PERSONNEL MAINTENANCE

Finding and Keeping Good Employees

by Joelle Steele

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There is a potential confrontation inherent in all business relationships. There is also a potential friendship in those same relationships. And, somewhere in between, closer to the friendship end of the spectrum, lies the cordial rapport on which professional associations are founded.

Establishing this delicate rapport begins the day two parties meet, whether face to face, via the telephone, or in written correspondence, and continues to change and grow throughout the length of their professional relationship. Knowing how to create and maintain such a successful business association is an art form which must be carefully orchestrated by you. And if the relationship hits a sour note along the way, it's up to you to tactfully mend any ill feelings and restore the balance.

How do you establish a strong professional relationship? What kinds of personality traits must exist in an individual in order for them to successfully avoid or defuse confrontations? And, exactly how do you handle or, better yet, prevent volatile situations in business meetings and other business dealings with clients, allied professionals, or your own employees?

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PERSONNEL SELECTION

Professional relationships are composed of people so that's where we'll start. Obviously, a bright, social and congenial individual will be more likely to have a better handle on people problems than someone who prefers to stay in the background and work alone. Since the key interiorscape positions are those dealing extensively with many people, we will focus on those traits that should be sought out in the positions of maintenance, sales, and supervisory or managerial personnel.

All of these positions encompass public relations and a good PR person is a natural communicator. They should also be diplomatic and capable of handling touchy situations with flexibility and tact. They should genuinely like people. You can't fake liking people because if they don't see through it the first time you can be sure they will sooner than not.

Whether you hire from within through promotions or from outside of your company or even outside of your industry, these traits should not be overlooked or excused if they are lacking. It may take some time to find just the right person for these positions but it's time well spent in the long run when you consider the investment of time in the training process and how that investment can become excessive when the process is repeated again and again with a different person each time.

Personality tests can be administered however they are often costly and they can be faked. Relying on written references provided by the prospective employee is certainly helpful as long as you bear in mind that employers often use standard letters of reference which may or may not reflect the abilities of the individual for whom they were produced.

This paints a bleak picture and makes it look like it's impossible to really know what you're getting personnel-wise. One way to help define suitability is to have two interviews before making a final hiring decision. The purpose of this is to see the person under different circumstances — one when they are new to you and when they are probably at their most nervous, but acting on their best behavior, and the second when they are more relaxed and able to demonstrate their real personality. The interviewer will also see them in a different light because their day will have been different and they may feel more relaxed as well.

Interviews alone are not always accurate since employers tend to hire people they think are going to be just like them. Usually the employee isn't and many times the position shouldn't be filled by a person who is just like the employer anyway.

Avoid hiring the first person who walks in the door and never hire out of desperation. If you are hiring a service person, look for those people qualities that can be ultimately developed into a higher level position. Remember that almost no one wants to be in an entry level position forever and if you don't offer advancement to the employee who has outgrown his or her job, you will be throwing away an investment of time and training and all of that invaluable experience they possess from their work with your clients.

During the interview let the applicant do most of the talking. What they say can be very revealing. Ask them general questions to get a feel for their overall personality and ask them specific questions to discover their level of knowledge about your business. Try to discover their goals and see if they match what your company has to offer. Ask them what they want for their future — money, position, flexible time, benefits, etc.

Ask the applicant how they handled certain situations at their last job and give them some hypothetical problems based on your own past experience and ask them to tell you how they would go about solving them.

To really get the ball rolling in this area you might ask them how they feel about such expressions as "the customer is always right" or "let the buyer beware." People often have strong attitudes that are derived from those sayings. When you decide on an individual remember that any training that they require must be within your ability as a trainer. Attempting to modify their attitude takes more time than you have. After all, it took their parents years to help establish their outlook on life and build their personality to what it is today and you can only give them a few weeks or months of training at best. You cannot re-shape their personality.

Once you have hired the right person it's important to provide them with the proper framework in which to perform their job for maximum productivity. It isn't enough to hire a great person and expect them to have all the answers and know what to do in every situation under all conditions. Everyone needs guidelines under which to operate and everyone needs to have some degree of assistance from time to time to keep them on an even keel. The guidelines are provided in the form of policies and procedures and the assistance in compliance with those regulations come in the form of employee counseling.

POLICIES and PROCEDURES

The Bible was written to provide a written documentation of laws and teachings for the Christian community. It established rules of acceptable behavior and an ethical guideline for achieving the goals of the community at large. Your company Bible is your policy and procedural manual — an indispensable document for professional business management in all industries.

If you don't have one, it should be added to the top of your list of priorities. Nothing can save you more headaches and free up your time and that of your managers and supervisors than good, detailed policy and procedural manuals. Instead of trying to teach each person who works for you all the different ways to handle each situation you provide them with the manual. When you aren't around, the manual is. It speaks on your behalf.

Your manual should include, among other things, all of the following:

1. Hypothetical situations and how they are normally to be handled on the job. This includes all manner of client relations, employee-employee relations, employee-employer relations, relations with other competitors, and relations with allied trades.

2. Accounting procedures including pricing structures, profit margins, negotiating points, and commission schedules.

3. Sales and marketing procedures. This should include step-by-step methods for finding clients, conducting presentations, sending letters and literature, and maintaining the company image.

4. Governmental regulations and legal procedure. This should include laws regarding trade licensing requirements, federal and state income tax, local sales tax, business licensing, safety and health regulations.

5. Credit and collection procedures. This should include information relative to when bills are sent, terms, enforcement of contracts for payment, laws regarding proper collection procedures in your state, interest or late charges, samples of collection letters used, procedures for making a phone or in-person collection.

6. Personnel procedures. Hiring, firing, salary reviews and raises, performance reviews, company benefits, vacation, sick leave, advancement, workers compensation insurance claims, the company hierarchy, detailed job descriptions.

The use of your policy and procedural manual will increase productivity by maintaining order and a higher level of efficiency. The manual will help establish each individual's role in a project and within the company and will state in simple but detailed terms exactly what to do under certain circumstances in an individual's particular role for a certain situation. If you want a jump-start on creating your own personnel policy manual, you might want to purchase a customizable copy of my Human Resource and Policy Manual (which comes with employment forms). It's in Word documents that are shipped via E-mail.

Employers and employees alike need consistency. Your clients do too. Everyone needs to know that they can rely on certain things happening following certain events. Show me a company with high turnover and I will show you a company that is lacking in consistency and operating without a procedural format. When a policy and procedural manual is available to everyone the problems most frequently encountered will be minimized considerably.

SUMMARY

Hiring the right people and establishing procedures for them to follow will allow your company to decrease employee and client turnover, and experience a new productivity and thriving success. Utilizing consistent procedures will keep your clients happy and prevent misunderstandings and ill feelings that could easily result in loss of business or even your reputation in the community.

This article last updated: 07/22/2010.