Once your business is no longer operating as a solo endeavor, having the right people in place matters more than almost anything else. Which position will you hire for first? Why? How will you find the right person?
I’ve always believed in hiring people who have the right skills. They may or may not have held the same position, but the people you hire need to have a reputation for understanding the position. Karen Kehl-Rose is a great example of why this tactic works.
Karen was hired as executive director of the Leading Edge Alliance even though she had never held a similar position [ed. note: The Leading Edge Alliance is an international association of 220 firms focused on accounting, financial, tax, and business advisory services]. She had been the vice president of member services at the Illinois Society of CPAs, though, and that meant she understood the profession and the psyche. We looked at the skills and attributes she brought with her, not the name of the position she held. It was a great decision. And she has managed to navigate a complicated position since she was hired.
Brad Saltz is another example of a good hire. A CPA who worked in industry rather than at a firm, Brad didn’t have the direct experience many firms would have required. I looked at it differently: He was a good accountant, and I wanted to develop a niche in the restaurant industry. His knowledge of daily restaurant operations and the how-tos of developing a growth strategy for a restaurant franchise were both valuable to our firm’s goals. Hiring him was crucial to SS&G’s success in the restaurant industry [ed. note: Shamis was managing director of the accounting firm SS&G before combining the firm with BDO USA, LLP, in 2014].
Rebecca Ryan is another person who helped put the firm on the track to success. Her advice about how to provide a workplace attractive to millennials was invaluable. So were her leadership tips. They taught me how to manage my time more effectively and deal with tough situations more compassionately.
It isn’t enough to look at your business as an entrepreneur’s idea come to life. You need to let your instincts guide you in making good hiring decisions. I’m not saying hiring a restaurant person from another firm or an executive director from another association would have meant failure. It probably wouldn’t have, but the pace may have been slower or more difficult. I am also not saying you don’t need good staff or administration people to support them. Everyone does.
What I am saying is each of these endeavors benefited from the guidance they got from people with a different point of view. Karen and Brad brought their unique experiences with them and massaged what they knew to fit the position that they were entrusted with.
Those are the success stories. Unfortunately, there have been other times it hasn’t worked out so well — but it’s all part of growing and running a business. Sometimes you just must be ballsy, like I was when I first took over my father’s firm and fired nearly the entire staff. Over the years, I’ve had to make other similar decisions. Each of them required a certain amount of introspection so I could be sure personal feelings were not part of the equation. And, each of these, in its own way, left its scar.
When a hire is not a good fit, either for cultural, skill set, or some other reason, the best thing you can do is end the relationship as quickly as possible.
It is never easy to do this, especially with a high-level hire or someone you know personally. But making the best decisions for the business is your priority. From the moment you recognize the fit is wrong, start documenting relevant dates, times, and actions. Then consult with an attorney to make sure you aren’t violating any employment laws. It’s important to have this information ready in case the person decides to sue. This is one part of the preparation. The other side is giving feedback to the person so that the termination discussion doesn’t come as a complete shock. Actual termination discussions are hard. There is no other way to say it, and there is no way to avoid the unsettled feelings you’ll have. But there are some things you can do to make the meeting a little easier and, for lack of another term, a bit safer from litigation:
- Have a second person with you in the room to serve as a witness to the conversation.
- Plan to keep the conversation short and general. Say something like “The company is going in a different direction” rather than “You aren’t a good fit.”
- Have any documents that need to be signed (e.g., confidentiality agreement, separation settlement) available at the meeting.
- Be prepared to ask the person to leave immediately and hand over any electronic devices, keys, or other pieces of company property that are in their possession.
Whichever side of this discussion you are on, you will be left with impressions that carry forward to other business decisions. For example, when the first association we were with terminated our membership, I began thinking about the kind of association I wanted to be with. I didn’t act on it for a while because there were other priorities. But in that moment, the germ of the Leading Edge was born.
This has been adapted from Building Blocks: Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur 2018 by Gary Shamis, copyright (c) 2018. Published by Jennasis & Associates.
Gary Shamis is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, author, and business consultant. Today, he is principal of Winding River Consulting.