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A Rose by Any Other Name

A Rose by Any Other Name?

Job description?

Job prescription?

Position contract?

In The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber calls the bit of writing that describes the relationship between the business, its results, and the people who do the work as a “position contract” (p. 174).  It may have once been a good label, although the term hasn’t caught on in the industry and Google equates it with “contract position,” an entirely different animal.  Gerber says that a “position contract” is a summary of the results to be created in a position, the work to be done, and the standards by which the work will be measured.

(In addition, using the word “contract” around content that is more commonly thought of as a “job description” today might hint of “implied contract.”  You’re probably better off staying well away from any casual use of “Contract” without talking to your lawyer.)

Job descriptions

Traditionally, job descriptions are written to identify the tasks that a worker will perform in a particular job.  In addition, job descriptions identify mandatory training, certifications, and education.

Job prescriptions are written about outcomes, rather than tasks.  When writing a job prescription, you are trying to answer the question, “What do you want to have happen as a result of someone (other than you) performing a job?”

In the beginning, it may be all you can do to lay out the basics for a job:  what needs to be done, and what specific certifications, licenses, or education will the candidate need in order to do that work?

As your business grows and you become more comfortable with hiring, think about the outcomes and results you’d like to see from each position.  Your job descriptions may turn into job prescriptions.  They’ll become more interesting, and attract a different type of worker.

Are you writing job descriptions, or prescriptions, or something else entirely?  Let me know in the comments!  thx

Hiring Away From

Hiring away from

No, not like anchors away….

Hiring a new employee away from another business…  when you know the business owner.

  • Does it matter if he’s a competitor, or simply someone you know?
  • Does it matter if she knew the employee wasn’t working up to potential, and you have a great opportunity?
  • What if the employee approached you before you thought of making an offer?

People in my circle have a mixture of responses to these questions.  Small business owners who have fought hard to learn to hire good people lean a bit more to the “unethical” side.  People who have been laid off on the whim of a major corporate restructuring (or who watched their jobs go to India) think more along the lines of “every man for himself” and are less inclined to give weight to loyalty to an employer.

David Novak, in The Education of an Accidental CEO, says he never understood the impact of leaving a former manager in the lurch until one of his direct reports left on short notice.  He’s CEO of Yum! Brands, formerly at Pepsico, and before that Pizza Hut.  One might think those companies would have invested in succession planning.

Not hiring anyone who’s currently working for anyone you know is a tight limit to put on your business, especially in a not-so-big town.  (It’s actually not very much different from not hiring anyone who doesn’t currently have a job.)

The situation may never arise.  If it does, however, giving a little thought ahead of time will make the after-effects smaller.

  • How will you feel and more important, how will you respond, when one of your employees leaves to work for someone you know?
  • Have you given any thought at all to a succession plan, or at least to keeping the applicant funnel full (See Help Wanted, Help Found)?

On the theory that hiring is just like marketing, only harder:

  • It’s cheaper to do business with customers you already have than to go out and continuously find new customers.
  • It’s way cheaper to keep good employees happy and working for you than it is to find new employees.

What are you doing to keep the employees you have?  Let me know in the comments!  thx

Anosognocia in Hiring

There’s your word for the day!

Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability. Medically, it can be the result of certain strokes or brain injuries, in which a person loses awareness that half of his or her body even exists.

In the day-to-day world, anosognosia is the condition of “unknown unknowns.” You may know that you don’t know how to hire new staff effectively–that’s NOT anosognosia, because you are aware of your lack of knowledge. It’s when you don’t know that a) there is something that can be identified as “skill in hiring” AND b) you don’t have it, that you get into trouble.

Small business owners who don’t know they don’t know how to hire believe the myths. Business owners think, “I’m a good judge of character,” and that’s all that matters. One, few people outside trained law enforcement interrogators are actually good judges of character, and two, good character is only a tiny part of being a good employee.

Consider the following statement, written by a professional copywriter, about other writers’ copy:

A lack of passion shows through in sales copy, blog posts, and other marketing content. Maybe it’s just in the nuances – but I can tell when a marketer is just in it for the money, and doesn’t have at least a moderate interest in the subject matter.

Really? Are you sure you can tell when someone is faking it? Not if they’re really good… This applies to marketing as well as to candidates who have all the right answers.

What does this mean to you? If you’re reading this post, you could have, at worst, only a true “not knowing you don’t know.” You’re here because you want to know more. So you observe the results you get when you follow your process, and then you tweak the process and repeat.

Study a Master

One way to get good at hiring is to study someone who’s good at it.  This is actually much easier to write than to do, because you get into the “unknown unknown” territory pretty quickly.  When few people are good at hiring, and a lot of them don’t even know they’re not good at it, how do you find someone good to study?

We know that the best hiring managers and the people who write the books about hiring say that hiring is hard work. Therefore,

  • Your first “tell” of a not-good hiring manager / business owner is that he or she doesn’t admit that it’s hard.  SBOs who think it’s easy, or who have an attitude toward replacing employees and finding people that is markedly different from yours, probably should be avoided.
  • An ideal mentor is someone in a business  just a little bigger than yours, who is hiring roughly the same mix of exempt and non-exempt (hourly and salaried) staff as you expect to need.
  • Your hiring mentor or buddy should understand the concept of “working on the business.”  People who get this phrase know that business success is about systems and processes.  Your mentor may not have an effective hiring process in place, but if she knows she needs both “to hire” and “to build a hiring system,” the two of you will be able to grow together.

Have you ever found yourself aware of something you just that second realized you didn’t know you didn’t know?  Share it in the comments–thanks!

When “I Can Help” Means, “Run Away!”

When “I can help…” really means, “Run away!!!”

You know you’re starting to think about hiring like an employer, when…

You listen to an intelligent friend bemoaning her current circumstances.  Life is hard.  Money is short.  It’s hard to get a break.

And you hear a thought taking shape in your brain:  “You could come and work for me, once I get a little more business.”

The words, “I could hire you,” actually form, and you can feel them on the back of your tongue, somewhere around your molars, but before the phrase gets all the way to open air, your brain stops you.  “Not so fast.  Is this the kind of employee you want?  She’s always hoping for a break, and money is always tight, and she’s never done anything to create an opportunity for herself…  They could have started a business.”  What actually comes out of your mouth is something more along the lines of, “Yeah, it sure is tough out there.”

If your friends have resumes that would make Paul Graham sit up and take notice, sure, hire them.  But as Martin Brossman, social media and success coach, says, “When you’re a landlord or an employer and you hear yourself thinking, ‘I can help this person,” what that really means is “RUN!”

When it comes to hiring employees, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. People who elicit “I can help you” responses during a job interview will continue to elicit that response if they are hired.  This is NOT what you want to be thinking about your employees.  You WANT to be thinking, “I never would have come up with that solution by myself–I’m so glad I hired you!!”

One of the under-discussed challenges faced by many new employers is the effort required to maintain faith in “humanity” when the people they hire into their business turn out to have more warts than expected.  Don’t make this challenge any harder than it has to be by hiring people who tell you up front that they’re going to let you down.

When did you first catch yourself thinking about what the business needed, differently from how you would have responded?  Let me know in the comments! thx

Subjectivity in hiring decisions

We are subjective, and most of the time, we are clueless about our subjectivity.  Hiring employees, or contractors, is only one arena where this shows up.  If you can find a way to become more conscious of your own subjectivity, you can become more clear about how you make hiring decisions.

Earlier this year, Erica Douglass guest posted about hiring a freelancer at the Freelance FolderWould you hire this freelancer?

I hired Person B because of this sentence: “My normal rate is high for big companies such as eBay, Cisco, SAP, etc.”

Even though the grammar isn’t perfect, I love the marketing position this sentence takes. To me, that sentence said “I’m confident enough to take jobs with the big guys, but I’m willing to cut you a break because you’re small.”

Funny how exactly the same words say different things to different people. The author sees this as a confident marketing statement. I see it as a lack of confidence in one’s value, and a willingness to cheat.

I would have gone with example A.  I spent a brutal Saturday listening to another art vendor offer to give everyone who stopped by his booth “a special price, just for you.” While I am open to alternative arrangements, I do not lead with “of course I’ll discount.”

Reading the comments is also fascinating.  There’s a wide range of opinions, and a large number of them are conclusions and inferences drawn from the original responses.

It shows their priorities are not the work or the project but (something else)

I have read that Americans are particularly prone to infer*: we see a typo in a resume, and we conclude that the applicant is not attentive to detail. What we actually KNOW is that the applicant can’t spell. Not all excellent spellers are good at fixing hardware without having any extra parts left over, which is a different kind of “attention to detail.” While it’s important that nurses and doctors spell drug names correctly, being able to spell does not guarantee that someone will measure a correct dose. I could go on.

The point of the exercise of reading the comments for you, the new-to-hiring employer, is twofold:

  1. Consider how you would have evaluated the two applications
  2. Consider how your evaluation shifts and changes in response to the various perspectives shared in the comments

Given that the author was happy with the results of candidate B’s work and wasn’t doing a split test, we’ll never know if candidate A would have done an equivalently good job. You will rarely know how the “other” candidate would have worked out, either. All you can do is become increasingly conscious of what factors are affecting your decisions.

If you’re making good hires, keep using the same evaluation methods.

*Can’t think of the reference; it was a critique of social science experiments run with freshmen.  The point of the critique was that using American college freshmen in social science experiments did not always lead to conclusions that could be legitimately applied to the rest of the world’s population.  (Non-American readers:  it is common practice to mandate that first-year university students studying psychology participate in some amount of “test subject” activity as part of the course.  See Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational & The Upside of Irrationality, for examples of such experiments.  Some involve drinking beer.)

Have you ever encountered a similar situation in hiring, where you interpreted an application one way and your partner read the sentence with an entirely different meaning?  Let me know in the comments!  thx

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Abe September 26, 2010 at 2:50 am

Hiring is just like any investment… after evaluation, you try and if does not work you drop… specially free lance.


LCV September 26, 2010 at 2:51 am

I do follow Erica Douglas once in a while and I get amazed how she gets credit so easily… (this can be seen as a double meaning statement).


admin September 27, 2010 at 10:33 am

@Abe–agree, mostly. It’s important to consider the costs to make the investment. If the up-front fees are high, people tend to stay in the investment. And hiring has some of the highest up-front costs of any investment.
@LCV–have just started following her. It will be interesting to see where it goes. Thx for commenting!

On Hiring Clones

On hiring clones

A recent list of “Tips for hiring your first employee” opened with, “Don’t expect to hire a replica of yourself.”

I cannot think why I, or anyone else in a small business, would want to.  One of me is trouble enough.  Two of me is a right terrifying thought.  While every business owner I know has a different set of gifts and talents and skills we bring to our business, not a one of them would do better with MORE of THAT, at least not at the level of employees 1-10.

Think about what it would be like for me:  More ideas.  More content.  More process development.  We’d be fighting over who has to go to the networking meetings and mastermind groups.  Two of Alex Ferguson at EpicRealm?  Great video, amazing plans, people fighting to find a way to help him.  Not a whole lot of pragmatic detail-tracking, without his efficient sidekick.  And what about Bill Davis and Team Nimbus?    He’d pack the place–and still not get on the internet.  (OK–obviously, he’s on the internet, or the link would go nowhere.  If you know Bill, you know what I mean.)

Naw.  We don’t date or pick spouses that way, either.  (I’m stewing on a “hiring is like dating, only you can’t kiss and make up” post.  In time.  Not today.)

If the original author really meant, “Don’t expect to hire someone who has the same focus on business results as you do,” OK.  That’s a bit different.  You’re not likely to find exactly that focus in an employee; people who have it become business owners.  But this is the exercise of the job description.  Just what is it that you want your employee to be able to do?

While we’re thinking about clones, “Be able to read my mind” is not a valid component of a job description.

Here are some thought-starters:

  • Which parts of the work that I do today would I like someone else to do for me?
  • How do I want those tasks accomplished, and I will I communicate that expectation / understanding to the person I hire?

When have you found yourself wishing you

Favorite Interview Questions, Revisited

Favorite interview questions, reviewed

Straight on from thinking about subjectivity in evaluating interview responses, I find a post that illustrates subjectivity in interviewing:  One question you ask in every interview.  Wow!  What a list!  I don’t suggest implementing many of them.  Let’s go through the suggestions:

Are you good at troubleshooting? If they ask me what I mean, the interview is over.”

I can see that “troubleshooting” is probably similar across the board, and that there are ways to reveal stupidity and cluelessness in asking “What do you mean by that?”  However, as someone who regularly finds three or four possible interpretations of almost anything, I think “the interview is over” is an overreaction.

“What kind of troubleshooting do you mean?”  The company is a bakery.  One might question exactly how much of what I think of as “troubleshooting” would be involved in a cook’s work, or why someone applying for “dishwasher” would be asked to troubleshoot.

OTOH, perhaps the interviewer here can’t tolerate being asked for more information, or to clarify instructions.  If so, he’ll find it hard to keep employees and may find ongoing management a problem.

Counting hairs on a dog’s body

Please tell me that the positions for which this question is used have some element of problem solving, or at least creativity?  I’d count hair on a small section, then do a volume calc on the dog (l * h * w, or perhaps surface area of a sphere?) to extrapolate.  would I have access to Google? (No quick  and reliable answers, BTW).  But unless the question fit into a well-defined set of “Creativity and problem solving” type questions, I’d be thinking the interviewer were just a bit strange.

Remember, part of your challenge as interviewER is recruiting the candidate to work for you.  How strange do you want to be?

Furthermore–what do you do if someone comes from a culture that treats dogs as unclean?  Chances are, you won’t know this ahead of time.  But you would have just asked your highly competent technical support person to do the equivalent of cleaning a toilet (in my culture).

Why do you want this job?

Excellent.  Works for any position.  The answer, even if prepared, tells you something useful about the candidate.

When I call your references, what will I hear about ______?

Again, excellent (except for the inference that the questioner actually doesn’t call references).  While the question itself will give you useful information, you’ll get even more if you DO follow up and call the reference and verify that the answers at least align.  (And if the answers DON’T align, you have the most useful information of all–that (in all likelihood) your candidate at best doesn’t understand his or her relationships with co-workers, or at worst, your candidate lies / fabricates / thinks you can be conned.)

Where are you and what are you doing 10 years from now?

I hate this question, at least when it’s asked of me.  Like I’m supposed to know?  Like I have been able to predict the outcome of my life 10 years into the future, from any point 10 years ago?  Given the depth of my own reaction, I’ll allow it’s a personal, philosophical thing.

I understand the traditional admonitions to “set goals and write them down and you, too, can earn more than your peer group.”  I’ll write a blog post about that one day.  The quibble hinges on, “to what extent does “earning more” equate to “happier, more content, more useful?”

YMMV.  You may be a goal-setter who has 10 year plans.  You may want people with 10 year plans to work for you, and for some jobs, that may be a good criterion.  Not all.  Make sure you know which position needs 10-year planning before you waste interview time on this one.

Why are you the best person in the world for this job?

CEO of Apple, when Steve Jobs quits?  For that, maybe you need the best person in the world.  For most other positions, you need the “best person who will actually take the job.”  You don’t need the “best cashier in the world” to work in your store.  You need the “best cashier in the area, who thinks driving to your office is worth the money.”  You need the “best child care provider who will show up at 6:30, in your zip code.”

And then also, you need “the best person who is available,” or “who is willing to quit what he or she is doing today to work for you.”

What’s your favorite book or movie?

I hope you’re not thinking that this one can’t be prepared!  If you’ve been in match.com, you will have thought through your answer (or perhaps I should say, “you should think through your answer!”) I blew one interview once, before I was 20, on not having a “right” answer to this question.  Never again.  I have an answer for a job interview.  (For the record, I had a different one for a date, and it worked out well.)  I’d have to think about movies for a minute.  Personally, I don’t watch enough movies to know how to interpret anyone’s answer.  Before you trot this question out, decide whether you will be able to get useful data from a range of answers.

What’s your favorite, or least favorite, interview question?

Can you win without an A Team?

Can You Win Without an A-Team?

Of course you want a winning team… and plenty enough people tell you that the best way to win in business is to hire winners, an “A-team,” proven talent, the best employees.

Jim Collins, Good to Great:  get the right players on the bus.

Jack and Suzy Welch, Winning:  Nothing matters more than getting the right players on the field.

Phil Town, Rule #1:  Why are you the best person in the world for this job?

Apollo Sinkevicius, who blogs about business at Lean Startups, takes this stance:

If we are all only looking for “A players” (add “ninjas”, “gurus”, and “rock stars”), we are missing out on a lot of talent.   Not everyone can blow $60K plus in headhunter fees to poach an individual from another company.  Forget finding those perfect matches–we need to focus on looking for those “hungry,” yearning to prove their worth, excited to grow, and itching to learn.

2. In an article in Inc. Magazine (October 2010, p. 120), author Robert Sutton (Good Boss, Bad Boss) called foul on Jim Collins, at least as far as hiring lower-wage employees in positions with high turnover.  When hiring people for these types of jobs, you need to be very clear about what makes a good-enough employee:

  • on time
  • reliable with customers
  • honest enough (by which I mean, make sure your systems for handling money don’t rely solely on employee honesty to get your money into your bank account)

If you can build a recruiting and interview evaluation process that provides employees who meet these three criteria consistently, you’ll be ahead of the crowd.

In his defense, Jim Collins’ larger point (from his website’s home page) is that greatness comes from discipline.  Getting the “right players on the bus” is one element of how the companies he profiled in Good to Great executed on discipline when it comes to their hiring processes.   Chances are, “discipline” in your business is a matter of committing to follow the systems you’ve designed so that you learn them well enough to improve them.

When your hiring process can reliably deliver employees who would play on the B-team consistently, it’s not that hard to broaden recruiting and tighten up evaluation so that you have your choice of A-players.  Remember that A-players want to work for winning teams, as well, and the first impression they get of your business is how you recruit and interview them.  Few employees want to join a company where the hiring process provides no better results than throwing a dart at a pile of resumes.  Great potential employees will want to see that you have a system that can provide them with reliable, high-performing co-workers.

Sometimes, “teams” can be bigger than your business and include your partners, associates, and neighbors, as well as your employees.  How do you think of “teams” in your business?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven H September 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Good to Great is one of my all-time favorites. I continuously go through his main chapters and talking points to refresh myself.

Great post!


admin September 29, 2010 at 7:56 am

Thanks! Given his attention to Circuit City, I’ve wondered if the sequel will be, Great to Gone….

I think of the triumvirate: Good to Great, Innovator’s Dilemma, and Crossing the Chasm–as three slices through the same problem set. Just listening to Seeing What’s Next in the car right now.


Olalah Njenga October 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm

What a great topic to broach. I think it depends on how one defines a team. Your “team” doesn’t have to be your employees, in fact, some of the most effective teams are the ones that are loosely connected, yet share a unifying vision that keeps everyone on point.

So glad you put this out there Karen.

Recruiting Employees from Subscribers

Recruiting Employees from Subscribers

John August is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, he decided it was time to hire a new employee.   His hiring process, as best I can determine from reading the post.

1.  Decide it was time, which involved recognizing that, although he could do everything, he could not do everything well, and doing everything even to some extent meant he wouldn’t do as much of the work he really liked.

2.  Recognize he has faith in his employee selection process.

3.  Advertise the position on his blog.  This works if his readers are likely to be employee candidates.  (This is vastly more likely for some businesses than others.  Screenwriter, in LA, looking for help?  Could it get any better?  This isn’t exactly dog walking in Duluth.)

4.  Provide a comprehensive list of duties, that is, a job description, in the form of problems that need to be solved.  Heck, I could solve some of them.  But I don’t want to.  That list of activities is not the way I want to be spending my time.

5.  Clarity about what the position does NOT involve:

You’ll notice that “writing” is nowhere in these criteria. To date, all of my assistants have been screenwriters, and all of them are now working in the industry. But I don’t see this new position as being a particularly good stepping stone for an aspiring screenwriter.

Presumably, John August will have an interview question or two designed to flush out  a skulking screenwriter masquerading as a tech guru.

6.  Clear description of the hiring process, with next steps and a timeline.   Note that the description of what he wants to see in the job application is as much a “test” as is the assignment mentioned in step 2.  I expect a number of candidates fell out because they didn’t follow instructions.  For this position, following instructions matters.

7.  Money:  not in terms of salary, per se, but a fair offer.

I’ll give each candidate a small budget and a reasonable deadline to come up with a site for a specific project, such as The Remnants. We’ll have coffee and talk about what you did and why.

John is not looking to steal anyone’s design work.  He’s making it clear that he’s prepared to pay (at least a little) for a “test run.”  Many people who hire designers believe this is an essential step.  It’s too easy, in some fields, to create a portfolio of work that isn’t really yours.  (One of my friends had someone apply for a position, claiming creation of a website that my friend had created!  While the candidate got a point for “good taste,” he lost a lot more points on “poor research skill.”)

On Checklists

Johns says,

After a string of terrific and very different assistants, I’ve learned that hiring someone is never a matter of checklists. Each employee brings experiences and abilities that change the nature of the job.

For most of my readers, this is both “right” (applicable) and “wrong” (not helpful). Here’s why:
1. John August has hired employees before. In addition, he’s hiring highly skilled help, one person at a time, to do work he can do himself.
2. His overall business presence will (probably) not be affected if this hire doesn’t work out.
3. Many of my readers are hiring a very different type of employee, with very different consequences for getting it wrong (anyone hiring people to make home visits, for example).
4. Checklists are the quickest way to get it right, repeatedly. Checklists work for pilots and doctors. Hiring checklists will work for you, too.

That said,

Each employee brings experiences and abilities that change the nature of the job.

And of the company itself. Culture is what happens when you and the employees you select do the work of your business the way you want it done.  The people you chose to work with you in your business will change both the work and the culture of your business.  Make sure you follow a process that can provide you with the best employees you can find.

How have your first employees affected the your business’ culture?