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How We Hire (and Keep) Superstars

10 Steps to Finding Our Most Valuable Assets
By Alicia Wadas, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Hiring is easy. Hiring great people is hard.

Like any company, LAVIDGE has recruited many talented people over the years. It’s certainly the most important thing we do. Without great people, we can’t provide exceptional products and services to our clients. In one way or another, almost every employee is involved in our hiring, on-boarding and welcoming process. That’s why we take it personally when one of our new employees fails.

Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony, said it well: “When I find an employee who turns out to be wrong for the job, I feel it is my fault because I made the decision to hire him.”

Here’s a look at our 10-step process to find and retain excellent employees.

1. Look in the Mirror

“Know thyself” is an ancient Greek aphorism. It’s also the first step in hiring well.

Some hiring managers rush to interview people without truly understanding their own company’s personality and assets. How can you evaluate a candidate if you don’t know what to match them to?

After you identify what makes your business unique and valuable to its customers, you can effectively choose the best players who exemplify those qualities.

Consider whether your company is known for being:

  • Steady and reliable
  • Artistic and creative
  • Experts in a niche specialty
  • At the forefront of technology
  • Service oriented
  • Fun to work with
  • Affordable or high-end

No matter if you’re developing real estate or creating strategic marketing plans, it’s essential to hire people who match the nuances of your corporate objectives.

As a service-oriented marketing agency, LAVIDGE must provide our clients with expert advice and added value. We must hire wonderful people who share that attitude. A candidate might be skilled in many areas, but if they don’t reflect our mission they’ll be better off working elsewhere.

Once you find an excellent employee, you must work hard to keep them.

Poor hiring can be costly. Literally. I encourage you to try Parker + Lynch's Bad Hire Calculator, which shows how expensive it is to hire someone only to discover a few weeks later that they’re not a good fit. If you are forced to repeat the hiring process, you’ll again to have to pay for:

  • Costs to advertise the position
  • HR costs to cover time spent hiring and interviewing
  • Employee costs spent training new candidates
  • Loss in productivity, including the failed employee’s salary, relocation and training

It’s disturbing to spend several months training someone only to lose them to a competitor a few years down the road. When a great employee leaves, you lose a significant amount of institutional knowledge.

Most experienced recruitment advisors suggest the same basic hiring steps: Develop a job description, decide where to promote it and spread the word. But that’s an oversimplification of the hiring process.

Before any LAVIDGE manager can hire or replace an employee, he or she must submit a requisition form to our Chief Financial Officer. This helps us evaluate the financial risks and rewards of filling the position, and it ensures there is a job description in place based on a behavioral assessment.

2. Defining the Job Pattern

LAVIDGE has been using The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment® for nearly a decade. It has proven extremely helpful in assessing prospective employees.

The PI behavioral assessment asks a set of questions that can be answered in about five minutes. The company says its “science-based methodology allows you to understand what drives workplace behaviors so that you can ensure alignment, drive your team’s success, and achieve your business objectives faster than you ever thought possible.”

The PI is a friendly, easily understood assessment that ranks people along four scales:

  • Dominance
  • Extroversion
  • Patience
  • Formality

The PI Behavioral Assessment shows you what drives and needs people have, what types of jobs they will likely excel at, and uncovers key insights into how best to manage and communicate with them. It provides insights—or “predictions”—about how the person will react in certain situations.

The assessment is excellent for evaluating a candidate for a specific role, and it’s also helpful at creating a profile of the job’s ideal candidate. For example, the assessment will indicate if a person is detailed, which is very important when hiring an accountant. It will also indicate creativity, which will be crucial for performing the function of a designer. We’ve created a model for every job in our company using The Predictive Index.

3. Creating a Want Ad

With cues from The Predictive Index analysis, we write a “want ad” that describes the type of person who is likely to flourish in the position. We recently searched for an account executive to work for Mosaic Multicultural, our agency partner that specializes in multicultural advertising, interactive, public relations and marketing services. The ad concluded:

 Why We Like You

  • You have 2–3 years of advertising agency experience

  • You thrive under pressure, but know how to keep your cool

  • You are fully bilingual in English and Spanish

  • You execute and maintain projects of all sizes, including large creative projects

  • You shine in front of clients

  • You stay on top of client budgets, monthly billings and recaps

  • You maintain daily, weekly and monthly schedules

  • You know how to report campaign success and profitability

  • You produce awesome reports and decks using Excel, Word and PowerPoint

  • You have a desire to work within the confines of the client’s belief system

4. Media Placement

We promote our ads in the usual places, including online (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc.) and with trade groups (Ad Club, PRSA, AZIMA, etc.). We also leverage LAVDIGE social media to spread the word.

Employees can sometimes be found in unusual places. Sandler Training’s Dave Mattson says it’s worth keeping an eye on people who offer thoughtful comments on your company’s social media posts. Participating in online conversations is a sure sign that people might be good communicators, are engaged and interested in your business, and are willing to speak up. Mattson says that those who engage in online conversations “are passionate enough about their jobs to search out new knowledge.”

That’s exactly the kind of employee we want.

Social media also provides an easy way for current employees to make referrals, for which they receive a monetary reward. There’s nothing like an endorsement from someone we know and trust who’s worked with a candidate and can vouch for them.

5. Matchmaking: The Application Process

After an initial qualification check by HR, the hiring supervisor is the first one to review the resumes of prospective candidates. Qualified candidates are then invited to take The Predictive Index assessment, which will indicate how closely they match the traits identified in the job description.

I’m skilled at “reading” a candidate’s assessment, and I do so without having any knowledge about them. This helps ensure that we are impartial; we simply want to know how close a person is to the job description.

What happens if a prospect’s analysis doesn’t match the job pattern we’re looking for? Good question. The PI measures what might be called an employee’s DNA—their essential approach to life. But it can’t measure their motivation or experience. Those are both important factors. It’s sometimes true that a person’s suitability can’t be fully projected by The Predictive Index.

Supervisors are often enthusiastic about hiring someone who doesn’t appear to be a good match. If a hiring supervisor expresses such fervor and feels confident in a candidate’s experience and references, I’ll encourage them to proceed with an in-person interview. In that scenario, the supervisor will ask specific questions to determine whether the candidate will be motivated to make necessary behavior changes that will ensure their success. For example, if someone’s profile indicates they don’t naturally pay attention to details and this is a key job characteristic, we’ll ask them a series of questions to draw out how they take care of details in practice.

6. The Offer

Before extending a job offer, we’ll spend time with the top candidate to explain some of our financial and operational procedures. We are very clear about the importance of timesheets that help us calculate profit or loss. It’s imperative to find out if a person is averse to tracking their time. We paint a realistic portrait of our inclusive culture that emphasizes participation. (As an example, all our employees take turns straightening the kitchen.) We occasionally determine that a top appearing candidate won’t be a great fit. This is usually a mutual discovery.

When a candidate is comfortable with our financial and cultural style, we’ll proceed to the next step: a formal offer letter including salary, benefits and a review of company HR policies.

7. Getting on Board

We always take a moment to celebrate when someone has been hired. It’s a payoff for the hard work of finding, hiring and welcoming someone to our team. That’s not something to gloss over. We’re very proud when a hiring supervisor brings a terrific person to the team. And prouder when a former employee is rehired.

Before the new employee’s first day at work, they receive several documents via email:

  • An information packet about health insurance, business hours and parking procedures
  • A “LAVIDGE Way” handbook
  • An organizational view of the company’s management team and department co-workers
  • Office policies

A person’s first day at work can be stressful. It is daunting to be faced with meeting dozens of people and remembering their names.

New employees are assigned a “buddy,” who is usually someone from their department or with whom they share a common interest. Some teams host a department-wide lunch where everyone can meet their new co-worker. New LAVIDGE staff arrive to find their work station ready to go. They’ve been assigned an email address and have been provided with computer access to our server.

The first few weeks of a new employee’s tenure is a very important and often sensitive time. We schedule orientation sessions to introduce all department heads. This helps provide an excellent overview of the agency. And regardless of which team an employee joins, they attend separate meetings with our CEO, COO, CFO and CCO (Chief Creative Officer). They also meet with our Managing Directors of Interactive, Media, Mosaic Multicultural, Public Relations, and Strategy.

This is the time when I share the employee’s scoresheet and job pattern from The Predictive Index assessment. This provides an opportunity to learn which of their traits best fit the new job and to what they should pay attention.

No matter how welcoming the culture, it sometimes takes a while for a newcomer to feel as if they are fitting in and contributing. Asking them to serve on a committee is a great way to demonstrate that their opinions are valued just as much as those who have been with the company a long time.

8. Training as an Engagement Tool

The Wall Street Journal’s guide to employee retention offers several excellent suggestions designed to ensure that employees are satisfied. These techniques include:

  • Offering a competitive benefits package that fits employee’s needs
  • Providing small perks
  • Using contests and incentives to keep workers motivated and feeling rewarded
  • Promoting from within whenever possible
  • Making sure employees know what you expect of them

We work hard to engage our employees and do everything possible to help them grow their careers. If we do a good job at this, there’s a good chance they’ll stay for a long time. We craft personalized training guides for every employee. We also encourage staff to participate in specialized webinars pertinent to their own industry.

From time to time, we stage in-house “Lunch and Learn” seminars that highlight the expertise of staff. Topics have ranged from public speaking to animation. We offer LAVIDGE Academy for client-facing employees. These are monthly workshops focusing on such topics as writing a project brief and setting client expectations.

9. What Employees Want Most: Feedback

In a 2013 study, the Society of Human Resource Management found that only two percent of managers provided employees with ongoing feedback. That’s striking and somewhat shameful, but at least it provides room for improvement.

While an occasional review may have been sufficient 15 years ago, it’s no longer enough. Today’s changing workforce is filled with people who desire frequent feedback. That’s why LAVIDGE encourages regular discussions between supervisor and employee and has created four formal touchpoints during the first year, then annually thereafter.

It’s important to speak frequently with an employee to let them know how they’re doing and to provide any necessary course corrections. After the first month, we proctor an online survey to ask such questions as “Were you welcomed?” and “Is the job turning out like you expected?” At the same time, their supervisor answers ten questions, such as, “Is this person performing to expectations so far?” Then, the two meet face-to-face to share their answers.

During in-person annual reviews, topics focus on significant accomplishments, teamwork contributions, career goals and plans, and opportunities for improvement. Our annual review process concentrates on how to foster change rather than on whether any change is needed. Complacency isn’t part of the LAVIDGE philosophy. We believe, “If it’s not broken, how can we make it even better?”

10. Growing a Better Culture

Everyone knows culture is a reflection of their company. That’s what inspires people to go above and beyond the ordinary or, conversely, to avoid putting in any extra effort.

Prospective employees should get a sense of your culture before they ever show up for an interview. It’s visible in:

  • Your mission statement
  • Logo, website and social media
  • What past and current employees say
  • How inquiries are handled
  • Office appearance, inside and out

When people see photos of the LAVIDGE office, they generally come away with the impression of an agency that lives up its motto: “Be Creative. Work Smart. Have Fun.” We offer the usual benefits to employees, including healthcare, life insurance and 401K contributions. Along with holidays, paid time off and a relaxed dress code, there are several other ways we show employees they’re valued.

Every month, a different department oversees honoring whoever is celebrating a birthday or hire-date anniversary. The budget is purposely low for this to encourage creativity and teamwork.

In addition to a summer employee celebration, we also host a fabulous winter party. This event is purely social, and everyone is encouraged to bring a spouse, partner or friend.

If you’ve been to our offices, you know that we are very welcoming to family members, kids and the occasional pet. We’re suckers for children and animals, so there’s always someone volunteering to entertain them or take them for walks.

One of our culture’s hallmarks is transparent management. A lot of companies say that they’re transparent, but LAVIDGE lives it. When something big happens—like winning (or losing) a client—the news is announced immediately. Quarterly all-staff meetings help communicate important details, while also celebrating examples of great work from each department.

Our CFO meets monthly with everyone in the agency, department by department, to review the latest financials. During good times and bad, everyone appreciates knowing they’re in the loop. Management trusts staff to operate as a cohesive team.

For these and more reasons, LAVIDGE consistently recieves high marks from present and past employees whose survey responses have resulted in repeated recognition from Phoenix Business Journal’s "Best Places to Work" and Career Builder’s "Top Companies to Work for in Arizona."

As founder and CEO Bill Lavidge explains, “Our belief is that happy—yet challenged—employees are more productive and more committed to our clients’ success. And at the end of the day, that’s why LAVIDGE exists.”

Alicia Wadas
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Honored as one of the "Most Influential Women in Arizona Business," Wadas began at LAVIDGE in 2004 and has guided its management team as COO for the past 11 years.

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