Preparing for the Economic Turnaround

During a recent radio interview, the show host asked me to comment on a pleasant subject - the economic recovery. With all of the recent doom and gloom, there are signs that things are beginning to turn around. Who knows how long the recovery will take, but the economy will most certainly recover.

During the discussion the host asked me, "What is your main suggestion for organizations in preparation for the economic recovery?" Without hesitation, I said that if organizations focus on one thing in preparation for the recovery, it should be this:

"Begin planning your economic recovery hiring strategy."

Some might laugh at this suggestion, thinking, "Hiring? We're letting people go left and right, and cutting everyone else's hours!" And that may be true. But if you wait for everything to turn around (which it will), you'll be playing catch up in what will be one of the most favorable hiring markets in history. Organizations that are prepared will have their pick of the best-of-the-best applicants who have either been downsized or have simply held off on a desired job change due to the economy.

Hiring the right people is the number one strategy for creating a service culture, and this strategy is poised to yield unprecedented results during the turnaround.

But, assuming your organization isn't in aggressive hiring mode right now, what can you do to prepare? Here are five suggestions:

1. Determine which areas of the organization will need to hire first - It might be the sales staff, the reservations center, loan officers, etc. When business picks up it would be tragic to be understaffed in those areas that have the greatest impact on the customer experience. Customers always know when we're unprepared to handle the volume of business we're getting.

2. Determine what qualities you will be looking for in applicants - Who are your strongest performers now? What are the qualities that make them strong? Design a behavioral interviewing process (with outside help if needed) that will help your organization identify those applicants who will shine in those star qualities you've identified, versus those who might not be wired to thrive in your culture. Commit to not hiring "warm bodies!"

3. Review and revise job descriptions and other interview materials - Most job descriptions I review are either way too general or grossly out of date regarding actual job expectations. Now is the time to review job descriptions and make sure they truly reflect what you will expect of those joining your organization. Make sure your service standardized are clearly spelled out!

4. Map the interview process - While there will be lots of job seekers during the turnaround, there will also be lots of companies looking for strong employees. Don't think that applicants won't have choices; they will. So, it's important to model your organization's values throughout the hiring process.

From the beginning of the interview process to the end, you want applicants to feel your organization's culture, not just hear about it. Most job interview processes are poorly designed (or not designed at all). You can differentiate your organization from all most others simply by having a carefully crafted interview process that creates a positive experience for applicants.

5.  Train leaders to be effective interviewers - This doesn't mean that you must immediately send all of your leaders to a three-day seminar on interviewing skills, although you could. But at least begin talking about interviewing skills, recommend books, circulate articles, etc. And, when it looks like you'll be ramping up your hiring then yes, provide training classes on interviewing skills.

It will be easy to blow off these suggestions because you're so busy dealing with today's economy and today's issues. But keep in mind that if you don't plan now, you might miss one of the greatest opportunities to craft your organization's culture in the way you've always wanted to craft it. If you have your hiring plan ready, you'll be ready to go into implementation mode when the time is right - and that's a great feeling to have.