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Getting the Most From Your Best Entrepreneurial Asset: Your People

Dion DeLoof, Co-founder and President, Anteo Group, LLC

For entrepreneurial companies, it’s the people who most often spell the difference between success and failure. Take the start up with a phenomenal new technology –- thousands of companies like that have failed for lack of leadership to motivate the talented workers necessary to exploit the technology.

In our own company, Anteo Group LLC, which I co-founded in 2002, the issue hasn’t been the need to develop cutting-edge technology but rather to gain an advantage in a mature business. The professional staffing industry hasn’t changed much in a half century, the last decade of which I spent working for one of the world’s major companies in the field.

What has set us apart -- what has enabled Anteo Group to reach annual revenue of $12 million in this fiercely competitive business -- has been our people. And make no mistake: recruiting, hiring, and developing our people is the hardest task we deal with, day in and day out.

Leveraging, Entrepreneurial Style

That is so for all entrepreneurial companies. In my 13 years in the industry on two continents, observing the environments, or “cultures,” of client companies in industries as diverse as petrochemicals, automotive, and banking and finance, I’ve learned that the most successful, big or small, have done a fantastic job leveraging this most scarce and hard-to-find resource of people.

Of those that are entrepreneurial, as are one third of Anteo Group’s current clients, the ante is upped. For in such firms, no layers of managers, administrators, and senior professional are there to buttress the efforts of the merely technically competent. Workers in a 12-person company need to multi-task, wear many hats, and communicate up and down the line and across disciplines.

Entrepreneurial managers, in turn, need to factor in leverage, or getting the most from this scare resource, in both hiring and managing their people. What follows is a prescriptive for doing that.

Before the Hire

Leverage actually begins long before the hire; it must be a part of the entire process of bringing workers on board. Consider that the cost of hiring is often underestimated. Managers spend hours looking at resumes, as well as time interviewing multiple candidates.

Bringing efficiency into that endeavor is critical. You can take steps to shorten the process dramatically, saving your managers hours, while at the same time upping your chances of hiring the best candidate.

First, identify the traits you believe the person should have, meaning that you must identify the traits in that individual that most closely resemble your company’s culture, and only then consider the person’s skills. A way of looking at this exercise is to ask yourself, did you leave your last job because of poor performance or misalignment of goals? If the latter -– and that would be my bet -– don’t put a person you are about to hire into a similar situation.

Next, if you are interviewing more than two people for a mid-level position, you need to streamline. If you are working with a recruiting firm, ask yourself, “What am I paying the firm for if not to winnow the prospects to two serious contenders?”

Make sure the job description fits the day-to-day activities of the job, which is lacking in, I would estimate, about a third of the instances. The average job description that most recruiters receive isn’t usually more than two sentences. Writing one that is accurate and comprehensive will save hours in interview time.

Beware the group decision. While that modus operandi is a given at some companies, ultimately, one individual must bear the responsibility for, and have “ownership” of, the hire.

Finally, gauge the prospect’s attitude. Some of our best hires have been people who have little or no experience but have a history of overcoming adversity and learning new skills. As our clients would put it: “Past success and performance is a predictor of future success and performance.”

Managing Effectively

Once the hire is on board, the emphasis turns to managing for leverage, assuring that the company gets the most from the best. In doing so, don’t underestimate the power of employee recognition.

In addition to a fair salary and benefits, which are bottom-line essentials, the entrepreneurial company, in particular, must employ the powerful tool of making people feel appreciated.

At Anteo Group, we buy huge cookies for employees on their first day of work and on their birthday. We host breakfast on Friday, with people bringing in items as simple as donuts or bagels. We set targets that, when reached, are celebrated in a special way, such as a company day at the beach or lake.

The point is to acknowledge publicly -– and regularly -- the accomplishments of the workers who are enabling you to build your company. The outcome is enhanced teamwork, loyalty, and pride, all of which lead to increased productivity and better results.

Besides recognition, entrepreneurs can manage effectively by skillfully deploying resources. Among today’s entrepreneurial companies, a common tactic involves turning to contract labor to supplement, enhance, and even train the full-time work force.

At Anteo Group, we are often retained by clients prior to their winning contractual work, as our clients must first assure that they can deliver to their customer. At this point, managers often struggle with staffing issues.

Using contractors enables work to get done without incurring long-term salaries and benefits. It is an effective way to try out potential hires. In addition, contractors are often able to train employees on new technologies and processes.

Incidentally, it is often the workers themselves who pursue contracting assignments, as a way to test the environment of a potential employer.

Leverage: The Bottom Line

Hiring efficiently and managing effectively enables entrepreneurs to wrest the most out of the best, to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to recruit and bring on people and to increase their productivity on the job.

A final word to the wise among entrepreneurs is sufficient: Hire thoroughbreds and let them run!

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