Four Easy Ways to Make Remote Employees Work

I had a discussion yesterday with a client about hiring an out of territory sales rep. The company has never done it before and is skeptical a salesperson could be effective in this role.

In the current state, that may be true for them, but continued growth - particularly in niche industries - is eventually going to demand it. Being able to do so earlier will open a wider and more skilled talent pool to the company.

Here are four things that can make it easier and more likely to be successful:

Upgrade Core Technology

This does not need to be expensive. The odds are you already own most of these things, you're just not using them. The following tools are critical:

  1. VOIP Telephony: The phone system should have the ability to have a phone with an internal extension anywhere with internet access and should have a mobile app that allows 
  2. Cloud Apps: Ideally these are web-based, but if you have a Citrix environment or a terminal server, that's just fine. The point is, people should be able to access all of your core applications from the field at any time.
  3. Instant Messenger: You already own this, your employees probably just aren't using it yet.

And the following tools are nice to have:

  1. CRM: If you aren't using it yet you should be anyway - no matter how many salespeople you have. If you are onboarding remote salespeople, CRM will be critical to making them successful - particularly if there are backoffice or internal sales and service folks they will be working on the same customers with.
  2. Collaboration tool like Slack which is a great way to organize subject or project-specific internal conversations
  3. Video Conferencing: You may already own something that offers this as well (Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype) but it takes some heavy management to get people to use it regularly. Video can really shrink the distance between a central team and remote workers.

Organize Your Content

Odds are your information is fragmented across the company. Using a tool like Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, or even Box or Dropbox, organize the information that the prospective employees will need to do their jobs. Your employees should get away from storing things in their own hierarchies and on their own devices anyways.

This exercise will also force you and your employees to rationalize what's really important and identify clear gaps in your documentation. Work to fill these gaps over time as you on-board new employees and get them up to speed.

Institute Management Reporting

"Management by walking around" is a great discipline but in the modern work environment it needs to be paired with some level of regular reporting and data-based analysis.

Work with management to develop the core, key management report - both activity-based and output based - that gives them an understanding of what's happening in their department at a macro level. Ideally, generate these from a centralized system (e.g. CRM, order management, production management) rather than asking people to compile them manually.

Once again, this is just a good management discipline. Regardless of whether you're adding remote workers you should be doing this; but in order to be able to manage remote workers this is absolutely critical.

Hire Millennials

That's right. Seek out and hire millennials.

They will challenge you in some ways - they'll ask for more flexible schedules, they will want more feedback from their managers, and they will want a collaborative and fun work environment. Embrace it.

They will also show you how they can be effective under these alternative arrangements. You will need to work with them to find the balance between flexible and traditional.

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How to hire top talent as a mid-sized business

Ronan Consulting Group has being doing a lot of recruiting work recently. Though we don't focus on selling recruiting services, when there are roles our clients need to fill in order for our initiatives to be successful we will source those roles in many cases.

We consistently need to answer the question: How does a smaller company compete with larger companies for top talent? Over time, I think we've found a few good answers.

There are a few more complicated ways to find good people I'll cover in a later post. Today we will look at how to fill senior-mid-manager and senior positions by hiring people from larger companies. 

Things to do now

1. (easy) Ignore every article you see about millenials. They are all wrong. Recruiting high-value millenials isn't that different than recruiting any high-talent person. The term "millenials in the workplace" is, 9 times out of 10, a thinly veiled complaint about how things aren't what they used to be. In reality, employee expectations have shifted across the board. This is going to feel strange for a lot of SMB CEOs. But it is what it is and, ultimately, if you want to be able to hire the best people you'll need to make some adjustments to be able to compete for them.

2. (easy) Have someone independently look at titles in you organization and re-align them to the norms of the industry. Titles carry more weight in larger organizations and will matter to new people you bring in. It will also communicate seniority more accurately and help avoid miscommunication about responsibility down the road

3. (hard) Start to realign current HR policies that deal with flexibility. It is likely new employees are going to negotiate more for flexibility than for pay. The problem is that giving one person more flexibility than others in is much more visible than paying them more and it is more likely to cause consternation with current staff. Save yourself the headache and begin implementing low-cost, low-impact flexibility standards to everyone ahead of time. Examples can include more forgiving work-from-home policies, reducing the years of service required for more vacation time, and liberalizing part-time work arrangements like 3 or 4 days per week.

Things to do during the search

1. (medium) Really think about the type of work the new person needs to do and make parallels to other industries and lines of work. A good search is going to need to be broad. Locking yourself into narrow industries or roles is unlikely to yield the most qualified pool of candidates. As an example, for a high-end hardware manufacturer, we looked to design-heavy industries like jewelry, fashion, and luxury automotive. We found a great candidate who would not have been on our radar if we had stayed in construction, architecture, or manufacturing - all of which appear to be more directly related.

2. (harder than it sounds) Use a rigorous, consistent interview process. We start every applicant with a short phone screen. This is the airport test and to make sure their experience is likely a good fit. The next step is a thorough in-person interview that gives us insight into how the person thinks, works, and interacts with peers. This should contain at least one "case study"-like discussion. I will cover my thoughts on this in a separate post. They are extensive.

3. (easy) Ideally find at least three good candidates to interview but don't make this too much of a constraint. If you find the perfect person, they crush the interview process, and you think you can make the role attractive enough for them to accept, don't play around. The right person can and does come around on the first try sometimes. Trust your instinct when it happens. If you're not sure, then have at least three candidates to compare against each other. But don't feel like you need to hire one of them. If your perception of the role evolves or none of the candidates seem like they fit, keep looking. Making the wrong hire is bad for everyone and is painful to recover from - it's better to just extend the recruiting process.

4. (medium) Be open about the company and encourage your people to be very transparent about what it's like to work there. If most people come in at 7:30 and leave at 8, tell them. If the role has turned over a lot, tell them. If they are going to need to shoestring some tools together where they probably have very sophisticated tools at their current job, tell them. There's no sense in getting a great person and having the role and company not match what you told them during the interview process. That always ends badly.


If you do these things you are guaranteed to find the right person and keep them forever.*


*This does not represent a guarantee. There is no substitute for good judgement.

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Hiring an NFL Head Coach for Your Company

@JennyVrentas has an interesting MMQB piece up with a behind-the-scenes look at the hiring process for NFL head coaches. It's a great read for hiring managers and candidates seeking an executive-level or leadership job.

I just tweeted out a mini-essay on my takeaways, but here they are for posterity:

Takeaway #1: As hire As, Bs hire Cs. Evaluate potential leaders on how they build their teams, not just what they have done

The longest block of time in most interviews is spent going over the candidate’s prospective staff. Coaching positions are in flux at this time of year, and you’re not always able to get the assistant you want, so candidates have to present a depth chart—three or four deep—of their top choices at every position from the coordinators to the position coaches. Be prepared to defend your choices if the team doesn’t like them. One owner, for example, vetoed a candidate’s third choice for a coordinator during their first interview.

Discussing specific people isn't practical for most jobs, but talking about profiles and people you have hired - or wanted to hire - is. Hiring managers and candidates should spend time talking about how they will build a great team and what they will do when it isn't working. If you hire a specialist for a leadership position based solely on what they specialize in you're probably going to end up with the wrong person.

Takeaway #2: Have a plan + flexibility to adapt. Cannot apply a system or template rigidly-must account for ability to execute

But what is the coach’s plan for making it work with players the team is committed to financially, such as a disgruntled star who’s earning more than the coach, or a regressing quarterback? Adam Gase won over the Dolphins by explaining his philosophy that coaching a quarterback can’t be one-size-fits all, backed by his experience blending different offensive systems and styles to best suit the spectrum of QBs he’s coached: Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and now Ryan Tannehill.

Having a discussion about "best practices" can be valuable both for understanding the depth at which a candidate understands what they have done in the past AND how those best/leading practices should be applied or disposed of. If someone has always done something the same way and it's worked every time that still doesn't mean it will work for your company. Make sure they will give careful consideration to how to appropriately adjust their favorite methods and processes to match your strategy and, most importantly, your culture. 

Takeaway #3: #changemanagement is an integral part of every job. You need to hire well and then get them to work well together

Here’s how one candidate answered the adversity question: He cited a time when his team traded for a player whom he soon realized had trouble learning, to the point where it had affected his playing time with his previous team. The coach spent $600 an hour to meet with a sports and performance psychologist, learning how to become a better teacher to a slow learner. The player went on to have a career-best season under his new coach.

Change management isn't a formula - it's a sensibility. If a candidate has a good sense for how to manage change in the organization in both directions, the odds are they will be able to execute.

Takeaway #4: Ask for input. Somebody has been in a similiar position somewhere before. Their advice isn't available on Google

Charley Casserly is frequently hired as a consultant for coaching searches. Implied in he article is how many candidates are hired, fired, and interviewed every year. You can't look up what happens in those rooms and, thought you can read articles like this to give you a flavor, it doesn't replace the nuance a smart person in the room will be able to articulate.

Hiring managers should talk to people who have made similar hires and learn the most valuable pieces of information they have pulled out of interviews. Bring in a consultant if you don't have a lot of this experience or if you feel you need a different point of view. 

Candidates should talk to people who have been on these types of interviews and have landed these jobs. Talk about the process; talk about the conversation.

Hiring is hard. Making big career changes is hard. A good hiring process is a good conversation. And unlike the NFL, if you don't find the right person you can just keep looking.

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