By Larry Fish, GreenSearch
For many years, GreenSearch has consulted with family business owners nationwide who have seen their landscape or nursery companies grow and thrive to a point where they need to hire externally for a key management position. Most commonly, the owner would like nothing better than to transfer the responsibility to a family member; however, most commonly either no individual exists for that role or the selected family member has not demonstrated the interest or capability to assume such an advanced role. But faced with the realities of managing a business (and one’s own sanity), the owner has no choice but to turn to the outside to fill a key role and hopefully attract a peak performer.
For a family business, this is a “moment of truth,” and if not handled well, could result in lost time, sagging employee morale and potentially lost customer confidence. Therefore, the owner better get it right the first time and truly understand the type of individual they want and how the person will fit behaviorally into the overall organization. The following are a few effective ideas specifically for family business owners to consider when developing their recruiting and hiring strategy for this type of event.
Ensure Everyone is on the Same Page
Once the decision is made to hire from the outside for a key manager, the business owner needs to inform all family members associated with the business of that course of action and the reasoning as well as gain full support. If a family member had a perceived notion they would assume a new role, a separate discussion with the affected family member should take place before any recruiting commences to avoid issues once the selected candidate is employed.
Because of the sensitivities involved in hiring a non-family member to a key role, we have recommended to our clients somewhat non-traditional methods and steps to the interview process. Consider this . . . most interviewees, especially for more senior roles, prepare their strategy in advance for what, inevitably, is a predictable set of interview steps. Candidates can prepare an excellent resume. And should. The company can and should prepare by rethinking the job and redefining the position, including the critical skills and ideal person necessary to perform the job within a family owned and operated business.
If a family business owner scripts a few pre-interview “plays,” the evaluation of candidates actually begins long before the hiring game officially starts. The owner can develop a strategy for which there can be little preparation in advance of the interview. A less predictable interview allows the owner to evaluate more accurately how the candidate will actually perform and behave on the job. This is important to the family business owner because they are about to enter into a long-term relationship with the person they hire and most likely share the most sensitive and confidential aspects of their business and personal lives. Thinking about a long-term relationship is very different from thinking about trick questions and body language during the interview. The owner’s ultimate mission is not to trip up the candidate, but to make the best possible match.
Get the Candidate to Do Something Before the Interview. If the business owner is engaged in the landscape, nursery or golf business, have the person independently visit your staging areas, a client property, an installation in progress, retail/re-wholesale outlet, etc. The “peak performers” will always provide feedback during the interview that will allow the owner to assess their evaluative techniques, insightfulness, accuracy, etc. Some owners may be surprised when a few have prepared written reports for presentation during the interview.
Read Candidates Background Materials in Teams. For a key level job, the family business owner should assemble 2-3 family members and/or trusted individuals to scan candidates’ resumes. Assuming these individuals work well together, they will be more accurate and insightful about potential employees than merely an individual would be. Gaps in employment, suspect certifications from trade associations and inflated accomplishments would all be most likely questioned by more than one set of eyes.
Strategies During the Interview
For the family business, it is important to acquire a new mindset toward the interview process. Here are a few guidelines from “lessons learned” – –
- Interviews test how well someone interviews, not how well they will do on the job.
- A good con artist can fool you every time.
- Interviews in which you induce stress do not work.
With those three assumptions in mind, here are some tested interview tips:
Know What to Ask. A certain amount of time investment is needed on the part of the family business owner to accurately determine what type and what level of information they will need during the interview to make a hire/no-hire decision. For example, by categorizing the various behavioral and experiential questions, specific to the family business interests, it should make the process more effective. Here are some examples:
Questions to Reveal Integrity/Honesty/Trustworthiness
- What would you do if someone asked you to do something unethical?
- In what business situations do you feel honesty would be inappropriate?
- If you saw a co-worker doing something dishonest, would you tell me? What would you do about it?
Questions to Reveal Personality/ Temperament /Ability to Work with Others
- If I call your references, what will they say about you?
- Describe a situation where you had to take a risk?
- What kinds of people would you rather not work with?
- What are your impressions about working with a family business?
- Tell me about some of the groups you have had to get cooperation from? What did you do?
- What job was the most satisfying/frustrating and why?
- What does your employer owe to you?
Questions to Reveal Past Mistakes
- Tell me about an objective in your last job that you failed to meet?
- What have you learned from your mistakes?
- Tell me about a situation where you “blew it.” How did you resolve it or correct it to save face?
Questions to Reveal Creativity/ Creative Thinking/ Problem Solving
- What was the wildest idea you had in the past year? What did you do about it?
- Describe a situation where you had a difficult management problem. How did you solve it?
- Describe a sales presentation when you had the right product/service, and the customer wanted it but wouldn’t buy it. What did you do next?
Miscellaneous Good Questions
- What do you think it takes to be successful in a family business such as this?
- What do you expect to find in this company that you don’t have now?
- Is there anything you wanted me to know about you that we have not discussed?
These are all good questions; however, the objective is to ask them in such a way where the family business owner is eliciting a certain response to an issue that the candidate may experience once they are on the job. In addition, there is no problem with the business owner requesting a trusted family member to conduct the interview jointly. However, more than two people interviewing can create a most stressful environment for the candidate and the end result will be less genuine exchange of information and guarded behavior. It is recommended that when more than one interviewer is present, make sure there is a plan prior to the interview which individual will ask what question while the other interviewer is assessing behavior and documenting the responses of the candidate.
After the Interview
Take a Ride. Once the business owner has completed the interview and has determined continued interest is appropriate, invite the candidate to take a ride in your vehicle to see client work, your property, schedule a family meal, etc. This new environment will allow the business owner to see the candidate’s behavior in a very different light and get to know them better outside of a structured setting.
Schedule Something. Invite the candidate to join you at a scheduled trade show, professional association event, product buying trip, etc. as opposed to the traditional second interview where many of the same questions are asked. The business owner will be able to see how the candidate interacts in situations that will be specifically job related if hired.
Tell It Like It Is. If there are any issues that either the candidate or the family business owner need to disclose that will impact the relationship, make sure these are put on the table and resolved immediately. This is the time to address family concerns or expectations that could affect the candidate’s success once hired.
The family business owner should be proactive and drive the reference checking process – – not the candidate. Too many owners seem to feel they are at the mercy of the job candidate supplying references. Obtaining a comprehensive waiver from the candidate to check all references, verifying at least three specific business references as well as verification of stated educational and certification accomplishments are all “musts.”
In summary, there is nothing more important a family business owner could do than selecting the right outside manager to join your company. No matter how times change, this principle never will.
To learn more about succession planning for your family green industry business, call GreenSearch at 678.778.3529 or email the author and President of GreenSearch Larry Fish firstname.lastname@example.org