It’s time to stop hiring generic workers, and to focus on the cream of the crop

/DECK--> As I travel and work with building service contractors I realize many of them look at workers and worker performance as a generic quantity. They see workers simply as full-time-equivalents, on-site for eight hours and working about six and a half hours.

Human resource managers often will hire anybody they can get.

Workers are not generic. They are people. They don’t work with the same quality or productivity. Some BSCs are trying to build winning teams with a lot of losers in uniform. It’s not a great formula.

Despite a tight labor market, you can be selective about who you hire — and you should be. The goal is to hire high-performance employees.

There are some obvious benefits to this kind of worker. Excellent employees usually perform work faster and better. That means you need fewer employees to do the job. Using less help allows you to pay workers more. High-performance employees learn faster and require less supervision than generic employees.

Consider this example. Let’s say you have two mediocre employees each working at about 50 percent capability. They tie up roughly 20 percent of a supervisor’s time, because they require close monitoring to make sure they deliver even that 50 percent.

Hiring an employee who gives 100 percent and paying him double the going rate is a better investment. This kind of employee will work harder, stay longer and actually lower your costs overall.

You can find this kind of high performance employee by asking yourself three questions:

  • Does this person want to do the work needed?
  • Does this person have the ability to do the work needed?
  • Is this person someone who will do the work needed?

Wanting to do the work
I am astonished at how many companies hire people who want the job, but don’t want to do the work. Sometimes, new employees are not even asked if they will do the work. They are only asked if they will show up for the job.

"Job holders" clog the system and make it hard on the high-performance people. They also use resources you could divert to reward high performance workers.

Possessing ability
Many BSCs make the mistake of hiring individuals who simply cannot perform the work. When I was in junior high school, I remember taking aptitude tests. The idea was to help students discover their abilities. One test consisted of ten bolts that students inserted into a special card. The bolts could only fit one way.

Some of the students caught on immediately and finished the test in no time. Others, like me, showed less aptitude for things mechanical.

Aptitude is the basic ability to learn a particular skill. Effective cleaning is a skill. The basic aptitude needed is the ability to perform repetitive lifting and to work hard. If you hire employees to perform a task for which they are unsuited, you’ll end up pushing extra work onto the rest of the team. That hurts everyone.

I recently attended a job fair for a large cleaning company. About 50 of the people who came to apply could not physically lift five-gallon containers or full trash bags. The human resources manager wanted to hire all of them, despite their inability to physically perform the work.

Observe the people you are interviewing and ask them directly, "Can you repetitively lift 40 pounds during a shift?" Then follow up with an effective measurement system to make sure you haven’t hired impostors. Part of that measurement process should include evaluations from supervisors during the first few days on the job. Workers often are sent out to do their jobs and no one sees them again for weeks. By then, many have learned how to beat the system. Their job probation period has passed and you’re stuck with a new set of problems.

Willing to do the work
There’s a simple way to find high performance workers. Hire them from your competitors.

While visiting a client, I took the opportunity to consult the local Yellow Pages. In his city, he had 146 competitors. If each of those companies had just 50 employees, and just three of those employees were high-performance workers, that would give my friend a pool of at least 450 people to hire.

Often, these employees are working as generic people for companies that don’t recognize or appreciate their performance. They probably would be willing to move to a company that could prove it operated on a high-performance system. The problem is, in the cleaning industry, there are very few high performance companies. Many excellent workers feel they are stuck.

Make your company different. First, fill it with the right people from top to bottom. Then get the word out. Workers often network through family and cultural channels. Your high performance employees will talk to and attract others. As the quality of your work force improves, you’ll be able to free up resources to pay for performance – and you should!

Don’t forget that money is not the single most important factor when it comes to attracting and keeping good employees. In fact, studies on motivation show recognition, and a team approach to management and decision-making often rate higher than pay when it comes to job satisfaction.

Use these three questions as performance barometers and you can energize your entire company.

John Walker is a regular Contracting Profits columnist. He is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.