I'm a remodeler in Northern California and do about $1.5
million per year in kitchens, baths, and whole-house remodels.
Much of the work is subbed, so we can do this volume with a
relatively small full-time crew; currently we have two in the
office and three in the field.
Like a lot of builders, I have a hard time finding and hiring
successful employees. This is especially true in the remodeling
business, because employees need to interact with clients.
We're looking not for short-term employees, but for people who
A Big Investment
Training new employees takes time and money. Even if a new hire
has good skills, he or she still has to learn our policies,
procedures, and company culture. At best, it takes four to five
months to bring someone up to speed.
We also have to consider other, related costs. The senior
employee who does the training, for instance, may be less
productive while he's concentrating on the new hire, so the
schedule may slip. And that can reduce our yearly volume. In
the past we've lost as much as $20,000 per month of volume
because of delays, loss of productivity, and mistakes made by
Customer relations may suffer. We do a lot of
repeat business and customers are happier if they recognize the
person who shows up to work on their home. If they see new
people, their usual reaction is, "What happened to so-and-so?
Why doesn't he work for you anymore?" Then we have to spend
time explaining the departure and reassuring the customers that
we still have a great team and will take care of them.
And so, for a variety of reasons, it's important that each new
hire succeed. That's why we now involve our three field
employees in the hiring process — to increase the
likelihood of that happening.
This involvement begins even before the interviewing stage.
Whether we actually need a new employee is a company-wide
decision. We have regular monthly planning meetings to review
the status of our jobs. If there's some slippage from original
estimates, we discuss ways to correct it. The crew is out there
every day, so when there is a problem, they usually know about
it before I do. They are also in a better position to judge
whether our workload has grown to the point where we need to
hire another person. If I make that decision unilaterally, I
could end up solving the wrong problem. I might think, for
example, that we're behind schedule because we need more
people, when in fact the problem is more of a management
In my view, it's only fair to involve team members in this
decision, because they're the ones who will deal with the new
employee every day. Furthermore, when crew members have a say
in who is hired, they are more likely to go the extra mile to
make sure that person does well.
So we never decide to hire someone until we've discussed it at
a meeting and the whole team agrees it's the right thing to do.
Although this approach wouldn't be practical for a large
company, some variation on it — say, allowing a core
group to be involved in hiring decisions — might
Once we've decided to make a new hire, we ask for
recommendations from our current employees, place ads in the
local papers, and post the position on Internet job-search
sites like Monster.com and Craig's List. Applicants we find via
the Web are more likely to be computer-savvy, which is
important because we use computers for scheduling, exchanging
e-mail, and sending job-site photos back to the office.
When the resumes arrive, our office manager screens them to
eliminate obviously unsuitable candidates. I go through the
rest, and invite the most promising applicants to our office
for a preliminary interview.
At this point, the team's not involved; it's just the applicant
and me, and sometimes my wife, the company's production
manager. This initial meeting includes some screening on
"technical" field skills and lasts about an hour. I might talk
with as many as four or five applicants at this stage, and I
might select two or three of them to return for a team
We schedule the team interview as soon as possible, usually the
next day, to keep the applicants interested and the process
We hold the team interviews in the morning over coffee and
donuts at a big conference table at our office. Some applicants
can get a little flustered facing a group, so I try to ease the
tension by saying something like, "We wouldn't put you through
this if we didn't think you had potential."
Questions from the crew. This is the
meeting where I sit back and allow the rest of the company to
ask the questions. Each person brings his own perspective to
the process. Technical ability and experience are obvious
concerns, but we also want to get a sense of how well the
candidate would get along with the rest of the team, and how
likely he is to work well with customers. The group approach
has a way of uncovering those kinds of issues.
Not a good fit. For example, I once
brought in an applicant I thought would work out well for us.
Like me, he had 30 years of experience as a builder, and
although we weren't close, I'd been camping with him and he
But when we started talking about his job experience at the
team interview, some significant problems emerged. It turned
out that most of the work he'd done was new construction. He
admitted he didn't like the idea of having to spend time
keeping the job site clean and neat. And it soon became clear
he wouldn't be good at dealing with homeowners, which is a
critical skill for anyone in remodeling. We ended up not hiring
him, which saved both us and him a lot of trouble.
The team interview usually takes about an hour. Once everyone
has had his say, we ask the applicant to step into the next
room while we make a decision.
Unanimous decision. This part usually
doesn't take long. We vote with a show of hands and often come
to a unanimous decision right away, although sometimes it takes
a brief discussion before everyone can agree. Now and then,
we'll have a situation where we can't come to a decision, and
then we have to tell the applicant we'll get back to him. If
there is that much dissension, though, we usually end up not
hiring the person.
Our employees take this responsibility very seriously and have
consistently chosen the candidate with the most applicable
skill set — not the person from their own age or peer
In fact, the employees we've hired this way have been more
successful than the ones we've hired without input from the
crew. Before we began the team approach, new applicants and our
existing crew needed time to adjust and get to know each other.
Now new hires can hit the ground running, because the people
they are working with have already gotten to know them and have
a stake in their success. At a very minimum, team hiring has
helped enormously to weed out applicants who were not a good
fit for our company.
Daniel Mackeyowns Daniel Mackey Construction in San