Saturday, February 9, 2008

Great Outcomes depend on Great People


You will either know this instinctively or, like me, you may take a few years to wise-up.

But if you’re going to fulfil your social mission , you will be doing so largely through the good work of others.

Too many social entrepreneurs, including myself in the past, are too happy to leave recruitment to other people.

Don’t. Those first twenty employees will make or break you. For not only are people your greatest asset, they are also your most expensive. Up to 80% of your revenues will go on wages. How that investment performs depends on who you take on.

Get it wrong and its game-over.

I am amazed at how laid-back we are in the third sector about recruitment. We forget that he most capable people, like the most attractive punters in a nightclub, always have choices.

The reality is that its a sellers market. Yet somehow we think that, as employers, hold all the cards. Wrong! This is not `The Apprentice’ . You are not Alan Sugar.

As a social entrepreneur, you should always be out there headhunting the available talent, not waiting for it to walk in the door.

So, you’re looking for new people? My first suggestion is to think again about how you market your jobs. Sell a vision not a job, not the detailed task. The purpose of a job spec is to create a buzz, maximise interest. Nothing more.

The best job specs inspire the right people to get in touch.

Ditch the formal job description and go for a two sider setting out your hopes and dreams for the post In earlier times, I used a job spec template from a local authority with headings such as “Limitations of Authority” and “Principal Accountabilities”. This made our exciting new jobs sound like vacancies in the Albanian state bureaucracy.

Avoid application forms as they put people off getting in touch. Remember that at this stage you’re trying to entice interest.

Who wants to spend Sunday afternoon filling in a form just to get a meeting with you? How would you feel if the tables were turned?

When you’re shortlisting, keep in mind that you’re panning for gold. Your interest needs to be in exceptional people.

Always meet a high achiever, even if its in a completely different field. Its worked for us. Every high achiever has repeated that success with us. This includes former computer-sales people, students, teachers and parent-carers.

Conversely, those we have released have been people with relevant experience but for whom low achievement or a poor attitude has been a lifelong pattern. Look for achievement and attitude not skills or experience

One commentator compared the job interview to the used-car salesroom where the blemishes are covered up and confident patter used to skirt round any difficult issues.

Sound familiar? All the research into job interviews shows a number of things:

1. We tend to select people who are “like us”
2. The single interview doesn’t predict how well somebody will do in a job
3. Our impressions of people’s suitability for a job tend to be gained in the first few seconds of meeting, not on what is said in the interview.

In short, this isn’t a process that can be relied upon. All sorts of subconscious prejudices get in the way. At Speaking Up, after a couple of terrible appointments we abandoned the single interview format.

We wanted to make recruitment less of a used car-buying experience and more like buying a house, where you at least do a survey first. To this end, we replaced our single interview with a new system.

First, invite each of your ten short-listed people to short initial interview (up to 45 minutes Make the focus on past achievement. Remember, this is the biggest single predictor of future achievement.

Then bring that number down to the four highest achievers and run an assessment day to which all the candidates attend together. This should have several elements, including a role play, a written test and a prepared presentation.

Only appoint if you are 100% sure of the person. If you’re not, it’s better to start again, always.

All of our failed appointments have been people we have thought might “develop into the job”. People like that, at best, tend to take up a lot of your time. At worst you end up having to fire them. If they don’t feel right on day one, they won’t ever feel right.

Your success as a social entrepreneur will depend less on your brilliance than that of the people you employ.

So make finding brilliant people your number one priority.

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