The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

From the Startup Rules of Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, the all-star executive who also co-founded Omniture and took it from inception to IPO to sale for $1.8B to Adobe:

“Rule 45: No Unemployed Candidates. Always an Excuse. Too Risky. Top-Rated, Currently Employed Candidates Who Won’t Leave… PERFECT.”

With all due respect for your accomplishments, Josh, I disagree.

Most every company could benefit from finding the potential stars, and then creating an environment that allows them to thrive.

Our own company, Fishbowl, is neither public nor for sale, but we’ve achieved record growth (currently more than 70% through the last three tumultuous years), regional and national awards for product and management quality, and negligible turnover (under 2%) since we began in 2001. We’ve done all of this by doing the exact opposite of the strategy our Utah neighbor, Josh James, has described.

Consider the strong case for the traditionally “unqualified” hire. Not every company, particularly in the early stages, can afford to hire an established “superstar.” I maintain that most any company, particularly in the growth phase, is better off by discovering potential stars (we call them Champions) in the making and creating a healthy holding environment that allows and encourages them to grow.

But our approach requires the right core ingredients. I’ve honed my skills in identifying the traits we describe as the 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude. I’ve previously written about the “7 NN’s” with my paired leadership partner, Mary Michelle Scott (Fishbowl President) in Forbes and in HBR.

We’re looking for candidates who exhibit these characteristics, and we’re watching the way they interact—their body language, eye contact, whether they are articulate—a good listener—and whether they can express what they feel without feeling nervous. Can they demonstrate strong character traits when asked how they would handle various situations in former jobs or in life? I can sense an individual’s work ethic. We look for someone eager and hungry to learn, which has generally been a good barometer of the individual’s work ethic as well. In 30 minutes, I can judge a prospective hire with pretty much 99% accuracy.  Our managers (we call them our “Captains”) have honed these sensibilities as well.

Consider our recent new hire in accounting last week. She came to us from a minimal position at Blimpie’s. She’s a lady who’s smart—highly qualified—was formerly the CFO of a small hospital. But then she got really ill. Then the economy caused her to lose her home. The short sale of her house left her with a little money to work with, but the only job she could obtain was as the manager of a Blimpie’s store for $9 an hour.

I sensed her capabilities from the moment we met. She’d never used QuickBooks (our inventory control software integrates with QuickBooks, and we run our own company on the same products and functionality we sell). Most everything we do (other than our basic financial/accounting principles) was new.

She embraced the challenge. She learned our system (eagerly) and made suggestions that within four days produced the most accurate financial reports in her area of stewardship our company has ever seen. Today she initiated a new process with our Controller that will cause our past due accounts receivable to diminish and possibly disappear. When someone is this eager and excited to excel, and is given the environment to thrive in, miracles transpire.

This is not a rare occurrence for us. Out of 18 developers (yes, our software product developers) only 2 had ever had any serious programming experience before. More typically, these individuals came with prior experience in dealing with inventory. They dealt with playground equipment, electrical or plumbing warehouses and many came from our customer support and training department. They know things about inventory beyond what engineering or even marketing could teach them. The programming skills they were able to learn.

We employ 50 individuals in support who had never worked in customer service before. The majority of our sales people came with little or no prior experience in sales.

Could this approach work for other companies? Consider the following advantages our philosophy gains:

Less-established employees have room for growth. They are fresh and eager, not fatigued or scarred.

They have no bad habits to break; only good habits to learn. You don’t have to un-train them on the paradigms they’ve put in place somewhere else. They can blossom into anything.

They have the right attitude. With attitude, as they say, the aptitude will come.

New blood, whether young or old, can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to old problems. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. Their naiveté is some of the gold that they bring. They’re not afraid to ask, “ Why do you do it this way?” From the most innocent questions, we may go back to our roots and say, “That’s a good point. Why do we do that?” The newest employee may be the one who prompts a positive change.

You can build lifelong relationships. Some of our employees are young; some are older. But when your company is the place an employee has been permitted to blossom and shine, they will love working with you, most likely forever.  Thus, turnover is low.

Many companies will argue that the cost of taking someone on with no experience is prohibitive. We disagree. We employ the concept of agile programming through our entire organization. We use paired leadership and paired teamwork. Each new hire has someone to coach and train him or her, and within a few months, or weeks in some cases, they’re fully up to speed and online.

Could this approach work for you? At a minimum, I hope I’ve given you the reason to consider these possibilities as you make your next set of new hires. I maintain there are many all-star/champion employees within every company’s reach. You just need to recognize their potential, and then create and maintain an environment that allows them to be nurtured, developed and then to shine.

(Source: forbes.com)

@2 years ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 

Dealing with a Bad Hire? The Case to Teach and Adapt, Rather Than Fire

Last week I wrote a Harvard Business Review column with Mary Michelle Scott, the president of Fishbowl and the other member of my own paired leadership team (more about that concept here.) We talked about the cost of a bad hire and how we use our seven Non-Negotiables to identify and sustain winning players. You can read that article here.

In short, we noted that of nearly 2,700 employers surveyed, 41% estimate a single bad hire cost $25,000. A quarter of respondents estimate a bad choice has cost $50,000 or more, not to mention the demoralizing affect of the issue on other employees.

Are you going to fire me?

Our strategy to avoid bad hires is to look for—and adhere to–the principles we call the seven Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude.

A hire that is going the wrong direction is bad for everybody involved. A dismissal is bad for the morale of the entire team. It’s even worse for the morale and future of the person you fire, who faces one of the most stressful events in human experience.

What should you do and when should you act? We have a radical suggestion: Consider the ways you can teach a struggling employee to grow and adapt, rather than immediately moving to fire.

In our company, when someone makes a mistake, we don’t punish. Mistakes that are learning experiences should be celebrated and cherished for the benefits they create.

In the case of a seeming character lapse, we work with the individual to determine if the situation was perhaps in actuality a mistake. If so, we can move directly to support the learning involved. If not, we’re still not finished – we determine if there might be an opportunity to help the individual identify a blind spot in their thinking and behavior. Is the person receptive to being coached? That growth and improvement could produce a favorable outcome as well.

However, if the situation exposed a fatal character flaw in one or more of our non-negotiable traits, we would encourage the person to leave, and to do so quickly. We’d even assist. (All of our practices are strictly legal. That priority remains first.)

In practice, however, while we’ve had several of these conversations in our company of approximately 100 employees, we’ve never fired an employee for the breach of a Non-Negotiables principle yet.

In fact, our entire turnover for any reason is negligible (less than 2 percent) since we implemented our current program at the beginning of 2011. Granted, we’ve gotten well ahead of the game by making the active search for these characteristics our highest priority during hiring. We consider it even more crucial than direct background and skills.

Time will tell if our own record continues. Still, we maintain—do you really need to fire? Perhaps some mentoring or coaching on your own Non-Negotiable principles could turn around that “bad hire.”

(Source: forbes.com)

@2 years ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 

From Idea to Business: It’s About Helping Your Customers Succeed

In honor of Entrepreneur Month, here’s a secret for helping your new business succeed. You have an idea for a business – what’s next? Of the key steps in the process—building a solid business plan, choosing a management team, and creating a pro forma budget—here’s the most critical component: The business is not about you. For your business to prosper, you must put your entire focus on helping your customers succeed.

You must determine in advance that there are customers willing to pay for the product or service you have.

As Forbes contributor Alan Hall said last week in his article on funding, you must have customers who are willing to buy what you are creating before your business can move forward, no matter how great you believe your idea will be. Douglas Merrill also expressed it in his April 11 article on Innovation: Your Users Want a New Product That Will Help Them Succeed—Do You?

This is one of the fundamental secrets that have helped my own company, Fishbowl, succeed. We provide software that is the most requested inventory solution for use with QuickBooks.  Larger Forbes 500 organizations use it as a standalone solution for inventory control, answering a very key priority for them—reducing inventory to a bare minimum for just-in-time delivery, which is critical to their own profitability. Smart companies see their inventory as cash.

Our customers dictate our product roadmap, new features, and the timing and priority level of updates. That priority is so widely open we even created a Facebook Group, Fishbowl Ideas, for customers to use in posting their hopes and priorities to us. It’s a wide open forum–you could even view it yourself. For nearly a decade, customers have been the source of some of our greatest ideas.

Listening to customers has forged a two-way partnership strong enough it’s helped our customers to be patient with us even when we’ve made a mistake. For example, an undetected bug caused our website to go down for a period of several hours during our last major product upgrade—we needed to rely heavily on the trust and faith our customers had placed in their partnership with us on that day.

In summary, to take your venture from the idea phase to a viable business you must be able to articulate a powerful value proposition for your product or service that will resonate with the needs of your customers and potential customers.

As our employee Derek Smith said recently, “Understanding your customers’ deepest needs is the key to understanding the value of what you have to offer. Talk to your customers and prospects. Discover their problems and concerns and you will discover your opportunities.”

It may be hard to accept, especially since a high degree of self-confidence is critical to an entrepreneurial personality—but in the final analysis, your success is about your customers. It’s really not about you.

(Source: forbes.com)

@2 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #David K Williams 
The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

From the Startup Rules of Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, the all-star executive who also co-founded Omniture and took it from inception to IPO to sale for $1.8B to Adobe:

“Rule 45: No Unemployed Candidates. Always an Excuse. Too Risky. Top-Rated, Currently Employed Candidates Who Won’t Leave… PERFECT.”

With all due respect for your accomplishments, Josh, I disagree.

Most every company could benefit from finding the potential stars, and then creating an environment that allows them to thrive.

Our own company, Fishbowl, is neither public nor for sale, but we’ve achieved record growth (currently more than 70% through the last three tumultuous years), regional and national awards for product and management quality, and negligible turnover (under 2%) since we began in 2001. We’ve done all of this by doing the exact opposite of the strategy our Utah neighbor, Josh James, has described.

Consider the strong case for the traditionally “unqualified” hire. Not every company, particularly in the early stages, can afford to hire an established “superstar.” I maintain that most any company, particularly in the growth phase, is better off by discovering potential stars (we call them Champions) in the making and creating a healthy holding environment that allows and encourages them to grow.

But our approach requires the right core ingredients. I’ve honed my skills in identifying the traits we describe as the 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude. I’ve previously written about the “7 NN’s” with my paired leadership partner, Mary Michelle Scott (Fishbowl President) in Forbes and in HBR.

We’re looking for candidates who exhibit these characteristics, and we’re watching the way they interact—their body language, eye contact, whether they are articulate—a good listener—and whether they can express what they feel without feeling nervous. Can they demonstrate strong character traits when asked how they would handle various situations in former jobs or in life? I can sense an individual’s work ethic. We look for someone eager and hungry to learn, which has generally been a good barometer of the individual’s work ethic as well. In 30 minutes, I can judge a prospective hire with pretty much 99% accuracy.  Our managers (we call them our “Captains”) have honed these sensibilities as well.

Consider our recent new hire in accounting last week. She came to us from a minimal position at Blimpie’s. She’s a lady who’s smart—highly qualified—was formerly the CFO of a small hospital. But then she got really ill. Then the economy caused her to lose her home. The short sale of her house left her with a little money to work with, but the only job she could obtain was as the manager of a Blimpie’s store for $9 an hour.

I sensed her capabilities from the moment we met. She’d never used QuickBooks (our inventory control software integrates with QuickBooks, and we run our own company on the same products and functionality we sell). Most everything we do (other than our basic financial/accounting principles) was new.

She embraced the challenge. She learned our system (eagerly) and made suggestions that within four days produced the most accurate financial reports in her area of stewardship our company has ever seen. Today she initiated a new process with our Controller that will cause our past due accounts receivable to diminish and possibly disappear. When someone is this eager and excited to excel, and is given the environment to thrive in, miracles transpire.

This is not a rare occurrence for us. Out of 18 developers (yes, our software product developers) only 2 had ever had any serious programming experience before. More typically, these individuals came with prior experience in dealing with inventory. They dealt with playground equipment, electrical or plumbing warehouses and many came from our customer support and training department. They know things about inventory beyond what engineering or even marketing could teach them. The programming skills they were able to learn.

We employ 50 individuals in support who had never worked in customer service before. The majority of our sales people came with little or no prior experience in sales.

Could this approach work for other companies? Consider the following advantages our philosophy gains:

Less-established employees have room for growth. They are fresh and eager, not fatigued or scarred.

They have no bad habits to break; only good habits to learn. You don’t have to un-train them on the paradigms they’ve put in place somewhere else. They can blossom into anything.

They have the right attitude. With attitude, as they say, the aptitude will come.

New blood, whether young or old, can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to old problems. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. Their naiveté is some of the gold that they bring. They’re not afraid to ask, “ Why do you do it this way?” From the most innocent questions, we may go back to our roots and say, “That’s a good point. Why do we do that?” The newest employee may be the one who prompts a positive change.

You can build lifelong relationships. Some of our employees are young; some are older. But when your company is the place an employee has been permitted to blossom and shine, they will love working with you, most likely forever.  Thus, turnover is low.

Many companies will argue that the cost of taking someone on with no experience is prohibitive. We disagree. We employ the concept of agile programming through our entire organization. We use paired leadership and paired teamwork. Each new hire has someone to coach and train him or her, and within a few months, or weeks in some cases, they’re fully up to speed and online.

Could this approach work for you? At a minimum, I hope I’ve given you the reason to consider these possibilities as you make your next set of new hires. I maintain there are many all-star/champion employees within every company’s reach. You just need to recognize their potential, and then create and maintain an environment that allows them to be nurtured, developed and then to shine.

(Source: forbes.com)

2 years ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur 
From Idea to Business: It’s About Helping Your Customers Succeed

In honor of Entrepreneur Month, here’s a secret for helping your new business succeed. You have an idea for a business – what’s next? Of the key steps in the process—building a solid business plan, choosing a management team, and creating a pro forma budget—here’s the most critical component: The business is not about you. For your business to prosper, you must put your entire focus on helping your customers succeed.

You must determine in advance that there are customers willing to pay for the product or service you have.

As Forbes contributor Alan Hall said last week in his article on funding, you must have customers who are willing to buy what you are creating before your business can move forward, no matter how great you believe your idea will be. Douglas Merrill also expressed it in his April 11 article on Innovation: Your Users Want a New Product That Will Help Them Succeed—Do You?

This is one of the fundamental secrets that have helped my own company, Fishbowl, succeed. We provide software that is the most requested inventory solution for use with QuickBooks.  Larger Forbes 500 organizations use it as a standalone solution for inventory control, answering a very key priority for them—reducing inventory to a bare minimum for just-in-time delivery, which is critical to their own profitability. Smart companies see their inventory as cash.

Our customers dictate our product roadmap, new features, and the timing and priority level of updates. That priority is so widely open we even created a Facebook Group, Fishbowl Ideas, for customers to use in posting their hopes and priorities to us. It’s a wide open forum–you could even view it yourself. For nearly a decade, customers have been the source of some of our greatest ideas.

Listening to customers has forged a two-way partnership strong enough it’s helped our customers to be patient with us even when we’ve made a mistake. For example, an undetected bug caused our website to go down for a period of several hours during our last major product upgrade—we needed to rely heavily on the trust and faith our customers had placed in their partnership with us on that day.

In summary, to take your venture from the idea phase to a viable business you must be able to articulate a powerful value proposition for your product or service that will resonate with the needs of your customers and potential customers.

As our employee Derek Smith said recently, “Understanding your customers’ deepest needs is the key to understanding the value of what you have to offer. Talk to your customers and prospects. Discover their problems and concerns and you will discover your opportunities.”

It may be hard to accept, especially since a high degree of self-confidence is critical to an entrepreneurial personality—but in the final analysis, your success is about your customers. It’s really not about you.

(Source: forbes.com)

2 years ago
#Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur #David K Williams 
Dealing with a Bad Hire? The Case to Teach and Adapt, Rather Than Fire

Last week I wrote a Harvard Business Review column with Mary Michelle Scott, the president of Fishbowl and the other member of my own paired leadership team (more about that concept here.) We talked about the cost of a bad hire and how we use our seven Non-Negotiables to identify and sustain winning players. You can read that article here.

In short, we noted that of nearly 2,700 employers surveyed, 41% estimate a single bad hire cost $25,000. A quarter of respondents estimate a bad choice has cost $50,000 or more, not to mention the demoralizing affect of the issue on other employees.

Are you going to fire me?

Our strategy to avoid bad hires is to look for—and adhere to–the principles we call the seven Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude.

A hire that is going the wrong direction is bad for everybody involved. A dismissal is bad for the morale of the entire team. It’s even worse for the morale and future of the person you fire, who faces one of the most stressful events in human experience.

What should you do and when should you act? We have a radical suggestion: Consider the ways you can teach a struggling employee to grow and adapt, rather than immediately moving to fire.

In our company, when someone makes a mistake, we don’t punish. Mistakes that are learning experiences should be celebrated and cherished for the benefits they create.

In the case of a seeming character lapse, we work with the individual to determine if the situation was perhaps in actuality a mistake. If so, we can move directly to support the learning involved. If not, we’re still not finished – we determine if there might be an opportunity to help the individual identify a blind spot in their thinking and behavior. Is the person receptive to being coached? That growth and improvement could produce a favorable outcome as well.

However, if the situation exposed a fatal character flaw in one or more of our non-negotiable traits, we would encourage the person to leave, and to do so quickly. We’d even assist. (All of our practices are strictly legal. That priority remains first.)

In practice, however, while we’ve had several of these conversations in our company of approximately 100 employees, we’ve never fired an employee for the breach of a Non-Negotiables principle yet.

In fact, our entire turnover for any reason is negligible (less than 2 percent) since we implemented our current program at the beginning of 2011. Granted, we’ve gotten well ahead of the game by making the active search for these characteristics our highest priority during hiring. We consider it even more crucial than direct background and skills.

Time will tell if our own record continues. Still, we maintain—do you really need to fire? Perhaps some mentoring or coaching on your own Non-Negotiable principles could turn around that “bad hire.”

(Source: forbes.com)

2 years ago
#David K Williams #Forbes #Forbes Entrepreneur