20 Jul The Small Business Challenge

promoting management staff from the warehouseWould the following want ad appeal to you?

“Looking for someone to fill a job that will be stressful, that no one has done before. You will have to do many different things, many of which you don’t want to do. We don’t exactly know what we want you to do but what we can guarantee is that lots of things are broken and we need you to fix them somehow. And by the way we won’t train you because we have to run the company and we don’t have the time.”

That is what a job ad for a management position at most small businesses would look like if they were really honest, and not surprisingly, such a proposal is attractive to very few. The type of person who could take on this kind of challenge is typically the kind that large businesses fight over. Large corporations have departments that specifically recruit this kind of talent, which consequently makes these candidates unavailable to small business.

Although this might represent free-market economics at work – great candidates going where they will be best paid – the problem lies in the follow-on potential of such skilled people. When large companies hire away this type of talent, they absorb them into an already large and often redundant ecosystem. This same talent, if made available to smaller businesses could create additional jobs, offering secure, well paid, well-trained jobs to a lot more people. This is probably the number one factor limiting the growth potential of small businesses as well as resultant overall job numbers. 

For example, a young, talented IT manager would help elevate Qualifirst to a new level of revenue and activity, which would allow us to employ more people. At a company like IBM this person simply becomes one of many junior software programmers.

Once a small company grows beyond the management ability of the founding owner or partners, it usually stops dead in its tracks. Strategic management talent is not available for hire by small companies. And even when we do find them, they often get headhunted away to larger, greener pastures.

How does a small business overcome this?  Specifically, how does Qualifirst plan to move forward and overcome this?

Finding and Keeping Great Management Talent

The problem is not simply finding top-level management talent. The problem is finding top-level management talent that has not already been hired by a major bank or large corporation and who will not be lured away as soon as they demonstrate their capabilities. So we need to attract young, unproven talent that has not been recruited, and we need to ensure that this type of person stays with Qualifirst for the long run.

The Qualifirst solution has always been to fix what we can and work around what we can’t. So in terms of finding, attracting and retaining great management talent:

  • We must have clear job descriptions. This is a real struggle for us but we were able to reach this goal for existing team members in 2014, and we can do the same for future management positions.
  • We must hire people only into a structured, existing job, at least for the first 100 days.
  • We need to promote from within – and particularly from the warehouse – as much as possible.

For Qualifirst the answer for us has always been the warehouse, so we have decided to go back to what has worked for us in the past, but in a more structured and planned way.  Here’s how:

Finding the Right Stuff at Qualifirst Boot Camp

Ron McIntosh, my coach at the executive mentoring group CEO Global, said that when he was hired to run Red Lobster Canada, he was first sent into the field to prove he could succeed. He first had to prove he had the right stuff. This meant working as a waiter, a line cook, and at many other front-line jobs, and he had to succeed at all of them. Red Lobster had a plan, and Ron knew exactly what he had to do to succeed and to move on to managing the Canadian operations.

At Qualifirst, our “right stuff proving ground” is the warehouse. This is where we have the most structured jobs and the most resources to offer training. It is also the best place for a candidate to show that s/he has the right stuff for Qualifirst. Our other structured job is accounting. My goal is to gradually make all of our other jobs similarly structured so we can successfully hire into them.

Qualifirst has to hire a special type of person. I interviewed an ex-Marine recently, and he said we were harder to get into than the Marines. That’s because we have realised we need a very special kind of person, and we are very careful in our selection process. If we break this rule, not only will the new hire be unhappy, their unhappiness will destroy company morale. The special person that we seek will be the one who makes it through the Qualifirst boot camp in the warehouse, and then moves on to management responsibilities. A number of our managers have already done this.

Finding management talent is not easy for a small business. No white knight is going to come help us solve our problems and I know it will take longer than we would like. We will only succeed if everyone on our team understands how difficult this journey can be and can support each other when the going seems tough.

But this is our world at Qualifirst, these are our problems and the solution is not easy. This is why I regularly ask for the support of the entire team. Because I will be the first to recognize that the Qualifirst management team will do some things right and many things wrong along the way. As it should be with every growing business, each team member must decide if they want to help us do more of the right things or simply resort to pointing out what we are doing wrong. One person pointing out all that is wrong might hold us back, but if we all work together and focus on the positive, we will be unstoppable.