Find the people that are right for your business

In his latest article, John Ritchie, Chief Executive Officer at Ellipse emphasises why this is particularly the case for SMEs and why, even though finding the ‘right’ people isn’t easy, you can’t afford to recruit anyone who doesn’t pull their weight.

Before you can even start searching, you need to consider what your aims are for your business. What is the extent of your ambitions? Even if you have only just set up your business, what is your exit strategy? What is needed to take your business from where it is now to where you want it to be in five years’ time?

If you can answer these questions, you will know if you need to find someone who will ultimately succeed you, or someone with the skills and experience you lack that are needed to help the business develop – or perhaps someone with the potential to become one or the other.

Once you have identified a particular set of skills or experience that your ideal recruit might have, the obvious people to look for might seem to be those who have been in a similar role at another company. My own experience is that however logical this might seem, it doesn’t necessarily follow that such a person will deliver what your own business needs.

They may have a brilliant track record at a big, well-known company, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to repeat the trick for yours. They might have benefited from having a great team around them. They could simply have been lucky in that the circumstances in which they operated at the time might have made it hard to fail. Above all, they may simply be the sort of people who thrive in large corporations but find it hard to succeed working for smaller companies, particularly if they lack the entrepreneurial outlook that those working in small outfits need to have.

I have friends in business who have been looking to grow their companies and brought in people who seem to be the right types to take their companies up to the next level. All too soon, they bitterly regretted it as their company got bogged down in the sort of big company processes that undermine the agility which gives many small businesses their edge.

For me, attitude is more important than skills or experience. People can develop skills and gain experience. Although attitudes can change, they tend to only slowly, if at all. If someone takes the view that their role is to do X and they can’t be expected to do Y, they are less useful to me than someone who might not know all the ropes but is willing to learn and not afraid to make a few mistakes along the way. I would rather take on someone inexperienced but with these attributes:

• bright, so they will learn quickly
• passionate, so they will work hard to get results
• willing to help others, so that as they develop they will in turn develop the people around them
• optimistic realism, so that they will try to find ways in which things can be done rather than reasons why they can’t

When it comes to finding such people, beware relying on interviews alone. It could be that your interviewees seem to have the attributes you are after but when it comes to business it turns out that their greatest talent is in being good at interviews! Use strategies that will give you a real insight into how useful – or not – they might be.

Why not set them a problem to solve before you meet up with them and tell them you’ll expect them to give a presentation of their solution? If numeracy or literacy is vital in the role you are looking to fill, set a task that will demonstrate whether or not they have sufficient abilities in these areas. Ideally, ask someone whose judgement you trust to interview them as well.

While ‘The Apprentice’ may ultimately be a bit of a circus for the cameras, the idea of setting tasks to assess ability is sound, and the episode in every series where Lord Sugar asks some of his business associates to grill the remaining candidates always reveals a wealth of interesting new information.

Psychometric and other personality tests are worth the small investment when compared to the potential cost and aggravation of a wrong hire – like so many services, they can now be accessed online at a cost that makes them accessible for all businesses. Try a few different providers’ tests out on yourself, ask other people you know well to do likewise, and pick the one that delivers the most accurate and insightful results. If the tests reflect true pictures of people you know well, you can trust them to deliver the same for job applicants.

In short, don’t rely on one method or another to screen recruits – aim for a mix that gives you objective as well as subjective information.

However good your recruitment process is, you can still sometimes end up with taking someone on who just isn’t right for your business. When this is the case, don’t delay and let it damage your business – say goodbye to them. And this naturally means that you need to set up contracts that give you and your recruits the opportunity to change your minds if things just don’t work out. At my own company, we have taken on some excellent people – and offloaded some who didn’t fit in – by adopting a ‘temp to permanent’ model as our standard one for new recruits.


About John Ritchie

John Ritchie is the founding CEO of Ellipse, a specialist online insurer covering the death and disability benefits offered by companies to their employees. He set up the business for Munich Re Group to challenge the long-established players in that sector and firmly believes that the digital age enables small, nimble companies, like Ellipse, to compete successfully with the big boys.