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Opportunity in a Soft Labor Market

Diana Vollmer |

What happens in a slow economy? Sad but true, many people lose their jobs. The newly unemployed may have been good employees — maybe even great employees.
Starbucks is now closing 600 stores and letting more than 15,000 employees go. They were probably good or great employees based on the company’s selection, hiring and training programs — and many of our own customer experiences can attest to the chain’s great customer service.
This is just one example — lots of companies are shedding workers to stay afloat in a weak economy. But while this is sad for the individuals who lose their jobs, it offers companies looking to upgrade their staffs a great opportunity.
Drycleaners are no different from most businesses, and most businesses have a few outstanding employees and a few poor employees, with a lot of moderately good employees in-between.
At the counter, there are a few terrific employees who learn all of their customers’ names, anticipate their needs and go out of their way to help them, no matter what it takes.
Most employees come to work every day and perform at an acceptable level. They balance their cash drawers consistently and say “Hi” to customers, but they’re not the stars. And then there are those employees who might have been hired when you were in desperate need of someone — anyone — who passed the “warm body” test.
Although we might frown on this syndrome, almost everyone has been a part of it at one time or another. These employees make errors, often display high levels of absenteeism, and often seem like they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Today’s labor market, however, offers an opportunity to correct this situation.
Rank your employees — all of your employees — in numerical order from best to worst. Next, replace those at the bottom of the list aggressively; as you find better employees, others will fall to the bottom or step up their performance. The choice is theirs.
You don’t have to perform this process quickly. Compared to periods when employment is tight and it’s hard to find good help, you now have more time to understand the skills and demeanor needed for each position, notify the community, test interviewees calmly and thoroughly, and finally, offer them jobs.
Like most choices you must make in business today, it won’t be easy to renovate your staff. But now is the time to not only take action, but to take this action in a deliberate and thought-out manner. Fortunately, there is a simple, proven process for finding the best employee to fill any position in a company.
(1) Obtain a large pool of applications. This is possible in the current economic environment, and hasn’t been for a long time. People are looking for stable, secure jobs with growing companies.
Getting the word out in the community and to the people most likely to fill the positions is a task in itself. Newspaper ads used to work, but readership is down and they might not work as well as it once did.
Who are you looking for? Someone younger, vibrant, energetic? Try a website. If you have your own, it’s a start (and if you don’t, it’s one more reason to get one), but it won’t be the only place to post an ad. Remember where you found your best employees in the past.
(2) Make the interview matter. Paper-and-pencil tests can help identify personality traits, but there’s no substitute for a good interview. And that doesn’t mean you should spend 80% of your time talking.
Time yourself by tape-recording an interview — you’ll be surprised how much talking you do during the interview. Don’t spend too much of it telling someone about the history and successes of your business. There will be plenty of time for that later.
In a 15-minute interview, owners have been found to take nearly 10 minutes talking, with only five minutes of the available time to learn about the applicant. That’s missing an opportunity to find a great employee or weed out the less desirable ones.
Interviewing means you will ask questions of each applicant relating to their previous work experiences. You must decipher from their other real-world experiences what they can bring to your work environment. For a fair comparison and more predicable outcome, concentrate on previous experiences rather than theoretical questions.
Try to ask the same questions to all applicants. It’s amazing the amount of information you can capture, and when you ask the same questions, it’s easier to rank the applicants for a given position. Select five or six key questions beforehand that will help you identify specific components of their work experience.
Hiring employees based on their potential doesn’t ensure success. Selecting good people is only the foundation of a strong building. You still need to build the walls and add a roof. Once you hire these good people, you will nurture them with a company orientation, offer mentoring to help keep them in the company, and give them the thorough training that will help the best staffers succeed.
If your sales are slumping, your company may need fewer employees. Keep the best, find the best when the time comes, and be prepared to leap ahead of the competition once your sales begin to improve.
 

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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