Famous white lies: staff are our most valuable asset

By Philip Park, MD of PCS

You will hear this frequently from companies eager to make the right noises in front of investors, customers and regulators: staff are our most valuable asset. Deep down, in a great many cases, we know this to be trite.

In my many years in the recruitment industry, I have spoken to hundreds of business owners and managers. The impression I get is that “staff” is the most problematic part of any business. Sure, there are far more good staff than bad in any business, but the amount of management time consumed by errant staff members is way out of proportion to that spent on good staff.

Something is clearly wrong with this picture. Labour legislation has made it more difficult to dismiss the slackers in any company, and with one wrong step you will find yourself in front of the CCMA. Hence, the work load for the human resources department has increased exponentially over the last 20 years.

I know I am banging my own drum here, but it a lot of these problems come down to poor hiring practices in the first place.

US-based hiring guru Mike DuBose pours scorn on the idea put forward by many companies that staff are their most valuable asset, for the simple reason that their efforts in hiring and retaining the right staff do not always reflect this value. “Owners plan many aspects of their businesses for success, but hire haphazardly without strategically aligning their employees with the mission and goals of the company. They are setting themselves up for failure and liabilities from the start.”

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great reports that hiring the right, outstanding staff and placing them into the right jobs is a critical part of the success formula in building a great business. “Of all the aspects in running a business, this is one of the most important pieces of advice that took me 20 years to figure out!” he writes.

DuBose says it is not easy to assemble a great team and even the best efforts can go astray. “We have made just about every hiring mistake by hiring employees who were: sexual harassers; negative and hostile; drug abusers; incompetent; thieves and trouble makers. But, all of these employees looked great on paper, their interview went well, and their references checked out! Having the wrong employees in your business can be draining on the leaders and managers. The bottom line – they cost you money and time!”

Hiring is an investment and it takes considerable training, effort, and experience to develop the skills necessary to manage the hiring process. It is often better to take the time and effort to hire correctly, than to rush into it and find some weeks or months down the road that you have made a terrible mistake. Let’s be blunt: a bad hire can sink a company and there are far too many examples of this around. All company failures come down to personnel issues. You can – as many companies do – explain away your failures by pointing to the tough economic times, but for every one of these failures, there are a dozen or more competitors who are weathering the storm.

No, it’s never the economy. It’s who you have on the team that is pulling in the opposite direction. I agree with Jim Collins and DuBose that hiring excellent staff is a critical factor in any business success, and that is what makes the recruitment industry so satisfying. We have placed thousands of truly exceptional people over the 30 years we have been in business and I have had the joy of watching many of them ascend to the top ranks of the business world.