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Small Business Week Special: Ready, Aim, Hire!

By Debbie Lawes |

Don't rush to start hiring again without an action plan

Is your company ready to start hiring again now that the economy is recovering? If so, there are a few things small firms should know and do if they want to recruit top talent ahead of their competitors.

For starters, if you had to lay off 10 people during the recession, don't assume you need fill those same 10 positions, says Mary Karamanos, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Business Development Bank of Canada.

"The number of positions isn't what's important, it's coming up with a recruitment plan that identifies the skills, knowledge and experience your organization needs," says Karamanos. "You may find out that it's not really 10 you need. Maybe it's 15 working differently or eight working in areas that are more strategic to your business."

There are also many options that entrepreneurs have. For example, you may want to consider hiring certain employees as short-term contractors or even evaluate the impact of outsourcing certain functions, such as IT or accounting. The demand for part-time positions and flexible schedules is growing among parents of young children, people going to school part-time and retirees looking to work a few days each week.

"Businesses need to think outside the box because people are working differently. It's driven a lot by personal need and want, but it's good for companies as well. It really opens up the talent pool that's available," says Karamanos.

A good recruitment plan should assess the skills, capabilities and attitudes your company will need over both the short- and long-term, says Prof. Daniel Muzyka, Dean of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Companies also shouldn't try to hire everyone they need at once.

"There's a sequence in which you need people," says Muzyka. "Be clear in your own mind about what sort of skills you really need first and what can wait."

No doubt, developing a sound recruitment plan takes both time and resources. With both in short supply some small business owners fall into the trap of hiring people too quickly, and based more on intuition than an objective assessment of a candidate's skills.

One small Ottawa company has adopted a very simple mantra for avoiding that trap: "hire slowly." Stephen Shivkumar, President of Building Blocks Technologies, Inc., says recruitment is one of the most strategic things you do in business.

"Small companies, in particular, have to invest the time, otherwise you'll find yourself swimming upstream. You have to hire the right person for the right job and provide that person with the right training," says Shivkumar, whose seven-year-old professional development company also works with full-time contractors and more than a dozen course instructors.

To increase your chances of attracting that right person, Karamanos says recruitment ads should clearly state the job responsibilities and what kind of experience and education are required. Otherwise, you'll spend valuable time sifting through hundreds of applications that don't meet your needs.

Finding those skilled workers

Canadian companies looking for skilled workers may want to turn their attention to the United States, which has suffered much higher unemployment than Canada. This includes the under-employed-people working in positions well below their skill set.

"U.S. companies haven't been as quick as their Canadian counterparts to start hiring again, and that may apply to your competitors as well," says Muzyka. "Monitor what your competitors south of the border are doing or others who are working in your industry. Their losses could be your gains."

Employers should also recognize that Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and the aptly named "Millennial Generation" each have their own set of expectations and work ethics.

"Gen Xers, for example, tend to be more conservative than their parents, which means they may put more emphasis on the value of the pay and benefits package," says Muzyka. "Millennials, in comparison, have more of a sense of entitlement. They expect to move up the corporate ladder quickly, and if they don't, may look elsewhere. They may also want more flex work arrangement because lifestyle plays a bigger role."

And lastly, if you're tapping your competitors for talent there's a good chance they're eyeing your top performers as well. There is no shortage of things companies can do to retain employees: training and development, flexible employment and innovative compensations and rewards (e.g. extended vacations and profit sharing).

However, such perks will mean little unless employees feel happy and empowered in their jobs.

"Through our training and day-to-day operations, we make sure each employee has an opportunity to contribute to the success of the company," says Shivkumar. "This means listening to them and asking for their thoughts on how to improve a particular process or technology. Valuing your employees motivates them, and that's just good business sense."

Tips for recruiting new hires

  1. Develop a recruitment plan that assesses the skills your company needs
  2. Be clear on job responsibilities and experience/education required
  3. Look to the United States for talent
  4. Don't hire based on your intuition
  5. Be open to flexible work arrangements
  6. Be innovative with compensation and rewards
  7. Understand the different expectations of younger and older workers

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