Opinionista Allon Raiz 23 February 2021

Twenty lessons in 20 years: Lesson 10 – How to avoid mistakes during the hiring process

Over the past 20 years, Raizcorp CEO Allon Raiz has learnt many tough lessons and overcome many entrepreneurial challenges. He has also had the privilege of learning from the journeys of more than 13,000 entrepreneurs who have passed through Raizcorp. In this series of articles, Raiz shares 20 of some of the most important lessons he has learned using a sequence that mirrors the typical stages of any entrepreneurial journey, from ideation to scaling a business.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

One never stops making hiring mistakes. As growing businesses, we simply start getting better at hiring, at firing and at reducing the impact of bad hires.

As a result of affordability, we often don’t pay salaries comparable to the equivalent medium-sized business or corporate role. This means the skill pool we attract is generally of lower quality. Sometimes we get lucky and find people who prefer working in a smaller environment and are passionate about the purpose of the business.

There are many reasons a hire could be inappropriate for your organisation. The two main reasons, though, are bad performance and lack of alignment.

I find that many small businesses often don’t have well-constructed role descriptions with key performance areas (KPAs) and well-designed targets. This makes it difficult for new business owners to detect performance issues for some time. Once they finally do pick up these issues, there is no “legal” basis to exit the individual because the performance criteria were never agreed to or contracted.

Alignment is even harder to manage. When interviewed, potential employees will say almost anything to make you believe that they are aligned to your business’s purpose and to the company values. It is only after a while that this can be tested. And, then, how do you legally exit an individual who might be performing but who is not aligned?

Small businesses most often end up with an eclectic grouping of people who fall into one of four categories: perform well but are not aligned; perform well and are aligned; perform badly and are not aligned; and perform badly but are aligned.

Managing this concoction is time-consuming and energy-draining. This time and energy can be far better put to use elsewhere in the business. Unfortunately, small businesses don’t have the financial tolerance for low-performing individuals and this – combined with the time, effort and lack of focus resulting from trying to manage bad hires – can lead to the demise of a business.

It is vital for small businesses to take the hiring process seriously from the get-go. The first place to start is to build the role profile or job description. This should be done in as much detail as possible and should always include KPAs, well-defined targets and any other possible means of measurement.

Second, the employment contract should be comprehensive, clear and well-constructed (preferably by a labour law specialist). If you cannot afford a labour lawyer, tap into your network of other entrepreneurs to find a comprehensive contract and adapt it to your specific context.

Third, the recruitment process should always include background checks. Be very sceptical about references and rather do your own investigations as to whom the individual actually reported to in their previous job. A common practice is for job applicants to include references from colleagues and not from their superiors. Your checks should include verifying academic qualifications as well as criminal checks if possible (you will need their permission for this). I cannot tell you how many times it happens that the most convincing, compelling applicant has turned out to be a complete fraud.

Fourth, your recruitment process should also test for competency. This could take the form of a case study, an assessment or a portfolio of evidence. Bear in mind that CVs often don’t tell the whole truth about competency. Portfolio pieces also do not tell the whole truth because they may hide the fact that the work being presented was done by a team, by someone else, or at a snail’s pace.

In the rush to employ staff, many small businesses make costly mistakes that can lead to a business shutting its doors. Investing time and effort in the recruitment process will result in a more aligned and higher-performing team that takes less time to manage. Simply put, putting time and effort into your recruitment process creates a virtuous cycle. Not taking the time and effort creates a vicious cycle. Your choice. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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  • Thanks Allon. The word alignment needs a definition. Should good employees align to bad business practices? Who defines alignment for the company? Secondly, I didn’t see much mention of behaviour. Work is about behavioural suitability long term. Agreeable, reserved, patient, risk averse people don’t make good sales people. And people without the right habits don’t last the pace. Behavioural assessments are available, not too expensive and can save a lot of pain.

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