamf Nation: I should start this section by saying that I work at Jamf. But even before I came to Jamf, I used to read postings on Jamf Nation, and I hired many people based on how they had contributed there.
\ Message Boards: Jamf Nation is one message board, but there are others. Reading articles that people contribute to sites like AFP548 - Covering Apple IT or personal blogs has led to hiring a number of people. This is one of the more legitimate ways to find employees. However, don’t post unless you’re supposed to or you might be flagged as an evil spammer.
\ LinkedIn: LinkedIn allows you to search for people that meet certain criteria. But you will need a Premium account in order to open communication channels with them unless you know their e-mail address. This is one of my favorite ways to recruit, and a Premium account is pretty inexpensive annually. However, people might not be checking their messages, actively looking for a job, or might just think you’re a spammer.
\ Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Monster: A quick search for macOS netted dozens of job postings in my area and a lot of resumes. The drawback is that you’re going to be competing with large companies, which can make recruiting pretty pricey. However, this is the traditional way to hire these days, and at least you know when you talk to job candidates that they are actually looking for work.
\ Craigslist (and other classifieds): I saved this one for last, as I’ve struggled here. You will potentially get a lot of responses, many of which won’t be even close to what you’re looking for. But I’ve found many (many) people through these outlets, which made the cost and time worth it.
You also might simply troll lists such as mac enterprise or the Apple Consultants Network e-mail list. Or you might use word of mouth to find potential employees among your personal network. Word of mouth is by far the best way to find employees and customers, but over time you’ll find that these networks dry up (unless you are a truly amazing employer).
I like to start building job postings based on job descriptions that I’ll use to communicate what someone will actually do on the job. The job description is like a contract with staff that lays out the responsibilities and tasks for the job. This acts as a good guide for reviews, salary increases, etc.
As companies grow, job descriptions are also integral to staff leveling (e.g., the difference between Technician 1 and Technician 2), performance improvement plans (which are great tools for everyone from new employees to staff that are running into challenges on the job), one-on-ones that help guide employees along their career path, etc.
You can then take that bulleted list of tasks and paste them into your job posting. I don’t like too many bullets in my posts, though, so you might find yourself converting them into prose.
You need some bullets for sure, but try to focus on text that describes what someone would be doing, and include any potential growth in the position. Don’t bury the lede when referencing why your company is a great place to work. Make sure that you point out any perks and the fact that consulting is a great way to cut your teeth in the Apple device management market overall.
Once you’ve written what someone will be doing and why they want to work there, review what you’re writing and think about what competitors can ascertain as to how you do business. Avoid talking salary in job descriptions. This gives competitors insight into how much they might pay your staff to steal them away. Also be mindful that talking about specific technologies may narrow the set of people who can apply to a job.
Some are harder to pick up than others. So Kaseya or Jamf experience would be great to have if you are using those, but common cloud solutions or easier technologies such as Meraki should likely be avoided. Instead, use terms like “a solid foundation in routing technologies” or “a comprehensive understanding in monitoring technologies.”
Once you’ve posted a job, it’s time to start reviewing resumes. This is one of my favorite parts of the hiring process. At one point, I would get 100 resumes for every posting. Many can be easily overlooked. For example, if you’re looking for entry-level desktop Mac support then you’re likely not going to be getting a VISA for someone in another country (you’d be surprised how many of those I’ve gotten), or if you’re hiring an experienced macOS and iOS support engineer, you’re likely not going to want to interview someone who’s only experience is grounds maintenance at a theme park. But I would often have five or six resumes like that.
Over the years, I learned a few tips that kept me from spending countless hours interviewing candidates. Let’s examine at some good things to look for in a resume.
\ Avoid infected files. If you get a file with a virus, for our industry, that’s pretty much a show-stopper.
\ Look for technologies they saw once (or maybe you didn’t see but maybe saw, or may be discussed and didn’t see). Usually, a bulleted list of disparate technologies can be a challenge to comb through. Prepare technical questions for an interview by marking up a resume or writing on printed resumes. Many will give a big list in order to get through search criteria in automated resume review systems.
\ Avoid overthinking arcane skills and technology. Yes, someone may have spent 10 years as a COBOL programmer, but the last 2 years was with Swift. Focus on the skills you need and how recently they were applied.
\ Good grammar in a resume probably means good grammar in e-mails to customers. If a candidate can’t spell-check a resume, they probably won’t spell-check their e-mails or pay attention when the grammar gets flagged. I write blogs (obviously), so I’m a bit funny about spelling errors, especially when they’re underlined with lame squiggly marks in a document sent to me, but this is an attention to detail you want to see in resumes.
\ Look for succinct descriptions. A 30-page play-by-play of every time a candidate called a support desk to get a problem fixed is a huge red flag. The ability to communicate succinctly (whether in the written form, on a call, or in person) is one of the more underrated job skills to look for when hiring, no matter what the blathering in this blog indicates. Keep in mind that you’re going to get a lot of e-mail from this person. And if they’re all four pages, you’re going to waste a lot of time.
\ Look for certifications over post-secondary education. While Apple has been slowly killing off their training programs (you can still get certified for sure), there are a number of certifications out there from vendors like Jamf, FileWave, VMware, and Google. Certainly, there’s value in a college education, but certifications typically indicate that a prospective employee has more specific skills that might meet your needs.
\ Look at the e-mail address. Yes, I am intrigued by the fact that Google would actually give some e-mail addresses I’ve seen, but the lack of good judgment from a candidate in not creating a sanitized account could be concerning.
\ Read the cover sheet. You can often learn more about a candidate from the cover sheet than you can from the resume. You’ll have your own criteria, and they’ll be better than mine for your use. And each job is different (e.g., you aren’t going to look for skills with python when hiring an accountant). But this should get you started. Be patient, there are a lot of great people looking for work!
I like to go through all resumes in batches. During growth spurts, the rare moments of solitude that were required to review resumes often came only after I got home from work. But I always made sure to keep the ball moving on hiring, as potential employees who are any good will get hired quickly, so you need to act in order to hire. When you need employees, you are usually busy, so it’s critical to keep momentum in the hiring process.
The interview is where you go beyond a resume and review each candidate to decide if they fit with the culture you want your company to have and to bring the right level of skill to the position. But the interview is more: the interview sets the tone for your relationship with a candidate throughout their tenure at your company. In this section, we’ll look at two aspects of the interview process. We’ll start with phone screening job candidates, and then move on to the in-person interview.
The phone screen is a short call with a candidate to make sure that you want them to come in for an interview. Send an e-mail or reach out through the medium that the resume came in as a first attempt to set up a phone screening. You can also call someone and just ask if they have a few minutes to discuss the position, or if they would prefer to set up a time.
The phone screen should be light. You aren’t going to show a candidate a screenshot of a router or a snippet of swift code and ask them to tell you what’s wrong. But you do want to maybe confirm a few details from the resume, validate any necessary technical skills, and ascertain the phone demeanor of a candidate. I usually ask a series of questions that include the following during a phone screening (according to the position):
\ Reiterate the top three or four bullets from the job description
\ Any questions to find the personality traits you’re looking for
\ Look for a willingness to learn
\ Look for core competencies that might not be on each individual job description
\ This is the right time to ask what someone is making (unless it’s forbidden in your state) and what they are looking to make
\ Why are you interested in the company?
Note I often cap phone screenings at 30 minutes, but you might go further.
When you’re done with a phone screening, you usually know whether or not you want to bring a candidate in for an interview. If you want to interview them, go ahead and set up the interview at the end of the screening, so as to remove as much latency in the hiring process as possible. There aren’t any good rules around scheduling (I’ve done same-day or in a month), just don’t apply pressure for a specific time. Make sure the candidate has plenty of time to get to your office when they’re done with day jobs, etc.
We all have different things we look for in potential employees. But here are a few things I have always looked at when interviewing.
\ Appearance: You can’t judge a blog by its cover. But you can tell if it’s going to be late to work every day. When I interview, I notice everything from fingernails to attire to hair. I can get over that first impression for the right employee, but I shouldn’t have to.
\ Timeliness: Interviewees should be about 5 minutes early. If they’re late showing up to your office for an interview, they’re likely to be late meeting with customers. I can understand there was a lot of traffic or something like that, but leaving with plenty of time even if there is traffic is important. I immediately give a pass to anyone that calls. Because things happen.
\ A copy of a resume: I don’t need it, but I like the attention to detail when someone shows up with a copy of their resume. Makes me think I won’t find an empty can of soda sitting on top of a server at some point.
\ The ability to stay on point: You ask questions and you want an employee to stay professional and succinct. A few minutes of pleasantries up front are fine, but if a candidate can keep things on track in an interview then I assume they can stay on point with a customer and I’m not going to get a call that they’re too chatty.
\ Nervousness: I very much forgive any nervous chatter. I assume that means they want the job. If a candidate can manage a smile, all the better!
\ Lying: At this point, I assume people lie on resumes. But if I figure out someone is lying during an interview, I’ll wrap things up and say goodbye and that’s that.
\ The ability to say they don’t know the answer: When hiring for a technical role, ask technical questions. It is fine not to know something, but rather than feed you a line of crap, a good candidate will tell you they don’t know the answer to a question but how they might go about finding the answer.
\ Turning off the phone: Or at least the ringer. Airplane mode is probably best. If a phone rings during an interview then I get a tad bit irritable. If someone answers a phone during an interview, then I expect a significant other to be in labor.
\ Don’t talk about religion or politics: This could be included under number 8, but it’s not. Remember that we live in a country split almost down the middle on these topics.
\ Ask why a candidate wants the job: This always elicits good responses.
\ Ask what differentiates a candidate from others.
\ Don’t discuss sexual orientation, age, race, or anything else that could remotely be considered discriminatory.
\ See if the candidate asks questions. If they’ve done their research and have relevant questions to ask, then they’re interested in the role.
Ultimately, you know when you’ve found the right employees. Certainly, there are hard decisions, but if you do everything right, the hard decisions are between potentially amazing employees!
Making The Offer
As we discussed earlier in this blog, check with sites like Glassdoor, or work with an outsourced Human Resources provider to determine the amount that is appropriate when hiring. A good rule of thumb for getting started, though, is within 20 percent above or below the average median income for a given job title in the geography you’re hiring in. Anything below 50 percent could end up with inadequately prepared employees performing tasks for customers. Anything over 50 percent could end up with bored employees.
Offers should be in writing. Keep in mind that they are contractually binding. When you make an offer, you can be sued for damages in the event that you rescind the offer before someone starts. So be sure that you have found the right people before you offer them a position.
The offer should include an overall package, defining what in the financial considerations is guaranteed and what, if any, income is variable (e.g., commissions). I would recommend only ever changing the compensation plan of an employee at the beginning of a fiscal year, and those changes should be communicated well in advance.
Offers can have contingencies, such as passing a background check. All consultancies should probably do background checks. This doesn’t mean things like drug testing. It just means that before you send employees to schools, homes, or businesses, make sure you know who you’re sending.
This has an added benefit of checking off a box for certain customers that require contractors coming onsite to be background-checked. Once you’ve hired someone, it’s very challenging to enforce a background check requirement, so make sure to include that in an offer letter. Also, you may choose to overlook things that come through in background checks; that is your prerogative.
Finally, contracts are important, and I like to make offers contingent upon the acceptance of things like non-disclosure agreements, so you might elect to send these in a hiring packet.
Onboarding New Employees
Every time you hire someone new, you want to get better at doing so. If you go through a growth spurt, this is a must. Therefore, document the process the first time. This way you start keeping track of what you need to do each time, like a checklist. I like to lay out the plan in a way that includes milestones and dates (but I obviously like to write) and put those in a Learning Management System (LMS) like the Software as a Service (SaaS) product Litmos or a list app/site, like Trello or Wunderlist.
Note Keep in mind that it’s awesome when one of these integrates with your ticket management system to make it as easy as possible for your teams to keep track of their time).
A typical onboarding plan might include the following:
\ Week 1
\ Sign contracts, such as non-compete agreements, acceptable use policies, etc. (unless this is handled prior to the first day).
\ Review the mission, vision, and values of the organization. We don’t really talk about those in this blog, as they’re too often given more pages than they’re worth, but while you might not have codified these, you should have a conversation about them with new employees so the company DNA continues on as you intend.
\ Write a bio for the company website. This lets your customers know a little bit about this new, untested person that will be showing up at their location. Include a photo when possible.
\ Fill out all required Human Resources paperwork, such as W2 forms, health insurance sign-up, etc. I really don’t like it when employees are expected to do this on their own time, as it sets a bad precedent.
\ Perform a number of ride-alongs with more senior engineers (or you, if it’s your first hire).
\ Take service desk calls. I firmly believe that everyone in a consulting firm should spend some time on the service desk. It connects staff to the widest possible variety of customers and communicates a subtle message about the division of labor at the organization.
\Define when you want someone taking jobs on their own. This is important, as people understand how they’re tracking toward your expectations in regards to customer engagement.
\ Get expense reports in, and on time. Review any issues with expenses, mileage, etc.
\ Close tickets quickly and with good details. Review good ticket entries and those that might be lacking.
\ Potentially achieve various technical certifications.
I like to include quantifiable and qualifiable feedback on employees here, such as:
A percentage toward a potential billing quota. Again, make sure that staff understands how they are tracking toward your expectations.
A customer satisfaction score. This helps employees understand how customers perceive them. If you don’t yet have the means to track customer satisfaction, then I highly recommend you explore one of the bevies of survey sites out there on the Internet, with a focus on any that might integrate with your incident tracking system.
Generating internal assets, such as knowledge bases, blog posts, customer advisories, etc.
Mastery of internal systems, such as ticketing, knowledge bases, etc.
After that 60-day milestone, you should be able to sit down with employees and work out a long-term, more customized plan whereby they’re able to find their specialty in the industry and work toward more specific goals for what they want out of the job, their career, and how that lines up with life in general.
Each time you hire, iterate that checklist so you can get a little better at getting each new employee up to speed. Some things to look for include the following:
\ How are employees tracking toward the time you assumed it would take to achieve various milestones?
\ What did each employee find difficult to understand?
\ What processes did you need to teach that you hadn’t previously documented?
\ What can you document rather than talk through, so there’s no possible misunderstanding about processes and procedures?
Being disciplined about the onboarding process will help immensely when you have to bring on multiple people at the same time during future growth spurts. Eventually, I’d built too much doctrine in a program I once created called Year One (yes, blatantly stolen from Batman) and had to re-evaluate the entire program. That’s part of creation and destruction.
Wikis for Onboarding
Many of us use wiki-style solutions or portals for building out onboarding documentation. Tools like Confluence, Sharepoint sites, Google Docs strung together, or other alternatives increasingly help organizations communicate standard operating procedures, complex thoughts, notes from meetings, and any other information that the organization needs to store.
As sites grow, they get messy. Style, consistency, flow, structure, and guidelines become a bit more important, as do things like grammar. There are a ton of things you can do to make your pages better, without adding fireworks and animations. Let’s look at some of the big ones
I’ve found over the years:
\ Don’t bury the lede. Add an introduction to any page that’s over 500 words.
\ Use different header levels. I like to start most documents with an outline. That outline becomes headers, and sometimes the introduction of a given paragraph. Doing so also allows you to build those headers before you start typing into your document.
\ Use a Table of Contents. Not every page is going to need a Table of Contents. But if you can’t see all of the headers on a page, I would recommend making browsing through a given page easier.
\ Spelling and grammar count. Yes, I know, you got your point across to most with that brilliantly built page. But many were lost for a bit trying to overlook that blatant “their vs. there” or the 5-line sentence that had 16 comes in it, or was that commas… Internal documents at your organizations might not need to be perfect, but it helps make you look more intelligent, while not losing any of your readers along the way. Also, use a consistent actor and tense throughout a document; otherwise, most of us get confused after a while.
\ Add section breaks. You know those cute little horizontal lines in your text. They help a reader to understand when jumping between two sections. Alternatively, consider different page structures. But I’ve rarely seen cases where two-columned pages (or more) shouldn’t just be separate pages.
\ Bold things, but not too many things. I like to use bold for emphasis. After all, that’s what it’s there for. I don’t use all-capped items EVER, unless the article contains an acronym (then I define the acronym and put it in parenthesis afterward the first time it’s used) or the item is capped in a screenshot that I’m quoting. When listing acronyms, there’s no need for periods between letters.
\ When documenting software, quote items on a screen. For example, if the screen says “Click here to start” and you have a sentence that contains the string “click on Click here to start before you,” then no matter what else is in that sentence a reader is completely lost. Additionally, if documenting a command line interface, use a separate font to identify inputs and outputs from the text of your article.
\ Use bullets and numbered lists. If you’re adding a step-by-step to a document, use a numbered list (this makes it easier to refer to steps by a number in the future). If you’re working on a paragraph and have more supporting thoughts to an argument than three, then consider moving those into bulleted lists. If you are building a list in a sentence with more than three or four items, also consider moving those items into bullets.
\ Annotate images. Oh, and use images. But if you use images, annotating them will make it easier for a reader to find what you’re referring to in the text.
\ Watch comments. Be prepared for comments the second you click save on a new page, or article. Many will watch feeds of all the documents in a given section of your company intranet or site that contain a given tag.
Then the comments will come in. Rather than force people to hunt through comments or assume the whole company bothers to read those comments, update the content of an article when appropriate (e.g., every time someone asks a question). I like to use an FAQ section for doing so.
\ Summarize long and complex processes. Any process that requires more than 10 clicks on a screen or more than 10 steps should also include a summary beforehand. The longer the process, the less information you’ll want to put into each step. The more information (a.k.a. text) you put into each step, the more you should also consider adding images, mind maps, or flowcharts to help readers not get lost.
\ Use smaller words. Remember, not everyone will easily follow when you leverage the vast cornucopia of your lexicon to woo them into believing you’re smarty pants. Use small words when available and simple sentence structures when possible.
\ Keep it short. A wiki article probably shouldn’t be more than 1,500 words, unless it is defining a complex process. And then each sentence should be short enough to not require ending punctuation (think tweets with good grammar!). Remember, you can link to articles and pages from other articles. Use that to your advantage at any time possible.
\ Tag pages. A number of internal documentation systems allow for watching pages with a certain tag or inserting a feed of pages with a given tag into other pages. Tagging pages also make them easier to find when you wonder if you wrote up a topic or process already.
\ Save every now and then. Yes, most systems will automatically save every few minutes (or even every time you click). But not all. Especially on brand new pages where you haven’t actually clicked that Save button yet.
No one ever wants to delete anything these days! But routinely review and re-organize your organization’s or team’s site. Priorities shift. Tasks get completed. Responsibilities come and go. Routinely revisiting your content structure helps you stay in front of data sprawl and stale content!
Every manager should routinely meet with team members. There is a variety of names for these meetings, such as check-ins and one-on-ones. This allows you to take the temperature of the employee, see if they’re enjoying their job, and check-in on what you can do to help them be all they can be.
Everyone has a different take on what should go on in these meetings. I like to run them as follows:
\ Ask how things are going. Make sure to be personable, even if you have an agenda. And make sure you understand a little something about their personal lives. But don’t be contrived; be authentic.
\ Communicate any changes in the organization (staffing, alignment, new customers, etc.).
\ Review any areas of exceptional achievement or areas that need addressing
\ Review steps toward an Individualized Learning Plan
It’s often easy to overlook one-on-ones when employees are really busy with customers in the field. Don’t. Keep the routine check-ins, even if you have to move them around. It can be tempting to do so but don’t put them after-hours, either. You’ve made the commitment to hire someone and guide their career, and while you can certainly grab coffee or drinks after hours, show a continued commitment by doing business during business hours.
Building a good training program can be a challenge for busy and growing companies (you know, the type that is hiring and needs to create training assets). Creating new materials is time-consuming and can often only be done by certain team members. Keeping training materials up-to-date can take up an insane amount of time as your library grows, especially given an annual release cycle from Apple. Leverage existing materials wherever possible to keep your upkeep at a minimum.
Individualized Learning Plans
I like to codify how staff will be spending training time and budget. This is often done in the form of an Individualized Learning Plan. These plans lay out priorities for training, as well as tactics to achieve those priorities. Some items I like to include in learning plans include the following:
\ Three areas you’d like to improve on. This is the most important part of the plan. What does each employee want to learn? The rest of the plan tracks how you get there. The reason I usually prefer three items rather than one is that this provides flexibility and a little variety so when people get tired of one area (or better, finish an area), they can move on to another. It’s preferable when the areas are connected in some way.
\ Quarterly goals toward mastery in each area. I prefer these to be SMART (or Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely).
\ Specific might mean that someone writes a script that performs a specific task.
\ Measurable might mean that you expect a blog post or an external certification on each item.
\ Attainable means that the employee can actually finish it (and that you’re not saying “go write a replacement for macOS Server and get your CCIE by Friday”).
\ Timely means that the goal can be completed in the time allocated.
\ Are you keeping a journal of professional development activities? Professional means that this isn’t about hobbies but about work. To me, the key word here is development. What is each person doing to make themselves better? Hopefully, these activities align with company goals, but they don’t have to.
\ What position do you see yourself next? The best employees are honest and say yours. But not everyone really wants that when they understand what the field of jobs is in front of them. Many want to just go deeper and deeper into the technology. Some want to follow the big paychecks in sales.
Others will honestly tell you that they want to start their own companies (but most will lie and say they want to “just get better”—especially the ones with MBAs). The point of this question is to track aligning the training and your own goals for people with what the individual team members want.
\ How do you feel you’re tracking toward the next position? This is a great early warning sign that people are tracking ahead of, or behind, their own schedule. Keep in mind those shift as external motivators shift as well.
\ Peer-coach feedback: Once you get big enough, you can use a peer-coaching system to allow team members to help one another. This allows you to spend more time reviewing feedback while also allowing you to see how team members are dealing with limited forms of leadership.
\ Active research projects: Projects that are part of SMART goals from earlier in the document. The best engineers often have the most fun in this section.
\ What progress has been made since the last meeting? I like to think of this as version control. “What’s changed” is much easier to read that every single line—especially when you have 20 to 30 to sift through.
Over time, the plans grow. This is bad. The more doctrine you introduce, the fewer people will take away from their one-on-one and other meetings that are meant to be about them. Keep training plans short, and only have enough detail to be able to explain how targets were hit or missed. Keep in mind that if targets are missed, then some small area of the plan you didn’t care about is invariably to be blamed!
Layering Training Assets
Don’t re-invent the wheel every time you need to build something. In fact, search for and purchase assets when you possibly can. Your specific training can layer on top of these third-party materials. So, for example, rather than build your own course on macOS, purchase one of the Apple Training Series blogs from Peachpit Press for your company library, and then build a document quizzing on specific parts of that if needed.
As you grow and need to document more stuff in a variety of different places, there are some things you can do to make things easier to track and train on. Some of these are just how managing your internal systems and documenting standards allows you to spend more time focusing on actual product training.
\ Standardized methodology for adding systems into your asset management and tracking systems: When you can’t find all of the assets you need in a single pane of glass, it’s important to make sure there’s a standardized way to find the things you need.
\ Your naming conventions: How do you name computers (e.g., is it client code-site code-device code)? How do you prefer to name servers, firewalls, switches, printers, etc.? Do naming conventions change for each customer?
\ Which tools hold which types of information? Many starts with a spreadsheet to track that password for the Apple DEP account or that root password to login to a firewall at a customer site, and many starts with a spreadsheet or simple database. As needs mature and compliance becomes an issue, look to tools such as IT Glue.
\ How do you want your teams interacting with customers? Don’t forget to document the areas you value in customer communication. This might come across as soft and mushy and without a lot of value to nerdy engineer types. But it’s worth the scorn to be crystal clear about the level of customer service you expect.
\ How do you provide as much value to customers as possible? Will stay with a customer an extra 15 minutes make them way more successful? Sometimes. Do you have to charge for that time? Not always. Should you write down some ways that your teams can delight your customers? Heck ya’!
These questions are pretty easy to document and shouldn’t change much with new releases of software. The focus on third-party training assets then layers on top of this. We’ll explore some of these later in the blog, but a few third-party assets to look at include the following:
\ GitHub pages from people creating middleware that could help your organization (and that you might just be able to contribute back to)
\ YouTube videos about Apple technologies such as macOS Server, mass management, etc.
\ Print blogs in a library at your office
\ Braindumps for third-party certifications
Through the rest of this section, we’ll unpack some of these for positioning in your overall training portfolio.
Once upon a time, there was MacWorld. It was big, it was bold, and Apple was there. This was a time when there was a magazine by the same name that physically showed up at my house. But times have changed. While some delegates attend multiple conferences, many of the attendees have splintered into smaller conferences, which are the result of the Apple ecosystem microeconomy turning into a bit of a macroeconomy. If you will be sending employees to any conferences, here’s a quick and dirty guide to each.
\ ACES Conference: ACES is a conference for Apple Consultants. Usually held in May and moving from New Orleans to Phoenix, and wherever conference organizers want it to go next, ACES is a good introduction for many on running a Mac consultancy, represented by many of the larger and more well-established Apple consultancies in the U.S. and Canada.
\ AirWatch Connect (now called VMworld): The AirWatch Connect conference is actually held in multiple cities, and if your organization heavily leverages AirWatch to manage devices, it’s a great conference.
\ Filewave Conference: Traditionally held in Zurich and Indianapolis, the Filewave Conference focuses on FileWave products and provides systems administrators with access to developers, deployment information, etc.
\ JAMF Software’s JNUC (JAMF Nation User Conference)
is a conference primarily geared toward the Apple Administrator who uses Jamf Pro to manage Apple devices. There are some sessions on general administrative topics, such as what a plist is and general shell scripting. If you spend a lot of your day in Jamf Pro, then this is a great, free conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota every year in the fall (in the interest of full disclosure, I manage the panels that select speakers for various tracks).
\ JAMF’s Roadshow: The JAMF Roadshows are typically free events where Jamf goes around the country hosting day-long mini-conferences for customers and systems administrators.
\ Mac Admin and Developer Conference UK, from Amsys: MacADUK is a conference for Apple administrators and developers, with a lot of highly technical sessions and good content, held annually in London.
\ MacDevOps YVR: MacDevOps is a conference with sessions ranging from collaboration to Puppet-as-a- Service (the other PaaS) to Docker, Munk, Python, Casper, git, VMware, Chef, Jamf, etc., this one is definitely for the script among the Mac community who are heavy into systems automation and, as the name implies, DevOps…
\ MacSysAdmin: All things Apple, in Sweden. MacSysAdmin always has a lot of really good content, with a more global perspective than most conferences in the U.S.
\ MacTech: Ed Marczak does a great job curating this conference, which really has a focus on systems administration at scale. It’s a good look at how environments grow (if you’re growing) or to get some really good tips and tricks for your grown-up environment.
\ Mobile World Congress: I usually find the people at a show like this to be less technical, more business analytical, more interested in the why and results than the how. It’s a good group, but different from those who spend all of their time integrating systems.
\ Penn State MacAdmins Conference: Penn State Mac Admins emerged during a time of uncertainty with WWDC and systems administration topics. If you’re part of the infamous MacEnterprise list that Penn State runs, and you find the conversations there relevant to your job, then this is likely a conference you’ll want to attend. It’s priced well, too!
\ University of Calgary MacDeployment: This is marketed as more of a workshop (and on hold for a year), but it’s worth noting as it had a lot of really good content and provided a good centralized place for Canadian Mac Admins to pick up new tips and tricks!
\ Usenix: I think this is a great show for the Unixy among us. Many of the topics covered are highly relevant to the Mac admin.
\ WWDC: Everyone knows about Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. But more and more, if you use Munki or a third-party tool to manage your systems and aren’t writing code, you can watch the sessions online and save your continuing development/training funds to check out one of the other conferences.
\ X World: Part of the AUC in Australia, X World had topics ranging from Munki to Casper. Initially a very education-centric conference, there were Apple administrators from around Australia gathered to share their knowledge and glean information from others on managing large numbers of Apple systems. And the organizers and delegates are pretty awesome people to hang out with. Great networking. I highly recommend that if you are a Mac admin in Australia that you support the AUC by becoming a member!
There is a boatload of development conferences. But this blog is more focused on systems administration (while many of the tenants are easily used in both). If you want more, I also recommend grabbing an app like Eventbrite or Meetup and searching your local area. There are user groups, meetups, and more almost every night of the week in larger cities. So there’s never a shortage of options for professional development.
Additionally, checking out the MacAdmins Podcast (in full disclosure, I’m a host) will net you a number of interesting topics on the Apple platform and also give you an updated list of conferences and upcoming conferences.
Meetups are local meetings held throughout the country. I maintain a page of meetups at krypted.com, as there are always upcoming and new meetings around the world. You can also get information about each on the Community Calendar section of the MacAdmins Podcast.
As of today, see the following for meetings around the world:
Austin Apple Admins: http://www.austinappleadmins.org
Colorado iOS Admins: http://coiosadmin.tumblr.com
Denver Mac Admins: http://www.meetup.com/Denver-Mac-Admins/
London Apple Admins: http://www.londonappleadmins.org.uk
MacAdmin Monthly: http://www.macadminmonthly.org
[MacSysAdmin] Bier: http://macsysadmin.ch
MacDMV (The DC Metro area Mac Admins group):http://www.macdmv.com
Perth Apple Admins: http://www.meetup.com/Perth-Apple-Admins/
Philly Mac Admins: http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Philadelphia-Area-Mac-Admins/
Northeast Regional Apple Admins (Providence):https://www.meetup.com/providenceappleadmins/
Apple Admins of Seattle and the Great Northwest:http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Apple-Admins/
Sydney Mac Admins Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Sydney-Mac-Admins/
Twin Cities Mac Admins Group: Twin Cities MacAdmins
Sites For Mac Admins
There are a number of websites that provide content and support for admins. Based on your type of customers, you might find that you want all of your staff reading a certain type of site daily. For example, if you support a lot of graphic designers, then you might want your team reading the Adobe blogs every morning to be in front of new options and maybe errors.
Adobe blogs: http://blogs.adobe.com/oobe/
Amsys Blog: http://www.amsys.co.uk/blog/
MacAdmins on Slack: http://macadmins.org
The most notable of these is the MacAdmins on Slack. Here, there are channels for everything from MSP infrastructure to Xsan to job boards. Having said that, it can be a complete productivity destroyer (and sometimes being able to ask hundreds of peers for help can be a bit of a crutch, so be careful.)
People to Follow
There are also a number of talented administrators of Apple devices who post articles, code, recipes, facts, lists, and complaints. While this list would be exhaustive to attempt to build fully, here are some of the most well-known.
Andrina Kelly: On GitHub at https://GitHub.com/andrina
Ben Clayton: Libimobiledevice at https://GitHub.com/benvium/libimobiledevice-macosx
Ed Marczak: http://www.radiotope.com or on GitHub at https://GitHub.com/marczak
Erik Gomez: https://onemoreadmin.wordpress.com or on GitHub at https://GitHub.com/erikng
Michael Lynn: On GitHub at https://GitHub.com/pudquick
Nick McSpadden: https://osxdominion.wordpress.com or on GitHub at https://GitHub.com/nmcspadden
Patrick Fergus: https://foigus.wordpress.com or on GitHub at https://GitHub.com/foigus
Pepijn Bruienne: http://enterprisemac.bruienne.com or on GitHub at https://GitHub.com/bruienne
Yoann Gini: On GitHub at https://GitHub.com/ygini
Zach Smith: On GitHub at https://GitHub.com/acidprime
There is a practically infinite amount of information available to your teams as you prepare to provide them with the training necessary to do their jobs and make you competitive in the future. While you can teach teams, you cannot force them to learn nor be inspired to continue learning when they’re not immediately in front of you having content shoved down their throat. In this next section, we’ll take a stab at inspiration.
Inspiring Employees to Learn
There’s a conversation I’ve had many times. It starts off with people telling me they want more training. As education is one of the things I value most, my response, when possible, is an emphatic yes. But then something funny almost invariably happens nothing. Giving staff approval to do training doesn’t usually mean that they’ll do it unless you follow up routinely and sometimes micromanage the process.
The alternative is often to allow team members to become increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs. Why, and how do we fix it? There’s not a single answer. There are a few different reasons that should have their own reactions to keep people happy and motivated. Let’s explore some.
The employee doesn’t know what kind of training they want. This is usually just the first step. But the answer can be as simple as saying, “Give me three or four ideas of what you want to do this year,” or creating an individual learning plan (or an official program around learning plans).
Here, the most important aspect is what goal are you training toward. For someone new in the position they are currently in, you usually want to provide training that makes them well-rounded at the current position and therefore much more confident in their position. For those who are more tenured in a position, explore what the next position they want is and look to close any gaps in skills to get there.
\ The employee’s goals don’t match team goals. We frequently lay out a training program without considering what people actually want out of a program. Ask people where they want their training, don’t just assume where they want to be. Use surveys and manager feedback from one-on-ones to figure out exactly what your teams want out of a program instead of being prescriptive without first doing due diligence.
\ The employee knows that they want to learn but doesn’t have time to get there. This is perhaps my favorite issue to solve. You can earmark a specific amount of time per week for training. The hard part is that you have to firewall that time off so that employees can’t be pulled off of their training regimen in order to do other tasks the organization needs, or if they are, you need to guard that time.
\ There’s no budget for training. Not all training costs $5,000 per week, per employee. You can usually get custom courses (even with vendor-led certification courses) that can cost a fraction of that if you have enough people. There’s also podcasts, blogs, the Internet, and pretty much an unlimited amount of training that can be had freely. One technique I’ve used is to cover all certification blogs and tests and allow employees to study on their own time.
If you have an official curriculum, make sure people feel comfortable signing up and taking it. This is often material created by an organization and so comes at no cost to your teams and helps your team stay abreast of the organizational position/philosophy on given topics.
\ Employees don’t learn using the techniques we are using to teach. Some people can’t learn in a classroom, others can’t do self-paced, others still need exercise- or goal-oriented training (such as writing a program that does a specific task). Make sure you’re on top of how people are responding and that you’re flexible to allow people to learn in the ways they need to learn, not just in the ways you think they want to learn.
Finally, a reason people don’t do training is that they honestly don’t think they need any training. Maybe they have a new family or a sick parent or just want to ride their bike every night after work. Not everyone is going to drive to the top of the organization or to the next job. Many want the security of settling into a position they’re in.
As leaders, it’s our job to keep our employees from having skills that are out of date, though, so we need to stay on top of getting employees all of the resources they need to be the best at their position, this year, next year, and so on.
Sometimes, 100 percent is enough though. We can overemphasize the need to drive people into their next position. Push, just don’t push too hard. It takes more of a manager’s time to get to the bottom of how to help each person on the team, but it’s totally worth it.
Learning to Lead
I’ve worked with and trained a lot of new managers in my career, and there are a number of traps I see them fall into. This stuff takes time, and provided a new manager is actively trying to learn to manage and lead teams, anyone can excel at doing so. In that spirit, here are some things to focus on, or have your new managers focus on.
\ Not micromanaging: This is likely the most classic mistake managers make. Employees need to be provided with guidance and then allowed to own their successes and failures. Free up valuable cycles by handing out the responsibility of processes rather than tasks. In a word: delegate.
\ Spend less time as an individual contributor: New managers are often promoted because they were exceptional individual contributors. However, when moving into management it’s important to spend time amplifying the abilities of others instead.
\ Recognize the contributions of others: New managers that came up as individual contributors often struggle with judging the performance of others based on their own past performance. If a team performed at the same level, they likely would have been promoted as well. Recognize contributions publicly, even if you think it’s “just part of the job.”
\ Promote ideas: Given the opportunity, your team is likely to come up with far better ideas than yours. It’s important for new managers to work with employees closely and let their ideas flourish. When employees feel they contribute, their engagement will go up!
\ Positively react to criticism: New managers are… new. No one expects anyone to be perfect. However, we are all expected to react to criticism in a proactive and thoughtful manner. I like to send an e-mail thanking people for contributing to my career by helping make me better. Even when they go a little negative, kill ‘em with kindness!
\ Gain equitably: If your team or department is getting more budget, exposure, or headcount at the expense of other teams, you’ll have a long-term challenge ahead of you politically. Always make sure to share gains and to do so in a way that benefits all teams. Conflicts arise but can be defused by sharing improvements.
\ Don’t manipulate others: You can manipulate almost anyone into doing things for you, especially when recently promoted into the ranks of management. But it’s better if you can win hearts and minds. Doing so is more legitimate and doesn’t leave the negative feelings that people can have when they feel they’ve been manipulated into doing something they didn’t believe in.
\ Don’t manage laterally or up: New managers often come up from the ranks of individual contributors and often have blinders on, seeing what they would like to address in their old team, at the front lines. However, it’s equally as important to “manage up” and thereby prove that the organization is receiving a solid return on investment (ROI). This also helps you confirm that your priorities haven’t shifted when done at regular intervals.
\ Skimp on the feedback: Your goal is to make your team as good as they can possibly be. This means working with them to get better at what they do, determining who can replace you someday, and grooming your replacement. Anyone can extol virtues; the hard part is using that feedback to give your team some polish.
\ Take the time for the team: You know those one-on-one meeting you have to cancel sometimes? Stop canceling them. If you have a conflict, push one of the two. Show your team that they are important to you. And if they push your meetings, push back. Your #1 priority is to develop the careers of your team and they need to know that.
\ Define goals: When you meet with your team regularly (you do that, right?), you should be reviewing how they’re tracking toward their goals. When/if staff hit goals, set a new stretch goal on top. Don’t put too much pressure out there where it isn’t necessary, but if you aren’t pushing just a little then your team might start feeling stagnate.
\ Learn what the team does: Sometimes, a new manager doesn’t actually know how to do what their team does. In these cases, spend the time to learn. You don’t have to know how to debug each library of code someone writes or be an expert at machining a part out of sheet metal, but I find it helps to understand what people do in order to empathize with them.
These tips aren’t all about pure management. Many revolve around leading a team as well. New managers can struggle with these things, and experienced managers can always be doing better. In short, pay attention to and inspire your staff and don’t forget to manage up when needed!
Soft skills are the skills that include communication, social graces, language, habits, managing people, leadership, how you react to situations, and all the other non-position-centric parts of a job that characterize relationships with other people. I’ve heard soft skills referred to as how well you work with others, how you conduct yourself, and how you extrovert (yup, I’m using that as a verb—but I could have said “fit in”).
I often hear people say that they hire based on soft skills because you can train job-specific skills but not soft skills. I’ve been hiring and guiding people for 20 years, and at this point, I think I vehemently disagree.
In some cases, people don’t want social graces. In others, people (especially really smart people) rarely have the patience. But, provided you have a willing recipient, you can train people on how to work well with others. Just ask Zig Ziglar, one of the best salespeople and a famous motivational speaker for sales. He made a career out of doing so.
How do you help people develop these soft skills? Be aware. Put people in situations where they can collaborate with other people in increasingly meaningful ways. Engage with Emotional Intelligence training. Find out where people are at. Care. Try. That’s a lot and pretty much sums up the overarching strategy that many take-ups. I like the idea of breaking the strategy down into some tactical steps that you can take. So let’s take a look at some of the skills that can be developed, and how you might go about doing so.
\ Public speaking:
There are organizations like Toastmasters that are dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills. But in my experience, it’s all about getting out there and doing it. With most skills in general, it’s all about repetition. With public speaking, it’s also valuable to have people record and watch their own presentations.
Doing so helps reduce all the things that you do while speaking that detract from the message you’re trying to communicate (like gesticulation, putting your hands in and out of your pockets, rocking back and forth, timing, and of course not using the word “um”).
\ Being engaging: It’s important to be able to work a room for a lot of fields. The inflection in your voice, being authentic, bringing a unique perspective, actually listening, keeping a conversation on point, being positive (while staying authentic), and so much more. The best way to work on this is to just pay attention when in social situations.
Paying special attention to watching for eyes glazing over during a discussion, reading other neuro-linguistic queues, choosing where to emphasize, and genuinely being interesting in hearing someone else speak rather than just waiting for your turn to talk are all other great ways to be engaging. The key is to be with people, talking, learning, and paying attention. Discussing what worked and what didn’t is also a huge help.
\ Writing: Most of these skills need to be practiced in person. When training writing skills, though, it can be equally as educational to just use track changes and comments. I’ve learned so much from the editors of blogs I’ve written. Strategic things like being more succinct, tactical things like ending all items in a bulleted list with the same punctuation, and fine-tuning items such as using fewer gerunds. Writing is a great skill that will be with employees forever. As is the patience you learn from taking constructive criticism.
\ Collaboration with peers: This is similar to be engaging but operating in a group dynamic. When overly engaging, we’re not accepting enough input. When we’re not engaging enough, we aren’t contributing to the group. A structured approach to collaboration can help but, especially with engineers, can just be a crutch that takes up a bunch of time. One challenge is to not let dogma drag you down. Another is to inspire the quiet people in the room.
I’ve recorded meetings and then played them back. You usually don’t even need to point out better ways to handle situations, as people can see them for themselves, so if you’retrying to train on collaboration in this manner (or just discussing a meeting after the fact without a recording),just ask questions about situations and let the person you’re mentoring find the answer themselves.
\ Problem solving:
As with most other soft skills, training people to be better at problem-solving involves having people solve various problems and then providing constructive guidance on other creative ways to think about a problem. For example, one technique I’ve had a lot of success within this regard is to point out the type of strategy (e.g., abstraction, reduction, lateral thinking, root cause analysis, analogy, trial, and error)being employed when someone is going through a problem and how other strategies might have led to are sult quicker or with more accuracy.
\ Troubleshooting: I put this back-to-back with problem-solving because troubleshooting is often just problem solving specific to your industry. Depending on your industry, there are also lots of problem-solving methodologies (such as GROW, OODA, PDCA, RPR Problem Diagnosis, and A3) that might lend themselves well to keep employees on the same page in their approaches.
Add the technical or logistical elements of problem-solving specific to your organization or product to a methodology and you have a solid approach to teaching solid troubleshooting skills. But keep in mind that proficiency in your business or product is key to getting solid troubleshooting skills. Knowing the nitty-gritty details about a topic helps in refining your search for a problem.
\ Root cause analysis: I split this apart from problem-solving because you can solve a problem without understanding the cause. Root cause analysis is a method of problem-solving but can also be looked at as not just solving a problem but solving the cause of a problem. My favorite strategy for teaching root cause analysis skills is to go through a 5 Whys exercise.
If you ask why a problem has occurred, then ask why that happened, then why, until you get to the 5th why, then you have gotten to the point where you can fix not only a given incident of a problem but the root cause of that problem. There are other tools, but for a number of situations, the 5 Whys exercise will get people into a structured problem-solving approach that also resolves the root cause of that problem.
\ Job-based leadership:
Management is not leadership. Leadership involves listening, synthesizing, and developing a strategy, or vision. Leadership involves understanding what motivates someone and leveraging those motivations to build support. To develop a strategy, a leader needs to understand the product or the organization.
And then the leader needs to show the ability to listen to others and bring their ideas to the table. Teaching leadership involves other soft skills that help people exert influence, but it also involves understanding that you aren’t just building support,you’re hopefully making things better. When someone displays natural leadership skills, it’s also helpful to steer them away from manipulation. Otherwise, employees will witness their leadership eroding over time.
\ People management: Management is different from leadership in that it’s typically more tactical. Management also involves making the employee better. There are a lot of different strategies when it comes to how an organization wants managers to comport themselves and effect change.
Therefore, it’s always helpful to pick a management style and have managers or potential managers to learn that style. This will invariably change as organizations change. And it’s important to take into account a manager’s natural management style and use a more structured methodology to help fill gaps. This allows managers to be more authentic.
\ Handling pressure: I once had an employee that had to be hospitalized because he was so worried about a project I assigned to him. After that, I took handling pressure as a much more serious skill to teach. Much of this has to do with making someone more confident. If you know that you can get yourself out of any situation then you’re more likely to handle situations with little stress.
Also, think about making sure the employee knows they have a good tree of resources behind the mand how to use that tree. I’ve also had specific role-playing sessions, where we identify a problem under pressure. The more you go through high-pressure situations, the better you become at handling them. Finally, coaching with specific lines that someone can use can also be helpful.
For example, a programmer is trying to fix a line of code and someone keeps asking questions. This is going to make a situation worse,so having an easy line to use that is polite but allows you to get them to stop can be a great way to make a situation better. And when done with grace (which for some might require repetition), can lead to a better relationship with the person creating pressure.
I also like to point out that when conflict or pressure is escalating, at each subsequent interaction, an employee has the ability to de-escalate that conflict.
\ Thinking creatively:
Creative thinking is an important soft skill for any employee. Fostering employees to think creatively starts with empowering employees to do so. I like providing parameters for when it’s appropriate as well.
For example, if you’re following a Statement of Work (SoW) don’t step outside the bounds of the SoW without a change order. To teach your staff to think creatively, there are a number of critical and creative thinking tools. I like the games. Games are fun and levity helps to make professional training moreen enjoyable.
I also find when people are having fun, they retain just as much, if not more, and are happier. And thinking of creative strategies to win games is a great way to teach employees to think creatively. Additionally, I’ve had great luck with providing situational examples to employees and having them look for creative ways to solve those, both within individuals and groups.
\ Attention to detail: One of the best ways to learn to pay attention to details is to fail from having not done so. It’s best not to do that in front of customers, coworkers, and on projects where failure might lead to a project getting behind schedule. Therefore, providing exercises that are dependent on following a lot of directions is a great way to help keep staff paying attention, especially when the instructions or details are real-world tasks that might be performed as part of their jobs.
\ Time management: Time management can help employees be more efficient. When people feel like they’ve accomplished a lot, they often end up happier as well. There are hundreds of blogs and courses on time management. I recommend finding one of the courses that match your organization’s values and sending one or two staff through it.
They can then report back on the strategy and value. I don’t want to endorse a single product or program for most of the items on this list, so choose the one to start with, ask people you respect who manage their time well if they have a course they would recommend, hit your favorite search engine, and do some research.
Most of the programs revolve around priorities, so in the meantime think of how best to organize tasks based on the type of task and priority for that task. This alone will have an immediate impact while you look for a program to help teach the staff.
\ Optimism: Optimism is an interesting thing to teach. Better equipping people with the other soft skills often leads to a more optimistic approach in and of itself. Optimism is often a direct response to self-esteem. But there are a few different specific strategies that might or might not work, given an employee’s disposition. One of the most important is to be optimistic in your own approach.
Don’t allow yourself to get down in the weeds, talking smack about the organization. Do talk about the details of a given situation in a way that better equips someone to handle the situation in the future. Talk about emotions. This can be hard with some employees and the depth of a relationship you have with them. Finally, communicating trust in an employee or team can also have a pretty substantial impact, especially when done so over time.
\ Traveling well:
I used to have a lot of people on my staff that did a lot of traveling. I’d have all of them try and choose a specific airline, get in mileage programs,center around a specific car rental service, get into that loyalty program, choose a preferred hotel, get in that loyalty program, send them templates for calls to have with customers before they got on a plane (to make sure the customer and my employees were ready for whatever they were traveling to do), provide the easiest expense reporting solution, have a concierge available to help when needed, and much more. Being a road warrior can be hard. Anything you can do to support your front line is helpful.
\ Be succinct: Conveying your message clearly but quickly helps keep the attention of others. Doing sore quires staying on point. To help employees with this, I’ve engaged in conversations and pointed out when we stray from the central topic. Obviously, you want employees to speak naturally.
However, you can also help to refine the approach by providing guidance. The same extends to the written word. Simply pointing out where writing begins to stray will help to build a habit of staying on point. Finally, you can provide Douglas Adams blogs to employees with a message of “do the exact opposite.”
What skill should each employee work on? Given these, create a professional development plan. Start with a template. I like a 360 approach, where you have employees rate themselves in each category.
Then have coworkers rate each other (anonymously works best). Provide your own input and then communicate with each employee where additional time should be spent working on their skills. And make a plan to do so. I like accompanying such a plan with a communication plan, or when you’ll check in on the status of each area being worked on.
Of course, these soft skills are likely being worked on while educating employees about your business or product. But blending various areas for people to work on helps identify that you care about their professional development and are not just trying to leverage them to get as much revenue as possible.
Want to know more? I laid out each bullet in such a way that you can copy the first few words, paste them into a search engine, and get more information about that topic than you could ever want. Additionally, there’s a blog with lots of research and case studies that outline the impact such change can provide for an organization.
The Management Shift is a blog that provides practical approaches to identify leadership problems that plague many organizations as well as how to shift mindset and organizational culture. There are more of these types of blogs that can be counted, but it’s a great one to start with!
Good luck, and on behalf of your employees and potential future employers of those employees, thank you! Now that you’ve got employees with the skills you want them to have, let’s move on to keeping them on the payroll.
Signs It’s Going to Get Hard to Retain Someone
There are a number of board games and video games like Dungeons and Dragons, where you play a character who collects experience points. Once the character has enough experience points, you get to raise the level of the character, picking up new skills and better attributes. Our careers work in much the same way: you work your butt off and then you plateau, you get a new job or position, work your butt off again, and then plateau again.
Provided you continue to level up when you’re ready, your career is likely to be full of learning and new adventures, just the way it should be. Here are a few ways you can tell that some have gotten to the point they’ve earned enough experience and it’s time to move up to the next level.
\ They’re bored: This one is a no-brainer. Once someone has learned everything they can learn in a position, they are likely to get bored (cyclically), no matter how much work comes through their desk on any given day. This is as it should be. Do be cognizant that there are a variety of motivators and that someone might simply want to sit in the position they are in for a while. And provided they’re good at it, let them know that whenever they’re ready, they should let you know and you’ll help them get to the next step.
\ Everyone comes to an employee for advice: Once an employee gets good at a position, and they know how to fix all of the tech problems, they know who to call to get that one critical thing expedited, or where to kick the jukebox in order to get a song to play (with ample time for a Happy Days thumbs up)—then it’s time to look for more.
You can feel it in your bones and hopefully, they feel good about their accomplishments. This is when it’s time. If you haven’t yet done so, start thinking about what’s next for them.
Of course, they should spend as much time as necessary on the job to fully prepare for what’s next on their horizon and take a cue from others that they’re getting good at what you do, so their ego doesn’t fool them into thinking they’re doing better than they are! But if you don’t recognize where they’ve made it, someone will!
\ They start to get frustrated: After a while, people constantly coming at an employee with questions will get old. They’ll get annoyed that they’ve gotten complacent and start to resent the organization, the team, and everyone but themselves. This means they stayed too long in a given position, and it’s time to move on (and hopefully up).
Don’t let them start hating the job; that will do no one any good. Instead, look for ways to challenge staff and keep hiring from within to keep the momentum going.
\ People tell them: Sometimes a manager elsewhere starts trying to recruit an employee, or they get asked to work with customers directly. Or team members start to point out other positions for someone. Either way, if their humility hasn’t allowed them to apply for that next job yet, it’s probably time to push them into it yourself. If you help your staff find positions, you get to help shape where they end up, and if it’s not in your organization, then at least they will remain friends to your cause.
\ Money: Capitalism means taking a new job that pays more money when you can. Your staff may love your team, the people, you, and the freedom often provided to high performers. But after they start to realize that there’s much, much more for them in other positions, if nothing else has caused them to move on, cold hard cash is likely to start being thrown their way.
One of the hard parts of time-based consulting is that there’s definitely a financial plateau, as there’s a margin that needs to be maintained. But keep in mind that exceptional talent might be able to motivate others.
By amplifying what teammates can bring in for a company, those who are otherwise topped out in compensation might just be able to justify much larger salaries. In a Managed Service Provider (MSP), when people are crossing that threshold, they can typically move into management of teams or accounts—or provide an escalation path for the next generation of engineers.
Finally, there are going to be times in anyone’s career when they’re not collecting experience to level up at work anymore. New parents, those caring for sick loved ones, team members who have side projects, those spending all of their free time out on a lake at a cabin, and so many others are in a state of coasting. And that’s fine.
There is nothing wrong with pressing pause on a career provided that the output at work is what’s needed for the employer, that both the organization and the employee are aware, and that everyone is communicating about where you’re at. Communication is key. If you see an employee who needs to level up, dedicate time to review that—and where to go next.
If you are in need of a level up, start looking for what your next step is, so you can prepare in whatever way you need to. In consulting, this often means growing the company into areas that can challenge you more, or scaling out the organization.
As consultants, we can end up visiting a lot of different customers. The people who visit those customers should be as diverse as the customers, if not more diverse. A more diverse workforce provides more ideas and more perspectives and makes for a healthier company culture.
Diversity means gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion, and background and should be actively recruited for. If you’re based in a place like Los Angeles, it might be easy to find employees that represent pretty much any background you could think of. If you’re based in more rural areas, it might take more time to find diverse talent. But it will be worth it.
As you grow, you end up having a more diverse pool of talent naturally. If you don’t, then you need to check your hiring practices and perhaps your own outlook and how that outlook might have shaped the hiring managers you have at your organization. If you trend in any direction too much, then it is hard to shift hiring practices.
Ultimately when you see what a more diverse team unlocks, in terms of innovation, community contribution, and ultimately unlocking a wider pool of customers (so increasing your total addressable market) you will be a stronger company and one that more people want to work at.
Most people want to be more diverse because it’s a buzzword. And whatever the reason, it’s a good thing. But you can also be selfish here. The innovative ideas that come from having a more diverse pool of talent is probably the single biggest reason to spend a little extra time when hiring to see what the whole market looks like, rather than just your circle and the circle beyond that.
Hiring good people is one of the hardest things we have to do when starting new businesses. Rather than be preachy, here are a few logistical takeaways from those blogs:
\ Consider the Platinum Rule: Treat people how they want to be treated. This replaces the Golden Rule (treat people how you would want to be treated), because we all come from different backgrounds and we should be considerate and sensitive to the boundaries of everyone. Some things you ask of team members could end up putting you in conflict with their values. This includes how different cultures perceive eye contact, handshakes, or personal space boundaries. When in doubt, ask.
\ Interviewing someone who sees a bunch of people around that don’t look like them: There might be as light cultural shift with existing staff. If you’re starting out with mostly male staff, there are likely to be certain jokes that are inappropriate. You likely want female or LGBT staff, but why would they want to be in a place where that’s tolerated? Make sure to have a supportive culture for all races, genders, and backgrounds.
\ Consider blind interviews: I’ve rarely looked at the name on a resume anyway, but this is a great way to not let yourself be impacted by unintentional bias.
\ Join diversity groups on professional sites like LinkedIn through meetups in your area: You’re likely to open up a whole new talent pool that way, as well as meet potential customers and find causes you can contribute to.
\ Ethnic and cross-cultural training: This not only helps you become a more welcome place for team members, but it also helps your staff be more appropriate in front of a customer. This includes cultural sensitivity and recognizing unconscious bias. There’s a legal necessity for some training, but if you go above and beyond what’s required, and really mean it, then others will see your commitment. Make sure to be there and participating yourself; leadership is important. You can even brand an internal cultural competency in addition to technical or business competencies.
\ Have a zero-tolerance policy against harassment, racism, and bias: I’ve let things go at times and regretted doing so, but I can promise you that if you see something, so will others.
\ Work with suppliers and other vendors who are committed to diversity and inclusion in their organizations as well.
\ Take a zero-tolerance policy against harassment, racism, and bias with your customers as well: I have always vehemently defended my team against any form of abusive behavior. Working with customers that engage in this kind of behavior is just toxic and will poison not only those exposed to that behavior but those who interact with them as well. This should be addressed every time with leadership at your customers.
\ Extend diversity recruitment to your board of directors.
\ Nearly every organization I’ve worked at has promoted their culture as a core reason people want to work there. And they should. But when it comes to recruiting, it’s best to stop talking about cultural fit and focus on ability.
\ Acknowledge all the cultural holidays, without engaging in cultural appropriation: This doesn’t always mean you need to take time off; there are other ways to celebrate special events for each culture.
\ When in meetings, seek input from everyone in the room. Many employees will shy from contributing. Ask for their contributions and defer to them when they do speak up.
\ Actively seek out and destroy “imposter syndrome”:
Employees should be propped up, no matter their background. Keep in mind that different backgrounds have different approaches to resume writing, different ways of interviewing, and different norms when it comes to following up after an interview or during training. Make everyone feels safe to ask questions, to contribute, and to feel like their contributions are important.
\ Read a blog or articles when they show up in your feeds: A lot of the world is waking up to the realization that things are both worse and better than we may think. Reading content from a more diverse base will provide you with a more diverse outlook and understanding.
This was a hard section for me to write. As a white male, I have a certain privilege that is sometimes hard for me to acknowledge, and I know that there will be people offended no matter what I say. But while I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to run around telling people what to do, I did feel that despite offending people, it was important for me to write. At the end of this blog, you’ll find some blogs from people who I think are entirely right in exploring this topic more and who do it more justice.
This is one of those places where starting and growing a business is not about you. You don’t have to hire anyone that doesn’t meet your requirements. But as you grow, having a diverse team will help you make more well-rounded decisions and better understand what more and more clients need from you. If you surround yourself with people just like you, you aren’t likely to grow in certain ways as a person.
Outsourcing Human Resources
For the purposes of this blog, we looked at Human Resources, or Human Resources, as a person or team that oversees the employment at your organization, including compliance with labor laws, employment standards, the administration of benefits, and ultimately recruitment. In most of this blog, we focused on leadership and management because we could have spent hundreds of pages just looking at the science of organizational structures and the logistics behind it.
In this blog, we reviewed a lot of resources. We mentioned to start with Human Resources Outsourcing Company - TriNet, ADP Official Site | Payroll, Human Resources and Tax Services, Human Resources Outsourcing Services | Insperity® Business Performance Solutions, and Gusto to get a system and to bring on a consultant once you pass half a dozen employees.
We didn’t talk about the specific technologies you need to train and maintain skills for. This is because there are literally hundreds. Each firm will be different based on the tools you choose to use to design your services offering and the toolkit your teams will use. That list will help when designing that offering.
Organizations with less than 20 people should probably outsource Human Resources unless they’re planning on growing at a rate of one or more employees per week. There are a number of different outsourcers that will provide you with benefits that far outweigh any package you can put together on your own. They will also provide an ear when you need it; help to keep you within the laws of the cities, states, counties, provinces, etc that you do work in; and take over payroll. Specific things to look for in outsourced Human Resources for small to mid-range companies:
\ Provide a service desk for employees to call. This can help you not end up spending hours researching employment law or the specifics of insurance claims.
\ Provide insurance for employees. Your staff needs to be taken care of, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to provide an excellent insurance plan.
\ Take care of workers comp issues.
\ Provide stock options and/or 401k plans.
\ Resolve employee disputes.
\ Provide stock, profit sharing, and dividends if needed.
When looking to outsource Human Resources, make sure to ask outsourcers how they handle each of these situations. Find out what they bill separately for. And make sure you’re comfortable with having a local consulting resource to help you out and that they’re comfortable with your outsourcer. Keep in mind that Human Resources also includes leadership and onboarding. And those two things are frequently what sets the ability for a company to deliver quality products to customers on a consistent basis.
Automation helps us make smarter choices and be productive. Take, for example, innovations in the automotive industry. Cars can now warn us of oncoming traffic when we’re changing lanes. There are cameras and sensors to help us when we’re backing up. If we’re poor parallel parkers, some vehicles can park themselves. Certain models will automatically slam on the brakes to keep us from crashing.
The risk with this technology is that we become overreliant on it. When we rely too much on automation, our skills become rusty and our senses dull. Such was the case when a semitrailer pulled in front of a car with autopilot. The autopilot failed to avert an accident. The driver didn’t react in time, losing his life in the collision.
Automation isn’t perfect. It’s created by fallible people and used in imperfect ways.
That’s why hiring technology also has its pros and cons. It, too, isn’t perfect, nor is it perfectly used. On the one hand, it makes some aspects of hiring more efficient (digital candidate information is paperless and searchable). On the other hand, it creates effort and undesirable outcomes; for example, job boards can flood you with the resumes of hundreds of unusable candidates.
High-Velocity Hiring is, by its very nature, lean and efficient. As you build and maintain your Talent Accelerator Process, you’ll have ongoing opportunities to improve what you’ve created. Automation can play an important role in these improvements as long as they keep your hiring methods lean.
The principles of Lean Recruiting will guide you in making smart technological choices. In this chapter, you’ll learn about Lean Recruiting. We’ll cover how to use it to keep your Talent Accelerator Process running efficiently. You’ll also see examples of how organizations have used the three principles of Lean Recruiting to select software, job boards, and other types of automation.
Available technologies change and grow by the day, as do the needs of those who use them. Because of this, I won’t be recommending one vendor over another. High-Velocity Hiring is agnostic as long as the technology contributes to Lean Recruiting. Instead, I’m going to equip you with methods to avoid common pitfalls and make the right choices when selecting automation.
Before diving into the practice of Lean Recruiting, we need to address some common myths. Buying into these falsehoods can contribute to poor technology choices.
Myth #1: Technology is More Effective Than Traditional Methods
Nick loves technology. He’s got the newest Smartphone, a voice-activated music system, automated grocery ordering, and a state-of-the-art GPS in his car. The GPS comes in especially handy as he travels. His job as a purchasing manager has him constantly on the road, visiting vendors and the 16 locations of the distribution company where he works.
Because he loves technology, Nick’s always been ready to try something new. When corporate decided to experiment with video interviewing, he was first in line.
The idea seemed simple. His organization had contracted with an outside vendor for their video interviewing services. Instead of candidates having to come into an office for an interview, it could be done virtually. Candidates would answer interview questions via webcam. The video interviewing service recorded the interviews. Hiring managers would then watch these at their leisure. No one had to travel.
For a road warrior like Nick, this technological setup seemed ideal. He was an effective interviewer, but scheduling was a constant struggle. He never knew more than a day or two ahead of where he’d be next. This made scheduling a problem, especially coordinating calendars with other interviewers. Delays in getting interviews scheduled resulted in losing good talent. Nick was tired of losing candidates to competitors and was hopeful that video interviewing would eliminate this problem.
With great anticipation, he sat down to review his first batch of video interviews. It got off to a rough start. The first two candidates seemed to struggle with the technology. Others seemed to have good skills but were robotic in how they communicated on their videos. A few candidates seemed promising, prompting Nick to think of questions he’d like to ask.
But, he couldn’t do that on the spot. By the end of his review, Nick was frustrated but not deterred. As an early adopter of technology, he knew there’d be issues. He was still convinced that video interviews were going to make hiring better.
Over the next few weeks, Nick got used to this different way of assessing talent. He’d had more first “interviews” than ever. In a few days, he’d reviewed a dozen candidates.
Nick sat down with his colleagues, who’d also reviewed the video interviews of these candidates, to compare notes. They’d always been able to make swift decisions after a round of interviews. His hope was they’d decide which candidates to pursue further by the end of their conversation.
That didn’t happen. Opinions were all over the place. When one interviewer thought a candidate was a great fit, another interviewer didn’t agree. If someone believed a candidate communicated well, someone else differed. Nick was stunned. Never had this group viewed candidates so differently.
Nick quickly spotted the problem as he dug into the details of his colleagues’ experiences. Video interviewing may have sped up the first round of interviews, but it interfered with the quality of their selection process. The video format didn’t allow them to connect and converse with a candidate. The interviewers struggled to make an honest assessment of which ones could be a fit.
Was video interviewing to blame? No. Nick’s peers in other companies were having success with this method. He came to realize that this approach didn’t fit his needs. Nor did it solve the real problem—scheduling. Nick revamped his schedule so he could go back to do in-person interviews.
Is technology more effective than traditional methods? Not always. Technology can solve problems, but only when it’s the appropriate solution to the problem.
Myth #2: Technology Solves Process Problems
One of my jobs as a consultant is to spot patterns. Patterns are like neon flashing lights that indicate something important. These indicators often point toward persistent problems.
In 2005, I began noticing a pattern. Organizations were rapidly adopting new hiring technologies, and then swiftly abandoning them. It wasn’t just one type of technology being tossed aside. Applicant tracking systems, resume parsing software (automated extraction of data from resumes), job boards, online skills testing—all were being treated as disposable.
This pattern caught my attention for three reasons: The prevalence of the behavior, the timing, and the cost. It wasn’t happening in a few companies. This was occurring at hundreds of them. They were adopting and discarding their newfound automation within a few months. These organizations had also spent lots of money on these technologies. Yet, they were acting as if this didn’t matter.
I set out to understand what was going on. I met with organizations that were engaging in this behavior. Specifically, I looked into their reasons for the quick change of heart. These organizations varied in size were in a wide range of industries and were located throughout the world. I wanted to determine if size, industry, or location were factors affecting the pattern.
After five years, I’d met with leaders in 800 organizations. What did I find? Two answers emerged as to why they let go of recently purchased technology so quickly:
3 percent of the organizations had been sold a bill of goods.
The vendors had misrepresented their offering. Once the organizations learned this, they stopped using the technology.
97 percent of the organizations had adopted technology for the wrong reason.
These organizations had tried to use technology to solve the hiring process problems. When the technology didn’t solve the problem, it got the blame.
Here’s a common example: Hiring managers in some of these organizations were rejecting lots of candidates. To solve the problem, these organizations implemented online skills testing. When this didn’t solve the problem, they stopped using it. Were online skills testing to blame? No. The real issue was hiring profiles. They were inaccurate or they weren’t being used at all.
Can technology fix process problems? No. Not ever. Technology is a tool. In order for technology to work, it has to be part of a well-planned hiring process.
Myth #3: You Must Have the Latest, Greatest Technologies
A construction company in South America has used the same talent management system (TMS) for eight years. The software helps them handle all aspects of hiring and managing employees. They chose their software package because it looked like it would get the job done. It wasn’t sophisticated. It had all the functions they needed. Nothing more.
The TMS was a huge hit. They had a well-designed hiring process, and the software fit that process. It reduced data entry, eliminated lots of paper, and tracked candidates throughout the hiring process. When candidates were hired, the TMS also helped the company manage functions like payroll, performance reviews, and storing electronic versions of employee documents.
Has the company ever considered replacing the system? Yes, every year. The human resource executive in charge of the system regularly reviews new offerings. She’s called on by a growing number of salespeople each year. “I keep gaining options,” she said. “And I keep saying no.”
Saying “no” doesn’t mean she hasn’t come close to making a change. She has. Her current software vendor offered a new product at a substantial discount. Other competing companies have wined her, dined her, and conducted lots of software demos. She takes these demos seriously. “I’m open to something better,” she said. “But it has to be substantially better for me to put our people through such a big change. Software conversions are expensive and time-consuming.”
Once, she got close. A software vendor came to her with a TMS that was getting rave reviews. Some of these were from other construction firms. “I gave that software a close look. It was promising, especially since people in our business seemed to love it.”
Her department set up a test run, managing a limited set of data on the new system while maintaining the current one. The new TMS came with innovative features. Lots of them. These were supposed to make the various tasks involved in hiring and managing employees quicker and easier.
After the test, she decided to stick with her company’s current system. “Yes, the new TMS we tested had lots of bells and whistles,” she said. “And it did increase the efficiency of some aspects of our process. But only slightly so. Our current software may be like an old jalopy, but it gets us where we’re going each day.”
Do you need the latest, greatest hiring technologies to be successful? Not necessarily. Old does not mean obsolete. Sometimes, replacing older technology makes sense. Other times it does not.
Automation makes hiring better, but only if automation is chosen for the right reasons. Companies that buy into myths are likely to make choices they’ll later regret. To help you avoid poor choices, let’s now look at how the principles of Lean Recruiting can guide you when choosing technology.
The Principles of Lean Recruiting
Hiring is an investment—an investment of time and money. If you’re like most people, you don’t have time to spare; and you don’t want to waste money. Lean Recruiting is the practice of using automation to make hiring more efficient. The principles of Lean Recruiting set the standard for what automation should do for you. Each of the principles will guide you in making informed decisions when choosing which automation to adopt or discard, helping you get the most from your investment of time and money.
Principle #1: Automation Must Reduce Effort
The primary purpose of automation is to create an automatic means for getting something done. For automation to be effective, it has to reduce our involvement in tasks. When it doesn’t, we end up serving our technology instead of it serving us.
Principle #2: Automation Must Be Easy to Use
Using automation can’t be a struggle. This begins with training. A challenging learning curve is overwhelming, causing you to miss important details. If using the technology is difficult, you’ll forget to take advantage of key features. When these difficulties persist, you’ll find workarounds that negate effort-saving features; or you’ll stop using the technology altogether. Automation must be easy to learn and easy to use.
Principle #3: Automation Must Improve Results
Reducing effort and ease of use aren’t enough. Automation typically requires a significant investment of time and money, so there must be a larger, long-term payoff. The technology must also produce better results, such as increasing the flow of top talent and improved reporting to monitor the effectiveness of each hiring step. Only then is the technology worth incorporating into your process.
What happens when you implement automation that doesn’t meet all three principles? Your hiring process slows or breaks down.
Automating references checks is a good example. The traditional methods of calling a candidate’s references can be frustrating. First, you have to get the reference giver on the phone.
That could take days of phone tag and follow up. When you get them on the phone, they may decline to answer your questions. Instead, they quote a company policy about being allowed only to confirm the job candidate’s previous role and dates of employment.
CEOs from two organizations in the same Texas town were comparing notes on this reference checking challenge. One ran a large nonprofit, the other a mid-sized accounting consultancy. Both had made High Velocity Hiring part of their overall strategy.
The CEOs met regularly, sharing ideas and helping each other solve problems. One of their companies had recently found a solution for checking references—an online service. The service promised to save an hour of effort for each candidate. Plus, the service provider offered case studies showing how their approach improved the quality of hires. The CEOs decided to have their companies give it a try and compare their results.
Both companies ended up having similar experiences. Setting up each candidate in the service’s online portal was simple. This took only a few minutes. The system then took it from there. Automated reference checking reduced effort. The results, though, were a different story. Each company had an uptick in failed hires after automating reference checking.
Does this mean automating reference checks doesn’t work? No. It didn’t work for these two companies. Both found that a conversation with a reference giver uncovered additional details and resulted in better hires.
Making Lean Recruiting your standard for choosing automation has a number of benefits. You’ll cut through the myths, adopting only those technologies that enhance your Talent Accelerator Process. You’ll make smarter choices that keep your Talent Accelerator Process flowing.
How do you apply the three principles of Lean Recruiting? By reviewing important questions and running a test. You’ll first answer questions about the need for a particular technology. If your answers validate the need, you’ll conduct a test of the technology before making a commitment.
Here are the questions your hiring team should answer as you evaluate technology:
Why do we need this automation?
How will we use it?
How will it reduce effort?
Does it appear easy to implement? Learn? Use?
What results must it achieve to be worth the time and money?
In answering the question, watch out for the myths. Are they driving the desire for automation? If so, address those myths immediately. Never let myths become the motive for choosing technology.
When it appears that automation is being considered for the correct motives, run a test. Ask the vendor for the opportunity to test-drive their product. During this experiment, measure the results. Does it reduce effort? How much? Have you found it easy to learn and use? Does it achieve the desired results? How do those results measure up when compared to how you get work done without that automation?
Only adopt automation that clearly meets all three principles of Lean Recruiting. No matter how exciting that automation may be. Walking away from something that seems cool can be hard. You’re not alone when faced with this challenge. It’s another aspect of human nature.
Avoiding the Extremes
Throughout the blog, I’ve touched on human nature. Why? Regardless of who we are, where we live, and our line of work, our humanity is a common thread.
One aspect of human nature is seeking out the extremes. We tend to be all-in or completely out. If you’ve watched poker players, you’ve seen this dynamic in action. When players have a bad hand, they fold quickly. When they have a great hand (or are bluffing), they’ll bet everything they have.
People also go to extremes with technology. Some are overly reliant on technology, while others avoid it as much as possible. Both extremes are harmful.
Organizations with an unhealthy reliance on automation suffer from technological codependency. They can’t live without it. The technology runs the show. How work gets done is planned around its capabilities. When their tech can’t do something, that obstacle becomes the reason it shouldn’t be done. They go as far as using technology in ways it wasn’t intended. Instead of technology serving the organization’s people, the people become slaves to their technology.
One of the worst cases of technological codependency I’ve witnessed was at a biotech firm in Germany. The firm had it all when it came to hiring tech—a talent management system, multiple job boards, automated resume parsing, a candidate sourcing system, skills testing software. These were some of the products the firm was hooked on. But the hiring process was slow and ineffective.
The firm’s various tech products weren’t linked, requiring users to enter the same data several times. When leaders wanted specific hiring reports, they couldn’t get them. The system didn’t track that information. Searching the talent database was cumbersome, as was the skills-testing software. Hiring results suffered. Seats remained empty for months. Turnover was high: Two out of three new hires lasted less than a year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when organizations shun automation, they suffer from automation anorexia. Underutilization makes work harder. Tasks that could be handled in seconds by technology require hours of someone’s valuable time. Work that could be done flawlessly through automated means is completed haphazardly. Automation anorexia makes hiring a long, frustrating process.
A law firm in the northwestern United States is a classic example of automation anorexia. The firm is as low-tech as it gets. They’ve avoided hiring technology completely. There’s no ATS, no job boards, zero automation.
The law firm runs newspaper ads when jobs become open. Resumes stream over their fax machine, flooding them with paper. Reviewing them takes hours. Frequently, none of these candidates is a fit, so they run another ad—another flood of resumes and hours of extra work. Once they find a good candidate, often it’s too late. Another firm has already snapped them up.
Smartly, they keep the resumes of these good candidates. Their resumes fill four cabinets full of paper files. The firm searches these files every time they have an opening. Sifting through resumes takes hours and is always interrupted by competing demands. Much of the time the firm comes up empty-handed and has to run yet another ad. Filling a job ends up taking months.
How can you avoid the extremes of technological codependency and automation anorexia? Here are three ways:
1. Use just enough: The Talent Accelerator Process is already fast and accurate. Using enough of the right automation as part of your Talent Accelerator Process helps keep talent flowing and hires happening quickly. How much is enough? This varies. Most organizations find they need at least an applicant tracking system and a job board that fits their version of Talent Accelerator Process.
The more hires you make using Talent Accelerator Process, the greater your need may be for additional automation. Following the three principles of Lean Recruiting will guide you in using just enough technology for your circumstances.
2. Keep the myths in check: The myths can sneak up on you. New products may profess to be better than traditional hiring methods when in reality they’re not. It could appear that tech can cure process woes. Don’t be deceived. The latest and greatest innovation may be what all the cool companies are buying. Make sure it’s really what you need. Technology is neither the enemy nor the savior. It is but a tool. Picking appropriate automation that enhances your Talent Accelerator Process requires keeping the myths constantly in check.
3. Monitor your tech diet: Staying lean requires a healthy diet. Too much tech creates a bloated process. Too little makes it weak. A healthy diet of just enough of the right tech will help you sustain a fast and accurate Talent Accelerator Process.
Advice for Technology Vendors
Is your technology lean? Does it reduce effort while also being easy to use? Does it improve hiring results? You likely answered “yes.” Most people do. Why wouldn’t you? I’m sure you believe in what you offer and are proud of its capabilities.
If you are a tech vendor, I suggest taking time to honestly assess the leanness of your offerings, including asking users for their feedback. Every technology company that’s taken time to do so has found something that could be leaner. In fact, the deeper they looked, the more opportunities they found to make their product compliant with the principles of Lean Recruiting.
Why does technology end up not being lean? Because the principles of Lean Recruiting are overlooked. This is unintentional. Most of the people I’ve met who create hiring technologies care about their customers and want to give them quality tools that improve their work. Unfortunately, many technology companies lack a process for ensuring that changes to their product always match all three principles.
You can see an example of the importance of the process when you compare two popular applicant-tracking systems (ATSs).
Both products are good, made by companies full of smart people. As is common in software companies, both are innovating their products and striving to make them better. How each went about innovating their latest releases, however, was different.
The first ATS company looked at potential changes through the lens of Lean Recruiting. The development team carefully considered every idea. Each one had to pass a Lean Test, which started with three questions:
Will the change reduce effort?
Will it make things easier for users?
Will it improve results?
If the answer to all three was “yes,” the company added that change to their list of features they planned to upgrade. If the answer to any was “no,” that change was discarded, no matter how cool the idea seemed.
The Lean Test had one last step: Each change had to be examined in relationship to the overall software system. It would do no good to make one thing better, only to cause problems elsewhere. Improvements that passed this last step were deemed Lean Recruiting compliant and were added to the next software release.
The second ATS company brainstormed lots of possibilities for their upcoming release. Some of these ideas were requests from current customers. Others came from prospects who were interested in buying the software, but only if features were added. Pleasing current customers and winning new ones were important, so the company did everything it could to make these requests work.
The development team was mindful of making the next version of the software as effortless as possible. They also prided themselves on keeping it easy to use. Balancing all of these factors was a challenge, but in the end, they thought they’d built a better version of their product.
How’d each company do? Customers of the first company gave the new version of the software a thumbs-up. Common comments included: “It’s faster than ever,” “Many aspects are easier to use,” and “I’m getting better results with this new release.”
Customers of the second company gave the software mixed reviews. They liked some things, but not others. Comments included: “This takes too many steps,” “This new feature is too difficult to use,” and “I like this change, but its related tasks now take longer.”
I know this sounds cold, but the process is more important than people. No matter how smart those people may be. Smart people who follow a well-thought-out results-oriented process always have the end in mind. They don’t get attached to ideas, focusing instead on outcomes. The process helps them keep ideas that work and let go of the rest.
That’s why the first of the two companies succeeded. They followed a process for baking Lean Recruiting into their new release. It’s also why the second company failed. Their team of smart developers intended to make their release better. Unfortunately, they lacked a process to focus their efforts.
How can you make Lean Recruiting compliance part of your product development process? Here are three ways to begin:
1. Focus on results, not ideas: Technologists make a common mistake: They fall in love with their own ideas. They become so attached to them, they have trouble letting them go, even when they don’t improve results. Maintaining a focus on results makes it easier to let go of features that don’t make things better.
2. Remember that a little becomes a lot: Reducing effort isn’t always about big things. Often, it’s the little ones that matter just as much. Hiring has lots of repetitive tasks. When each repetition takes an extra minute, those minutes add up. As you reduce effort, pay attention to efforts big and small, striving to reduce each.
3. Use the Lean Test: Let the Lean Test guide your product updates, requests for new features, and the development of new technologies. Ask questions about every idea. Will the idea reduce effort? Is it easy to use? Will it improve users’ results? Will it keep other aspects of your product lean? Retain the features that keep the product lean and discard the rest.
A final suggestion: Make Lean Recruiting a top goal. Why? It makes technology irresistible. Technology that reduces effort, is easy to use and creates better results will sell itself.
Leaning Your Talent Accelerator Process
Adding technology isn’t the only way to keep your Talent Accelerator Process lean. Over time, you’ll find ways to creatively reduce effort, make aspects of your Talent Accelerator Process easier to use and improve your hiring results.
How can you keep leaning out your Talent Accelerator Process? Five examples follow.
Example #1: Assigning Hire-Right Profiles
Employees who all do the same job can help write the Hire-Right Profiles for that role. These employees have different strengths. One of them may be really good at prioritizing. Another may be the best at performing detailed tasks. Someone else could be a savvy problem solver. Their different strengths are their areas of subject-matter expertise. When it comes to those aspects of the job, they know better than anyone, including you, what it takes to do quality work.
Have these employees collaborate to create a Hire-Right Profile for their role. In minutes, you can lay out the four-quadrant structure. Explain Dealmakers, Dealbreakers, Boosts, and Blocks by providing examples for each.
Assigning this to your team is an acknowledgment: You’re demonstrating your trust in them. Let them handle the scheduling and logistics. If they won't do this over lunch, offer to supply food. If they’d rather do it after hours, pay them for that time. By being flexible, you’re showing your appreciation for this responsibility you’ve asked them to take on.
You can also have your staff handle Hire-Right Profile updates. They see what’s going on with their coworkers. When new hires aren’t working out, they know it before you do. If aspects of the day-to-day work are changing, they experience it first. Who better to update your profiles than the people living the job each day?
Assigning Hire-Right Profiles still takes effort. But that effort is concentrated, focused, and efficient.
Example #2: Crowdsourced Referrals
You’ve probably heard the expression that two’s company and three’s a crowd. When hiring, though, a crowd is powerful. Especially when you get their help with candidate referrals.
You have access to many different crowds: Employees that report to you, colleagues in other departments, peers in other companies, alums from college, family, and friends. These crowds are easily accessible through social media, email, and text.
The people in your crowds can help you with referrals. This doesn’t mean you’ll stop asking for them yourself. I’m suggesting that your crowds can help lighten the load. Asking for their help is one of the easiest forms of automation. People like being helpful.
Requesting help from your crowds can be quick and simple. You could send a text message to a group of people from time to time. Social media is perfect for a quick post about a specific type of candidate you’re looking for.
Your appeals for help can also be creative. Gamifying your request (turning a task into a game) will quickly capture the interest of some of the crowd. For example, you could create a competitive game in a social media post. Your offer? The first three people to send a quality candidate referral could get to join you for drinks after work. Crowds are a powerful force when you engage them as part of your hiring process. That force grows as you keep them engaged.
Example #3: Candidate-Driven Interviews
Interviewing isn’t something that only happens during hiring. Lots of jobs—like being a journalist, an admissions counselor, or a researcher—require interviewing skills as an essential part of the daily work. When that’s the case, one of the tools in your hiring toolkit should be the candidate-driven interview. This form of interview helps you evaluate the candidate as you watch them do the work they’d be hired to do.
How does the candidate-driven interview work? You bring two candidates into the room simultaneously, and they interview one another. You take notes as you watch them in action. There’s a lot to observe. You’ll experience how they interact, ask questions, manage the conversation, and relate to one another.
Candidate-driven interviews are a perfect example of streamlining your Talent Accelerator Process. It’s easy to set up and minimizes what you need to do. The results speak for themselves: You get to have a real experience of candidates doing important sample work.
Example #4: Responsive Reference Checks
To confirm that someone is a good hire, it’s important to use reference checks. Chasing down reference givers, however, can be frustrating. Leaning your reference checking process can help.
It starts when a candidate passes your phone interview. Ask them to contact their reference gives the moment your conversation ends. Suggest that they ask each reference giver for options about when it’s best to schedule reference calls. Now you may be wondering: “Why would I want to take this step now?
I mean, I don’t know if I’m going to be offering this candidate a job yet.” The reason: You do this because later on it’ll eliminate phone tag and will speed up the process when you’re ready to make a hire. Plus, you’ll experience how your candidate takes direction and follows through. Their actions will also demonstrate their level of interest in your job.
Example #5: Delegated Check-Ins
To keep your Talent Inventory fresh, you’ll want to periodically touch base with the people on your list. Touching base—using a lean approach—goes something like what is explained next.
I tell the prospective hire I want to remain in regular contact. Doing so allows me to keep them updated on when we might start working together. Also, it allows me to be a resource. I hear things all the time. Sometimes, that information can help others, like sharing details on a blog I’ve recently read or an announcement I heard about a new seminar. Staying in touch lets me pass along helpful insights.
I go on to suggest that it’s best if they call me, especially if they’re currently working. I wouldn’t want to catch them at a bad time. Maybe, I’d end up calling when the boss is standing in their office. They know when they can talk freely. I ask the candidate to check in monthly and to call me sooner if anything important changes in their work life.
Delegating check-ins ticks all the boxes for the principles of Lean Recruiting. It lessens effort and improves results. Staying in touch becomes meaningful to both you and your prospective employee. Also, it’s another opportunity to experience their ability to follow through.
Human resources aren’t just about making sure everyone gets paid and has insurance. Human resources are about that but are also about leadership training, diversity, employee retention, systems for managing humans, recruitment, and most anything else you choose to put there.
In this blog, we looked at some of the common thresholds for when to outsource Human Resources and when to hire or grow a Human Resources department. There is some flexibility in these, according to how you choose to run your company, but keep in mind that when you are growing toward a dozen people, you’ll want to put solid onboarding and training programs in place.
Doing so doesn’t happen on its own, and most business owners should be guiding these programs, but if you micromanage them you will end up focusing less on strategy and sales, which are the growth drivers for most organizations.