Hiring Opportunities and Pitfalls

How to shoot yourself in the foot.

Everyone once in a while I get a resume from what appears to be an ideal candidate, you will to. As with most things in life, you can’t judge a book by its cover and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do yourself, your company, shareholders and employees a favor and find out why this person is suddenly available and knocking on your door.

Recently I received one of these ‘ideal candidates’ and thought better of pulling the trigger. There are a few similar, if not competing, tech equipment companies in my neck of the woods. When an excellent candidate comes knocking after being with a different company for a long time, there is probably a valid reason why and not likely to be the reason you will hear from them. Why would a superstar want to jump ship voluntarily only to make a lateral move? I wouldn’t be a very good businessman if I jumped on the opportunity without examining the possible consequences.

What if this person had been fired for harming or endangering another employee, stealing corporate information or assets for personal gain? Even worse, what if they were fired for harassment and are in the midst of a legal battle? Do I really want to invite this behavior into my organization? Hiring this person may have some short term positives, but ultimately the reason they are available will be repeated and will become your problem before long.

Wisely, I called the former employer and got the real story before making a bad decision.

Business: a few things to remember

Running a business is easy!

I lied, sorry. There are a lot of important things to do and mistakes to avoid in building and running a business. I’m sure you know plenty of these, but so do I and I’ve still managed to repeat a mistake here and there. This is as much a reminder for myself as it is advice for others. If you take anything away at all, remember that the only constant in business (and life) is change. Embrace it!

  • Plan to run the business for your forever rather than to exit: This may be a wholesale change in mentality forcing a long term vision and a focus on planning out projects and goals without the distraction of short term objectives. If you can’t get away from it, you are more likely to be cautious in operating it and meticulous relative to the details and strength of its foundation. This also allows for a more relaxed and deliberate management/operational environment.
  • Be conservative with your finances and do the math before you spend: Particularly important and so easy to overlook in a young and rapidly expanding business. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but beating this drum a few more times in hopes of helping others can’t be a bad thing. Get a growth calculation tool and plug in some numbers. One thousand a week for 10 years can grow to more than $600,000.
  • Get your financing in line (and keep it in line) before you need it: By this I am referring to working capital and credit. As clearly demonstrated by banks and lenders this past year, when times are tough, purse strings are tight. If you had a bad year and need some cash to help get back on track, it is often likely that the help will not be there, at least not in the form of anyone with a reasonable interest rate.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly: Oh man, I wish I remembered this one every day when I woke up. There is little of greater importance than having the right people on your team(s) and when you find out an apple has gone bad or a you found a worm in a seemingly perfect apple, get rid of it asap! The old adage is often true, ‘some dogs can’t hunt‘.
  • You get what you inspect: I’ve spouted off about this one more than once also. When the company grows beyond just you and it comes time to delegate the things you used to do with your eyes closed, don’t hand it off and walk away. You absolutely have to circle back, more often than you’d like, and make sure that the work is being done the way you want it done before the results come back as something completely different and often useless. You get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Some good reminders for all of us, especially myself. There are hundred of more things to remember and mistakes to avoid. Add your comments and words of wisdom if you have time.

Good Ideas Lost (re-post)

Re-posted from The VoIP Insiders (May 18, 2008)

As with many of my blog entries, the intended audience is just as much my staff as anyone working elsewhere and is not necessarily focused on the VoIP industry as much as it is general business, entrepreneurship and effective management. Please comment with the intention of improving the idea and providing additional value and insight.

At VoIP Supply, we are not a large company by any means, but large enough to have a layer of management between the executive layer and the departmental team members. While sometimes this layer of management is a bridge for the staff to reach out to the owners with ideas and suggestions, often times it is a dam preventing ideas from reaching the surface for a variety of reasons.

Often times the management layer uses its insight into the big picture to filter out ideas that do not mesh with the business direction and needs while at other times the ideas may not fit well with the agenda of the individual manager that it is presented to. Still other ideas are not presented in a manner compelling enough to make it to the top and therefore never receive their intended audience.

While it is in many ways the responsibility of the management team to push up staff ideas just as it is their responsibility to push down executive decisions and requests, it is also the responsibility of the team member to push their ideas and suggestions until they receive sufficient feedback indicating either that the idea has been pushed up or it was not pushed up for a particular and valid reason.

Make the wheel squeak – the loudest one is usually heard first and either oiled (implemented) or thrown out with valid reasoning and justification.

The take away: do not assume that because you had a good idea and presented it to your manager that it was heard, fully understood and moved up the chain, adequately re-presented to the company executives. As often as it is, it is not. I, though perhaps not like everyone else, enjoy hearing from staff members directly when it comes to their ideas and suggestions. Bringing an idea directly to the executive team is highly encouraged and the squashing of such action by my management is highly discouraged regardless of the intent to not waste my time or shield me from something that does not fit the needs and direction of the business. Even if the idea is not a good fit at the time, the value to me and the increased value of the employee comes by way of simply having an idea and presenting it well.

My door is open to anyone at any time. Your ideas are valuable and I’ll decide if it is a good fit for the business now or in the future. This statement is true for employees, customers, vendors, partners and the like.

A Good Manager

Comments from Benjamin Sayers on being a Good Manager – (re-posted from The VoIP Insiders)

To preface this, the intended audience may or may not be in the VoIP industry, they may work for VoIP Supply or somewhere else, they may even be the owner of their own business. This commentary is stream of consciousness and written to reflect on experiences during the week at my company that I hope will be of use to others in some manner. Your comments, positive or negative, are always more than welcome and highly encouraged as I too love to see things from someone else’s perspective in effort to always being improving.

At VoIP Supply, we have some excellence within our management team. We also have ways to improve and provide a greater leadership experience to our staff. Some things that our management staff can, should, and generally do exhibit include (though we can all get even better at):

1) Proper delivery of expectations: Staff needs to know what is expected of them in clear and concise terms, preferably written and reviewed in a timely manner. Ongoing support and coaching to ensure that once delivered, the understanding of the expectations are indeed well known and execution is a simple and easily followed path, are necessary from start to finish but not necessarily in a micro-managed fashion.

2) Follow through on delegation, to get what you inspect, not what you expect: Getting work off your plate is only of value if the results are what you expect and are of value to you such that the work does not need to be redone, finished off, or worse–a complete failure. With regards to delegation of work, you will always get the results expected if you inspect the work prior to completion of the task.

3) Providing just the right amount of rope (not a noose): A truly good manager hires people capable of exceeding expectations and providing enough value that the manager themselves can be promoted and backfill their position with a solid replacement. To do so is to encourage self sufficiency, creativity and opportunity to succeed above and beyond their predefined tasks. Letting staff loose to show their talents and help build the business (should they be motivated to work above and beyond their minimal job description) is critical in developing a team of truly valuable assets. Coach, mentor and follow up with them to ensure that they have not been setup to fail or allowed to wander too far without supervision.

4) Proper message delivery and moderated use of tone: Each team member is different, reacts differently and interprets the manager’s guidance and directives differently. Being sure to deliver the message, positive or negative, in the right medium and with the right tone, is important when hoping to motivate the team rather than threaten them, devalue their work, or create fear of failure and its consequences.

5) Accountability relative to expectations delivered: While I am proponent of positivity, patience and understanding of circumstances beyond the control of the staff member that has been given a particular project or task, holding them accountable remains a necessity. If a task is delivered and accepted, the accepting member of your team must be held accountable for completion of it or communication of its pending incomplete status, reasons for its status and a plan for completion within an adjusted timeframe.

6) Encourage and promote positive two way communications: One of the greatest points of failure in any business is within the internal communications between staff and between departments. It is the responsibility of the management to demonstrate the value and process of effective two way communications, leading by example, coaching and promoting it, rewarding it and ensuring that the team is doing their part within the company.

7) Setting goals and defined points of re-evaluation: Along the same line as setting expectations, the management should be setting goals for celebration of the success of the department. Considering the expectations to be the minimum levels of achievement for the department and the goals are just that, the goals. Sometimes goals are missed and that’s ok, you still have something to shoot for and feel exceptional about achieving. When goals are set too high or unplanned circumstances occur making goal achievement impossible, management needs to set points to re-evaluate those goals and maintain realistic levels so-as to ensure that the goal is not completely unrealistic and therefore not worth striving for.

8.) Leading by example: This one more or less goes without saying, but a good manager needs to lead by example and overachieve those working for them. This should not be confused with squashing the efforts of the staff to ensure that managers continue to look good by preventing others from succeeding. The right thing to do in the situation of a superstar knocking it out of the park is to let them pass and be proud that you groomed such a valuable asset to the company.

9) Understanding the big picture and providing visibility into it: When delegating tasks, assigning team members to a project, critiquing their work, dismissing their suggestions and explaining results and expectations, it is important that the manager understands the overall direction of the company, how their department fits that picture and how the staff fits into the overall big picture of the company. Some are comfortable repeating the same task over and over again while others have ideas and suggestions for improvements. While the suggestions may well be valid and good ideas, they may not fit with the current needs and direction of the company. It is important that ideas and suggestions are not merely dismissed, but shown that the reason for dismissal or non-implementation is that it may not fit the current needs and direction of the company. Thank them for their independent thoughts and suggestions, encourage more of it and educate them on where they should focus their attention relative to additional ideas.