One mindset shift to unlock easier hiring and recruitment at small businesses — my story.

July 14, 2022

Jess is our newest full-time staff member.

She’s been with us for about a year, and it couldn’t be going better.

But the process of hiring Jess wasn’t easy.

It was complicated from the beginning.

It wasn’t easy to realize and admit that we needed help.

There were several difficult conversations amongst my small team about who to hire, their roles, and how to hire them.

At the end of the day, we decided to grow our team because we knew we’d need help pursuing our mission of restoring humanity to work one People Leader at a time.

That first week with Jess was like a breath of fresh air, a weight off our shoulders.

“We have someone to delegate to! We are not alone!”

But the honeymoon didn’t last.

After the first week, the cracks began to show themselves.

We weren’t ready to grow.

With Jess’s fresh perspective, we realized some ways we did things weren’t working. Jess mirrored by telling us what she needed to thrive and some of our problems.

Our meetings were ineffective, which often left her wondering why we were meeting and her role in her actions.

Our deeply entrenched communications styles weren’t universally accepted. Jess coming in new, pointed out that we had nothing written down, which made it hard for her to quickly come up to speed.

Our culture was more homogeneous than we realized.

In hindsight, it was bumpy for Jess and the rest of us.

Luckily, Jess was willing to stick with us as we realized how much we needed to polish up. She stuck around through the tough stuff, and for that, I’m abundantly grateful, partly because I know it doesn’t always go this way.

I call this the Polishing Wheel of Hiring.

Polishing any surface—whether a car or a mirror—requires carefully removing material in successively finer layers.

It starts with the roughest layer and proceeds finer and finer until the surface gleams.

The first stages of the polishing process are damaging. The rough grits put scratches on the surface. Each layer works by removing those scratches.

The Polishing Wheel of Hiring can be a painful process for the existing team and the new hire, but the possibility is that each will emerge better off than before.

I’ve heard wild and scary stories about bringing on new talent in the past few months. New hires accept an offer and don’t show up on day 1; employees walk off the job during a break in their first week, never to be heard from again; heck, we’ve all seen one of our favorite local restaurant’s post signs that read, “due to labor shortages our hours have changed.”

Someone wasn’t ready for the Polishing Wheel of Hiring in each case. Maybe the new hire wasn’t adequately incentivized to work through the rough early stages, or the employer wasn’t ready to change.

When I look at the hiring landscape right now, many people say it’s different than before.

They say it’s harder than ever to be an employer, that the market is entirely in the hands of the job seeker.

As a business owner, this is a stressful place to be. Often, the stakes for a successful new hire are high: your livelihood, your mission, and food on your table (not to mention the rest of your existing staff).

In many ways, the stakes for a business leader are even higher than the job seekers. A job seeker can look elsewhere, but if you can’t hire the right people? Your entire operation goes out.

In other words, it’s high time you set yourself up for success in navigating the Polishing Wheel of Hiring.

Let me show you how.

The first job I ever quit was a full-time role as an instructor for an innovative program called Beech Hill Outward Bound. It was an inpatient wilderness addiction treatment program. I loved everything about that job.

Until I didn’t.

After a few years, working 24/7 in a wilderness setting was making me feel unsettled. I was ready for a strong sense of home and a more reliable routine. I wanted a committed relationship, a mailbox, and a pet—none of which were possible when my job required me to live in a tent for three weeks at a time.

The second job I quit was my corporate role at McCaw Cellular (Cellular One). When I left, I told the HR person who did the exit interview that I loved that job and felt challenged and supported daily with exciting and complex work.

BUT—the high-tech IT group I worked with was primarily single men or men with stay-at-home wives. I felt alone and unsupported in the challenges I faced as a first-time parent in a busy urban environment.

Net-Net: It was hard to resign from these jobs because I loved them, but I had to take care of myself.

The “secret” truth about why you’re having difficulty keeping or attracting staff has nothing to do with you. It’s about them.

It can be easy to forget that our staff is people in the business world.

They have needs outside of work.

Needs to make their lives work and live the lives they want for themselves.

In massive corporate settings or publicly traded companies, it’s understandable that people get treated as numbers. But in an organization of 5, 15, or even 500, every single person matters.

What would happen if you had one less person? Five fewer people?

Each one matters. Treat them as such.

Sometimes, this will mean investigating and rethinking the very foundation on your industry is based on.

Did you know that whitewater guides in Idaho have filed labor litigation due to unfair practices and low wages? These roles typically require 24/7 work with no breaks, dangerous circumstances, an enormous responsibility, and when averaged hourly, result in mere pennies of income. Historically, these jobs have “paid in sunsets,” luring workers into the magic of living in our natural spaces and adventuring as compensation.

The new legislation will change that, forcing adventure companies, Parks, and others to completely revamp their business model to have staff to run their operations.

Similarly, hospitals have been struggling to keep nurses during the stressors and chaos of COVID, and many have brought in traveling nurses to allow them to keep the doors open. This means local nurses often work side-by-side with temporary nurses making 2-3 times the wage they make (never a good dynamic for team morale.)

But let’s think about this for a second. What would our society look like without nurses? What’s the true value of the service nurses provide?

It’s immeasurable.

It is time we focused our ideas on what a healthy workplace and what employees need to thrive.

Employers in every sector, from health care to high tech, from retail to manual labor, need to tune in and turn their attention to the human beings who work for them.

What do they need?

When you say that you can’t stay open “due to labor shortages,” you’re missing the point. Only you can control what you offer your employees. As of July 1, 2022, there are still nearly 6 million unemployed workers.

If you’re a leader, board member, c-suite, or founder, it’s time to redesign your business model to put your employees front and center. What could matter more?

What price are you willing to pay to have loyal, passionate, dedicated staff?

Listen to them. Ask them. Watch them. And use your voice to change the long outdated systems that have ignored them.

You do not have to contort yourself to be something you are not.

But you must take a long hard look at who carries the load in making your business or service delivery model work and then redesign everything around helping them thrive. When you do that, everyone wins, including your organization.