It’s a time worn adage that HR can make or break a company. Hire the right people, so the logic goes, and you can both maximize earnings and minimize losses. While our experience is with staffing for a small Managed Services Provider, these principles will apply to businesses across a wide spectrum.

A good hire understands their role, communicates well, goes above and beyond their job description, takes direction, takes ownership, and advances business goals from their position. If the position is client facing, it becomes all the more important that the employee be healthy, presentable, whether on the phone or in person, and be able to regulate their affect (how they come across to others) with some amount of self-awareness.

A toxic employee, on the other hand, can not only underperform in their role, sucking time and resources from their peers and managers, but also cost client relationships, affecting the business long-term. Getting the right people in the right places can be tricky. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way to building a healthy and productive company culture.

1. Understand the state of your business

This sounds obvious, but we’re not talking about the core services. It’s important to have a clear view of the state of your business. One temptation is to feel bigger than you are! There’s a logo, a core service, some key business relationships. You’re a legitimate business. Great! That doesn’t make you Microsoft just yet. If your business is still in the early stages of growth and running on cash flow, say, over investor resources, you have to be judicious about hires. Sometimes people with little experience can take a position and really run with it. Point is, at this stage your resources might be limited. That means attracting top-flight talent can be difficult. This makes an intuitive assessment of a candidate’s potential all the more important. Spending too much even on a key position, though, can be fatal for an up and coming business. You have to keep a close eye on growth and know when it’s time to start investing more heavily in those key positions. Once you’ve got some traction and the cash flow is higher, though, it will be time to open up the purse strings a bit. When you hit that next stage of growth requiring position upgrades, don’t skimp or you’ll be limiting company growth opportunities!

2. Understand your culture, goals and values

Most candidates will say something about honesty and integrity and perseverance or some such if asked about values. Having someone on the hiring team with a great intuitive sense and high emotional IQ is essential to separating the wheat from the chaff. Ideally, the hiring manager will have been closely involved in developing the company values and have an internalized sense of company goals and values beyond the web site copy. What kind of person will mesh well with the company? What kind of person can bring a fresh perspective? What kind of person will be comfortable voicing alternative points of view to reduce the possibility of groupthink and poor decision making? What level of social skill is required in that position? An initial goals and values conversation with candidates is our first point of contact following the resume sift. Without a fit at this level, even a skilled candidate won’t maximize production, and might not pass the initial 3 month probation, draining valuable time and resources.

3. Embrace the process

Embrace the process. How often does it happen that there’s a critical need, say an increase in sales, and you need to hire immediately? This can short circuit our critical faculties and make us miss the red flags. We want to expedite and run through the steps to get that position staffed by hook or by crook. Instead, abide by the established deadlines. Allow the resumes to come in. Give them a good look. Communicate clear expectations to the staffing companies. Edit posts on job sites thoroughly. Allow for thorough tech vetting. Establish a goals and values match. Get the right people in the onsite interview. (Incidentally, coordinating this piece correctly cuts down on the number of onsites required!) No matter how pressing the position is, cleaning up after a toxic hire is much worse than taking the time to get the right person. We’ve had many instances in which, after several onsite interviews, one of our team members referred the perfect fit, which would have been impossible if we had jumped the gun. This also servers as a reminder to always inform the team when a position is open. They may work with people on a regular basis who are pre-vetted and already have working knowledge of your company and core service offering, only you had no way of knowing the perfect candidate was right under your nose.

4. Allow for the unusual

We can easily become discouraged in HR, assuming that our current budget will not attract the level of talent we need for the position. A ton of candidates passed on by staffing companies or found through job sites are shot down at the vetting level. All the effort can feel like it’s for nothing. But here, as everywhere in business, we subscribe to the power of positive thinking. There are plenty of fish in the sea. We’ve had several amazing hires from unlikely places. Someone had taken time off from their Fortune 500 job and was re-entering the workforce. Another was in a Fortune 100 position and looking for something closer to home to cut down on their commute. Point is, pay and a position commensurate with career trajectory is what we assume candidates want. But some want out of the enterprise level culture. Some want to stay close to home. Some want to collaborate on a small scale. Some people have come to know themselves and find they enjoy a “lower” level position than the management role they’ve had for the past 5 years. Keep those possibilities in mind as you place the call. Even if a candidate seems overqualified, place the call anyway.

5. Run the numbers before posting the position!

Every business, however large or small, needs to have a specific process for revenue analysis, breakdown by department, and forecasting dialed in pretty early on to survive. These numbers are essential for prioritizing hires, both by position, and for timing. Few things are more annoying than posting a job, interviewing candidates, settling on qualified individuals and then postponing the offer indefinitely because the word has come down that you don’t have the cash for the position after all. While this is not uncommon at the SMB level, unfortunately, since situations change rapidly, in this age of transparency with sites like LinkedIn, Google, and Glassdoor.com, this can cause a huge reputation hit for the company, should this become a pattern.

HR can be both nerve-wracking and highly rewarding. Following some simple guidelines and allowing due process to run its proper course can help. We wish you the best of luck in navigating this tricky aspect of your business!