Editorial: So you want to build your staff

Mar 01, 2013

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 997 Originally published 3/4/2013 More is within control than you think. Mark Zweig offers three ways to add to your ranks. As an observer and participant in the A/E/P and environmental industry for nearly 33 years, I have helped many companies with their business planning. A common theme we hear from firm owners is that they want their firms to grow (you won’t hear any arguments from me about whether that’s good, either!). But, when it doesn’t happen, they are quick to blame the economy, competitors who are “giving work away,” or other factors seemingly beyond their control, instead of looking in the mirror through a lens of honest self-assessment. There are often many problems with these companies that become quickly apparent to us. Some problems are more obvious than others. Some weren’t readily noticeable to me at the time I encountered them but are now clear as I’ve advanced in years and gained more perspective. It’s one of those less obvious impediments to growth that I find myself reflecting on more frequently today – that being what it really takes to grow your staff. Here are my thoughts on three things any firm can do: 1) Hire more. Of course, if you want to grow you’ll need to be hiring more people. Obviously, you want “good people” who will be major contributors to the firm AND stay with you over the long haul. But the problem usually revolves around not being able to find enough of these folks TO grow at the rate you’d like. So you either compromise your hiring criteria or don’t fill the position. My advice is to hire people with little or no experience and grow them into the job. It’s always easier to find people who have potential but haven’t proved it yet. Hire enough of them – early – and invest in training, and eventually you’ll not only have a tremendous staff; better yet, have a machine that literally creates talent. 2) Start looking early! You have to get used to the idea that really good candidates take time to find and cultivate. So, look before you have a need. Make planning for future hires a requirement in your business planning process. And devote resources to identifying candidates and to keeping them interested in your firm so when the need is real you can hire immediately. 3) Stop expecting 100 percent cultural fit. When I was a much younger manager (say 20- to 30 years ago), I used to think it was ideal if we could hire only those who had the same values, goals, and aspirations I had – or at least highly similar ones. Given the choice, I probably even would’ve preferred those who would vote like I would in an election. But today I’ve learned that the only thing that really matters about someone is how well they can do their job now and how much potential they have to do more later (along with honesty and integrity, of course). 4) More is within your control than most people think. Growing your staff is a good place to start exercising that control! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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