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Hire Grounds

What Experts Say to Do to Overcome One of the Biggest Challenges That Most Dealers Face

Its costly, its difficult, and no matter how scientific you try to make it, it often relies on gut instinct. And, if you want to grow your businessor fill the contracts that you already haveits necessary.
Hiring quality staff, for many employers, is historically one of the hardest tasks to fulfill. Not only are you looking for someone to fill a present need, but you generally want that person to stick around for the long term.

Short of possessing ESP and mind-reading skills, how does the average employer set themselves up to make the right hiring decision?
Rob Gerhardt of the Atlanta-based consulting firm Group Gerhardt LLC, emphasizes the necessity for custom installers to create solid job descriptions. People tend to create jobs to fit people they want to hire, he observed. It should be the other way around; they should define the position first and then decide if they really need to fill that position. Why are you doing this? Are these people becoming part of your overhead, or are they helping you to regenerate revenue?

Employees can make money, but they can cost a firm as well. The number of employees that they have determines the amount of money a custom installation company can make, Gerhardt said. How much profit they make out of each one of those 2,000 annual hours that each field employee has is the engine that drives their company. Dealers need to be aware of the concept of profit per hour, and how these people are contributing to their ability to put more profitable hours on their books.

Deborah Smith, founder and president of The Deborah Smith Group in Brookline, Massachusetts (, and former general manager of Harvey Electronics in New York City and vice president of Tweeter, admitted that when she was making hires, she would often seek out people with what she terms as that twinkle in the eye.
They needed to have that something special. Sometimes, you must interview a lot of people to find it. These are the people who are representing you, she emphasized.

Smith noted that in high-end custom installation, no matter how technical the job gets, the goal is satisfying people. This is a service business, and, for the most part, a relatively high-end service business, she said. Everyone needs to have a high level of customer service skills and a natural born optimism and people-oriented nature.

Smith and others tout the use of testing, which provides more concrete evidence as to whether or not the candidate has a chance of succeeding in the position. Gerhardt, who stresses that many of the tests available today are affordable even for small businesses, advises employers to test their existing star employees as a method of developing a benchmark against which candidates can be compared. She also suggests that candidates participate in testing before ever appearing for an interview.

Werner Berger, founder and president of Strategic Results International in Yardley, Pennsylvania, noted that testing allows employers to predict the future in a scientific manner. From these surveys, we want a snapshot of what we would know about this person after they have worked with us for six months, he said. When we combine that information with personal interviews and background information, the hiring process becomes much simpler.

Employers must admit that no matter how wonderful they believe their company culture to be, not everyone is going to fit in. When interviewing, Smith suggests that employers enable the job candidate to speak with employees to see what its like to work in your business. You should also have a clear definition of the companys working environment to present to them. You can make a list of the personality traits of your company, she said. Sometimes, you can get a group of your own employees together and have them give you a list of 10 adjectives that they think describes the culture of your company.

One of the big challenges–before the hiring process even begins–is finding job candidates. Gerhardt, who has used the service, suggests CEDIAs job site. Another strong pool, he believes, is the car audio business. If its for installation, a surprising source for good installers has always been the mobile audio business, he offered. The people who are installing car audio and who have virtually nothing to do with our industry, possess the skills that translate well into a home. They are used to putting small devices into small, expensive places. In many ways, a home is easier.

IT refugees–those who laid down their roots in networking–are also attracted to the custom installation business. Many of these people want to enter our industry as owners, but there is a surprising number of potential employees, Gerhardt noted.

Smith suggested that when looking for salespeople, employers should be on the alert when they are going about their own daily business. For example, that attentive salesperson in the kitchen department at Bloomingdales may, with the proper training, be a good bet for the retail floor at your own establishment.

Training is paramount to keeping employees around, and ensuring that their performances continually improve. However, if the person doesnt fit the job, no amount of training will make the situation better. What I learned about salespeople over the years was that you have your top performers, then you have your people in the middle, and then you always have people at the bottom, Smith recalled. You would put everyone through the training, but the people at the bottom are never going to get much better. They are the wrong people. You figure out over time that no matter how nice they are, they are always at the bottom. You have to be willing to keep pruning the bottom of the sales staff, and know that every time you let go of a mediocre person, you have the chance of getting a star.

Experts agree that good leaders act as enablers, giving employees what they need to achieve the goals that have been set out for them. An effective leaders job is to keep the crap out of peoples way so that they can actually excel in their job, Berger said. When they excel in their jobs and they feel like winners, then the organization wins. Most managers dont know how to do that, because we often use the old style of management where the boss has all the control, is supposed to know everything all of the time. And when they dont, they often pretend that they know what they are talking about. That kills initiative.

Smith said that once a new employee has settled in, its important their employer makes time to give them input on their job performance. If people go too long without somebody giving them some feedback on their job or giving them a pat on their back, they can grow discouraged, she noted. In small custom companies, the owner can be running around so fast that people dont take the time to take care of their employees. Everybody needs a pat on their back, everybody wants some recognition, everybody wants to be heard.

And, if its apparent that you havent made the right hiring choice, then end the relationship sooner rather than later. Dealers need to have a serious probation policy, and abide by it. The longer you keep a bad employee, the more it costs you, Gerhardt said. People tend to know that its going sour before they actually act on it. If you feel like this is not going to work out, it isnt going to work out. Every week from this point forward that you pay this person is money that you might as well have burned in the driveway.

Berger acknowledged that calling past references is growing increasingly tricky. We have stopped using references to the extent that we have in the past, he observed. We now know that when an employee is not performing, very frequently the reference they get is glowing so that the organization can get rid of them without all of the penalties that are imposed for firing somebody.

Still, employers should make the effort to check references before sealing the deal. I definitely called references, Smith said. Some people wont talk to you, but you do hear things and you can hear it between the lines in what they are saying to you.

While everyone deserves to earn a decent living, by offering too much right away, employers leave themselves little breathing room for the future. When dealers try to compensate with money, they dont leave themselves with any place to go when the person does actually become more valuable, Gerhardt said.

Gerhardt observed that in many cases, the salaries that custom installers offer tend to be higher than what they should be for a new employee, often, ironically, because the employer is undervaluing what they are actually providing to potential employees. They tend to think that when someone goes to work for them, to some extent that person is doing them a favor, he explained. They fail to realize the appeal of the very nature of what they are offering, and they dont recognize the alternatives that the people on the other side of the desk are probably comparing them to. And, they tend to try and make up for these perceived weaknesses with dollars, instead of capitalizing on some of the things they can offer, and that a lot of people would kill for.

Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) is a freelance writer/editor.