LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Employees are the largest business expense and the key to success for most dealers and retreaders, speaker Arte Maren reminded attendees at the recent World Tire Conference & Exhibition in Louisville. Thus it would seem that developing a workable process for recruiting and managing employees would be a top priority for most such business owners, he observed at the April 18 seminar.
Yet few owners devote much time and attention to hiring and keeping good employees, said Mr. Maren, president of The Advisory, a management consulting firm based in West Hills, Calif.
For many dealers and retreaders it is a process of: ``Let's try this and see if it works.'' Sometimes it does work. Sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes things haven't worked in so long that the situation seems normal.
``It's what I call the dimmer switch syndrome,'' Mr. Maren said. Once a company starts replacing employees with less qualified workers, for example, the downward spiral often continues until its hiring standards dwindle to almost nothing.
``The good part about the fact that personnel is a large part of your expenditure is that it is under your control,'' he told dealers. And the key to getting more in return for each payroll dollar is to attract and keep the right employees, Mr. Maren said.
``We want an employee who makes things happen. We want 150 percent return on our investment in that human being.''
Recruitment can be difficult, he admitted. But it's wrong to blame conditions of low unemployment for a company's failure to attract top-notch employees. That doesn't solve anything, he said.
``When we talk about recruitment and hiring we're talking about a process-just as retreading is a process,'' Mr. Maren said. ``And that process is sequential. In order to get that result, we must do this, this and this and in that sequence.''
``Dismissal also is a process,'' he said. ``It's never any fun.'' But somebody's got to do the firing, and that somebody usually is you, the company's owner.
Moreover, the employee who doesn't belong on your staff is keeping out the person you want, he said.
Some employers put off firing troublesome workers because they fear replacing them will be difficult. But later, after they're gone, it often becomes apparent they weren't as indispensable as everyone thought.
What's more, if other employees get the idea you're not willing to replace troublesome people, you've got a gun to your head, Mr. Maren warned.
``Step zero'' is to examine your own attitude, he advised. ``If you truly believe there ain't anybody out there, you will prove it.
``The ideal employee you're looking for also is looking for you.''
Successful recruiting calls for having a surplus of applicants, he said. And the trick to obtaining them is to have more than one channel for reaching them.
Newspaper ads have been used by dealers for generations. But many have recently switched to larger display ads rather than the small classifieds of decades past.
``Part of recruitment is thinking out of the box,'' Mr. Maren said. ``Nobody says your ad has to run on Sunday or even appear in the local newspaper.''
Employment agencies can help, but you've got to create a relationship with them and make certain they know what you're looking for. Invite the agency people in to look at your operation, he told dealers.
Schools also are a good place to recruit potential employees, but often it takes more to be successful than posting a 3 5 postcard on the bulletin board. ``I'm talking about being at the school on career day, offering tours of the shop-in other words creating a long-lasting relationship,'' Mr. Maren said.
A firm's own employees often represent one of the most effective means of recruiting good workers, he noted, because employees already know what it takes to work in that environment.
Mr. Maren suggested dealers provide incentives to get em-ployees enthused about recruiting for the company-perhaps a bonus for bringing in the person hired and another if that hiree is still on the payroll six months later.
The time to recruit good employees is before you need them, he reminded dealers. Often, good people turn up wherever the business owner happens to be-in restaurants, banks etc.
``They don't know they're auditioning,'' Mr. Maren said. ``They're just doing their own thing.'' Give them your business card and ask them to contact you when looking for a job, he suggested.
``Hiring also is a process,'' Mr. Maren pointed out. Examine employee applications carefully. Ask about such things as a period of time for which no employment history was provided.
Call the potential employee's last employer, asking how long the person was employed and in what capacity. Be sure to ask: ``If you had the opportunity would you hire this person back?'' Then listen carefully to the answer.
Never fall into the trap of not calling a former employer because of something the job candidate says to you. Sometimes potential employees will create animosity between you and a former employer in order to keep you from calling there, he said.
Finally, test the candidate who says he knows how to use your equipment. It's the same with any area of the company. You can test them. That's not illegal, he said.
He recommends hiring provisionally, setting a period of 30 days or so probation to ``see how things work out.'' And never bring someone on board without first getting the approval and involvement of their supervisors, he warned. Make sure they're part of the hiring process and hold them accountable for anyone they hire.
Retaining good employees is just as essential as recruiting them, Mr. Maren said, noting surveys show that lack of recognition-not money-is the most common reason why people leave a job.
Mr. Maren provides everyone in his company with pre-printed forms saying, ``I appreciate (blank) for doing (blank). . . .'' Employees are encouraged to fill out these forms, which then are placed in the personnel folder of the other employee. ``I got a lot of positive feedback,'' he told dealers.
For employees who have been with you five or 10 years, he told dealers, it's time to sit down and write them a note or letter on company stationery saying you appreciate their contribution.
``I'll tell you where those letters are going to wind up-framed in the employee's home,'' he said.