How To Make Your Next Employee Your Best Employee

Ursula Ringham

Friends looking at brochure --- Image by © Laura Doss/CorbisIf you want to take your small business to the next level, you need to hire the best employees. According to research from the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends Report, 30 percent of small business owners have at least one job opening they have not been able to fill. Hiring has become more and more challenging, especially for small and midsize businesses. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

SAP’s monthly TweetChat, #SAPSMBChat, is a discussion designed to help entrepreneurs and small or midsize business owners build a simpler path to growth. Our most recent TweetChat featured guests Susan Solovic and Carrie Maslen. Susan is a small-business expert, a bestselling author, media personality, attorney, columnist, and entrepreneur. Carrie is SAP’s vice president of Small Medium Enterprise Business. Both are frequent contributors to SAP’s blog series “Small Business Coach.”

The topic for our July #SAPSMBChat was How to Make Your Next Employee Your Best Employee. We focused our discussion on where to find the best employees, what to look for in an ideal employee, and why it is more challenging to hire now than it has been in the past 40 years. Below is a transcript of our conversation with Susan and Carrie.

SAPSmallBiz: What do you think is the hardest part of recruiting for small and midsize business owners?

Susan Solovic: The hardest part of recruiting for a small or midsize business is identifying and attracting the right candidate for a given team. Often these business owners wait until they desperately need to hire, and subsequently don’t have enough time to search. You have an employment brand by design or default. If you make sure you have a brand where people want to work, it is much easier to attract top talent. The right company culture is crucial: your employees are your best recruiting tool.

Carrie Maslen: It is challenging for small and midsize businesses to find the right talent at the right time. When hiring, it is important to convey your company’s value proposition, culture, and values to find a good fit. In a larger enterprise there is a built-in pool of candidates, but small and midsize businesses do not have this luxury.

SAPSmallBiz: Companies are having a hard time filling skilled jobs. Why is it so hard to find ideal employees?

Susan Solovic: A main part of the problem is that there is a skills gap in the U.S. right now. Many people dropped out of the job market: Labor participation is the lowest it has been in 37 years. Small businesses need to do a better job of broadcasting their benefits. For example, small businesses often provide more flexibility—which is important to Millennials. Focus on making your company a cool place to work, and use your marketing skills to let potential employees know you are hiring.

SAPSmallBiz: What do you say to small and midsize businesses that only recruit from their websites?

Susan Solovic: I would say: Big mistake. Currently, 90 percent of recruiters go to the Internet to find and recruit employees. Be proactive to get the right people in the right seats. Also, use your networks. LinkedIn is a popular way to reach out to other business professionals and ask for recommendations for candidates. Finally, other business owners may have let good people go and would enjoy seeing those individuals land a new opportunity.

Carrie Maslen: All companies should be constantly reaching out to build and maintain a pipeline of candidates.

SAPSmallBiz: How do you think small businesses can make their companies more appealing to job seekers?

Susan Solovic: Small and midsize businesses offer attractive benefits such as flexible time and the ability to work remotely. They also offer employees a demonstrated opportunity to gain broader experience and grow. Owners can’t be micro-managers because this is not productive; they must set clear goals and communicate them along with expectations. Give employees a chance to flourish. They should find out what employees’ interests are and provide opportunities — such as a few weeks ago was Take Your Dog To Work Day. A pet-friendly office is attractive to employees and big companies can’t offer this.

Carrie Maslen: You should know your employees as well as you know your customers.

SAPSmallBiz: What advice would you give to a small business that is trying to find top talent on a tight budget?

Susan Solovic: Find out what the employee really wants. Maybe it’s more time off, the ability to work from home, or a flexible schedule. Consider offering a profit-sharing plan or even equity opportunity in your company based on certain achievement milestones.

Carrie Maslen: You need to know what is important to employees. It’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to incentives. Paint a picture of their career and future at your company. And offer flexible benefits–it is usually about way more than just the salary, and many benefits are no or low cost

SAPSmallBiz: When a small business is hiring, should they be more focused on finding someone with the right attitude or the right skills?

Susan Solovic: Absolutely hire someone who fits in with your company’s culture. Skills can be taught, but you can’t change an employee’s attitude or values. It is a good idea to have some of your team members interview candidates and give you input. To build a collaborative team, the next employee needs to be good fit. I made the mistake of hiring skills over attitude once. That employee only lasted a few weeks, and my team applauded when he left the building.

Carrie Maslen. Attitude trumps skills every time. You can’t teach attitude, but you can teach skills.

SAPSmallBiz: What advice do you have for companies that only recruit when they have job openings?

Susan Solovic: The bottom line is you never know when an employee may be leaving, so you need to keep the pipeline full, just like in sales. If you don’t have people in mind you often make quick decisions which are not the best choice. My mantra is: Hire smart, not fast. There is nothing wrong with inviting potentially good candidates in for a “get-acquainted.”

Carrie Maslen. I completely agree with Susan. Companies should also be doing succession planning for key roles.

SAPSmallBiz: Should a small or midsize business encourage its employees to suggest friends and acquaintances for job openings within the business?

Susan Solovic: Employee recommendations can be a great way to find qualified candidates. Reward your employees for good recruiting, not simply recommending their friends. Employees who are engaged want to suggest great people because they want a strong team. This ties back to building your employment brand.

Carrie Maslen. Employees should be encouraged to suggest candidates. Your employees know your culture and can help with finding the best fit.

SAPSmallBiz: What’s the easiest way for a small or midsize business to let people know they’re hiring? How important is awareness when it comes to hiring?

Carrie Maslen: It’s all about awareness and spreading the news that you have an opening. Spread the word of job openings using all avenues: word of mouth, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and so forth. You will reach different audiences using different media. Make sure your employees spread the word, too.

SAPSmallBiz: Any final advice for small or midsize businesses about what to do to hire their next best employee?

Carrie Maslen: Let candidates know what your priorities are. Let them know if you offer training and other benefits. Ask for, and follow up with, references. And if the employee is not the right fit, take quick action. A 30/60/90 day trial is a good idea.

For more tips on hiring the best employee, see 7 Savvy Tips For Making Your Next Employee Your Best Employee.


About Ursula Ringham

Ursula Ringham isthe Director of Digital Marketing at SAP. She manages social media and digital marketing strategy for the small and midsize business community. She was recently recognized as one of 15 Women Who Rock Social Media at Top Tech Companies. Prior to SAP, Ursula worked at Adobe and Apple in their Developer Relations organizations. She managed strategic accounts, developer programs, edited a technical journal, managed content for an entire website, and wrote and taught course curriculum. In her spare time, Ursula writes thriller novels about the insidious side of Silicon Valley.