Finding and Hiring Key Employees

#1 in a Series of Three Articles on Key Employees

Every business owner knows the importance of having the right people in the right positions. When that’s the case, your company has a cohesive culture, continuity of vision, seamless operations, and forward motion. Obstacles and struggles are few.

Having the right people is especially critical for those who are considered “key” employees – and key employees are especially critical to a successful exit strategy.

A key employee is any person who is in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the organization. They may have an ownership and/or decision-making role in the business. A key employee typically demonstrates a sense of personal commitment, or “buy-in” to the organization by exhibiting characteristics such as the following:

  • Thinks like an owner
  • Acts like an owner
  • Proud of where he/she works
  • Pursues quality
  • Can control profits, morale, customer relationships
  • Helps reduce cost
  • Lives the vision of the company

If you already have these exceptional people on your team, you obviously want to keep them. But if key roles are not filled with the right people, how do you go about finding and hiring them?

Before you start your search, look inward. The types of individuals you want to bring onboard will be persons to whom a sense of purpose and being a part of something bigger than themselves is important. You will need to be clear about your company mission – your “why” – and values, and be able to articulate them in order to attract the types of individuals you want to invest themselves in your business. To help develop a picture of your ideal candidates, ask yourself these questions.

  • What defines my company’s culture?
  • Who will be a good fit within that culture?
  • What is my company’s vision?
  • How will the new hire’s talents contribute to the realization of that vision?
  • What are the specifics of the job description?
  • What can I offer the new hire in terms of opportunities to advance?

Once you’re clear on what you need and what you have to offer, how do you find great talent?

  • Referrals: 48% of businesses say that their quality hires come from employee referrals (LinkedIn 2017).
  • Leverage current employees: 76% of candidates want to know what makes the company an attractive place to work (Glassdoor). 71% of workers use referrals from current employees to learn about an organization. Social media posts, video interviews, and employee testimonials can increase exposure.
  • Career sites and job boards: 43% of job seekers search for positions using a job board and 32% use career sites (Jobvite).
  • Social networks: 95% of companies said they successfully hired from LinkedIn, 24% pointed to Facebook, and 16% credited Twitter (Jobvite).
  • Networking: Attend events and maintain a strong network of resources.
  • Become an employer of choice: Candidates are drawn to a positive company culture and mission. Cultivate a progressive and lively culture that encourages employees to approach you.
  • Practice consistent communication: More than 40% of recruiters don’t respond to applicants at all. Keep lines of communication open with promising candidates, even if they’re not a fit right now. 55% of candidates already had a relationship with the company before applying (FastCompany).
  • Expand your candidate pool: Don’t lose out on outstanding employees because they aren’t located in the same city as your business base. Try broadening your job search area or offer employees the opportunity to work remotely.
  • Headhunters and recruiters: Consider this route for hard-to-fill and/or highly skilled positions. These firms often have an extensive pool of talent. Expect to pay 20 to 35% of the cost of the new recruit’s annual salary.

Once you’ve chosen your finalists for a position, you’ll embark upon the interview and decision-making process. Personality surveys can be a great tool in helping to determine whether a candidate will be a good fit. When you interview, keep these characteristics in mind. They are important in any key role.

  • Strong work ethic: Sets and achieves goals
    • Seek candidates who set high goals for themselves or respond well to stretch goals from supervisors.
    • Ask about their current goals.
  • Dependable: Consistently follows through
    • Commitment to completing tasks on time, as assigned
    • Look for this during the application process – it will likely translate to their behavior as an employee.
  • Positive attitude: Creates a good environment
    • Positivity leads to a more productive workday and creates a better environment for fellow employees.
    • Uncover their ability to acknowledge mistakes and still move forward in a positive way.
  • Self-motivated: Works effectively with little direction
    • Look for candidates who can take initiative and get work done with little to no encouragement. Sheer enthusiasm is often enough to drive these employees and this self-motivation goes hand in hand with confidence.
  • Team-oriented: Make the most out of collaboration
    • Ask candidates for examples of collaboration as well as giving and receiving constructive group feedback.
  • Effective communicator: Understands the benefits of clarity
    • Ideal employees understand the importance of good communication.
    • Ask questions about their preferred methods of communication.
    • Ask for examples of good communication they’ve experienced to see if their responses (verbal and nonverbal) align with your expectations.
  • Flexible: Adapts in a meaningful way
    • A good employee will not blindly resist change, but embrace it and adapt.
    • If your applicants can demonstrate flexibility, you can be confident they’ll adapt easily to their new work environment.

Of note is the fact that when companies hire from the top 20% of their candidate pool, they experience:

  • 41% less absenteeism
  • 17% higher productivity
  • 21% higher profitability
  • 59% less turnover

But a company must have a strong and positive reputation to land talent from the top 20% of the candidate pool.

It’s clear that it’s worth the time and effort to find and hire key employees who are a great fit for the roles they’ll fill. And should you find a great candidate, even if they’re not an exact fit for the job you’re seeking to fill, don’t be afraid to consider hiring the talent when it’s available and creating a position for them. Your business will benefit now, of course, but you’re also positioning yourself, by having the right people in the right positions, for a successful exit when that time eventually comes. My next blog will discuss another step in that process – developing and retaining key employees.

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