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October 2010 – Hiring the Right Person:
What You Need to Do Before Scheduling the Interviews

Workforce LearningAlice Waagen – Workforce Learning

Welcome to the October issue of my newsletter, in which we spell out the steps to ensure you shop for the right solution to your staffing needs.

Case in point is a good friend of mine, who told me recently about a very bad day she had at work. She had to fire a staff member who was not performing the job he was hired to do. In fact, his performance wasn't up to the most minimal of standards.

We talked a bit about the endless days of training and guidance that ended in the termination, and finally my friend asked me: "How can I learn how to do a better job of firing someone? They always end in tears, with me feeling guilty, as if it was my fault that the person was not the right fit for the job. What am I doing wrong?"

My quick response: "You have the right goal but are asking the wrong questions. You don't need to learn how to fire someone. You need to learn how to hire the right person so that the firing never happens."

In my experience, most of the information available on hiring focuses on interviewing skills. And while conducting a good interview is certainly important, click here to read HR / career expert Sharon Armstrong's 100 Best Interview Questions, interviewing skills won't help if there is a mismatch between your expectations for the job and how it is described in the hiring process.

Below, you'll find tips on how to create what we call in the HR business an "organizational resource strategy." This enables you to be quick, efficient, and competitive in the hiring process. With a little luck, the only tears you'll shed in the future will be during a sad movie.

You'll also meet Gina Schaeffer, owner of a string of ACE Hardware stores in Washington, DC, who not only has mastered the art of hiring well – she's figured out how to let people go with ease.

You'll also read about "What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures," by Malcolm Gladwell. This is a compilation of his best writings that have been published in The New Yorker magazine. Each story is a gem, and teaches us something important about how we work, learn, and live.

Here's to a wonderfully successful remainder of Q4. I'll talk to you again in December.

Alice Waagen, President
Workforce Learning

The Secret to Hiring Well: An Organizational Resource Strategy

By Dr. Alice Waagen
President & Founder
Workforce Learning

When organizational leaders are looking to fill a staff vacancy, I suggest that they start by creating an organizational staffing or resource plan.

I prefer to call this plan an "organizational resource strategy," because many organizations are achieving work goals by using a wide variety of staffing options, including full-time staff, temporary workers, contractors, vendors, consultants, interns, fellows – the list goes on.

Certain tasks may be better performed by outsourcing to other providers, while other needs should clearly be handled by internal staff members. Successful businesses can achieve their mission by taking an analytical, yet creative approach to achieving their goals. The key is to maximize flexibility and efficiency.

Here are the six essential steps for creating an organizational resource strategy for your business:

1. Do an inventory of the work needed to be done. Analyze your business plans, both strategic and operational. What are the major goals and deliverables you need to achieve in the next six to 12 months? Make sure that you document all the work needed for the business, including the infrastructure or support tasks.

2. One way to judge the completeness of your inventory is to match it against calendars and planners. Are there team meetings or project meetings on calendars but not on business plans? Sadly, many organizations do not update their planning documents when new projects crop up mid-year. Matching plans against how staff are actually spending their time is a great way to catch new work not included in the original plan.

3. List all people you are using to support the work. Be sure to include any nontraditional staff you may be using, such as volunteers, interns, vendors, and consultants.

4. Step back and take a good look at the match of work to people. Answer the following questions:

  • Do I have the right people doing the right work? Have I maximized the match between capability, expertise, and task?
  • Are there any redundancies? In our fast-paced, reactionary business climate where assignments are often made quickly, it is not uncommon to find two or more people tackling the same problem or issue.
  • Are there gaps? Work not being done? Can the work be reassigned to existing resources, or do you need new talent, expertise? If the work is short-term or temporary in nature, you may be best served hiring outside help like consultants or contractors. If the work is a permanent part of your operational plan, you should consider a permanent hire.

5. Use your inventory and analysis of the gaps as a guide to seeking the right person for the job. When you interview, you will be able to stay focused on the outcomes and deliverables you are expecting of the applicant and not be distracted by personality, background, or other factors. Your fundamental question will always be: Can they do the work? If the answer is yes, then put them in place. If not, and you'll have no opportunity to teach or mentor them in the role, then keep looking.

6. Now, you are ready. Go ahead and read all those books and articles on effective interviewing. You've done your homework, you have your organizational resource strategy, and you have determined the best source for the talent you need. By focusing on the work, task, and outcomes, you can ensure that you will be shopping for the right solution to your staffing needs.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company, 2009

Review by Dr. Alice Waagen

I find Malcolm Gladwell to be one of the most entertaining and provocative writers today. His groundbreaking books, "Tipping Point," "Blink" and "Outliers" challenge our assumptions and give us new ways to look at and think about the world around us.

In "What the Dog Saw," readers get a special gift: A compilation of his best writings, which have been published in The New Yorker magazine. Each story is a gem, a well-crafted exploration of topics as varied as the ketchup conundrum and birth control.

Gladwell's skills as a researcher and writer lie in connecting the dots between what would seem to be disconnected ideas, and once connected they add great richness to our understanding of the issues.

My favorite story in the collection is the one that generated the book's title. In "What the Dog Saw," Gladwell taps a unique research approach and views problems and issues not from his own point of view but though someone else's eyes, someone close enough to the phenomenon to give us new perspective.

In this case, it's the magic of Cesar Millan, dog whisperer and consummate dog trainer. How can Millan control even the most untrained and aggressive animals with a single sound and wave of his hand? Rather than interview dog owners and animal experts, Gladwell focuses on literally what the dog saw, how dogs perceive Millan and why it makes him so effective.

In many ways, I enjoyed reading these stories more than reading Gladwell's books. Why? Because each story is a literary adventure, an unorthodox view of an issue that will make you think differently.

It is fashionable these days to talk about the demise of print media, especially magazines. It is my hope that magazines continue to be published, especially great ones like The New Yorker, because they allow talented writers like Gladwell to explore a wide range of fascinating topics.



This month I had the privilege of interviewing entrepreneur Gina Schaefer, the owner of a chain of ACE Hardware stores throughout Washington, DC.

She and her husband, Marc Friedman, stand at the helm of an $11 million company. They opened their seventh store last spring – a 7,500-square-foot space at 7001 Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside DC.

How did Schaefer get into the hardware business, and why does she hope her employees will move on? Read on to find out.

Dr. Alice Waagen: So, how did you get into the hardware business?

Gina Schaefer: We had just moved into a fixer-upper in downtown DC, as had most of our friends. We quickly learned that the only place to get tools and nails and toilets and wood was at Home Depot in DC. Or, you had to get into a car and trek out to the suburbs. I didn't want to do that.

I didn't even want to own a car, and actually sold it years ago. But I did want to fix up our new condo. I figured that, as the saying goes, if the mountain won't come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.

ACE apparently agreed with our reasoning, and within a week a representative responded to Marc's query. A hardware cooperative based in Oak Brook, Illinois, ACE was founded in 1924 to provide a centralized purchasing organization to supply members' stores. Even back in 2002 ACE had its act together, and I liked that.

In June 2002, we incorporated, and by March 2003, we had leased space in the heart of DC (in Logan Circle), taken a training course, and stocked the tiny store with close to 20,000 products.

Dr. Alice Waagen: I recently read an article about you that said your ultimate goal is to eventually open 10 stores. Is that right?

Gina Schaefer: That's the goal, but with the economy and other factors at play, it's anyone's guess what will ultimately play out. But we really love owning these stores and are so pleased that from the first month we were in business, the local people embraced us. We'd go to a town hall meeting to introduce ourselves, and we'd get a standing ovation. It is clear that people want to shop locally, and we are more than happy to fill that need into the foreseeable future.

Dr. Alice Waagen: What do you think is the secret to your success?

Gina Schaefer: We do everything we can to treat our customers right. Equally important is how we treat our employees. My philosophy is that a happy staff is more likely to create happy customers. It's not hard; it's nice. And it's good business.

Dr. Alice Waagen: I understand that you have established a training program for employees, including Eddie Foster, who was 14 when your hired him to work as an intern in the summer of 2008.

Gina Schaefer: It's true. My managers taught him the ropes of the hardware business, explained that a smile gets you farther than a grimace, and Eddie became a star employee. Last fall, he went off to college. I felt like a proud mother. It was so great.

Dr. Alice Waagen: You also work closely with Jubilee Jobs, a DC organization that helps you find employees. Often, these candidates are working to overcome an addiction.

Gina Schaefer: Our motto is that we give second chances – sometimes more than once. I figure that if I don't do it, who will? Everyone makes mistakes, and it's often because people don't have good role models. We are trying to provide that safe haven.

We hire some people who don't have stellar employment records. Some are former addicts. Some have spent time in jail. And they all deserve a chance to improve themselves.

We honor their victories and frequently have anniversary parties to celebrate their sobriety. It's important. They are part of our ACE family.

What's more, about half of our employees don't have a college degree. Yet. My goal is for all of my employees to work for us for a while, and then move on and move up. In that sense, I guess we're somewhat of an incubator. Employees come to us, learn a bunch about themselves and how the working world operates, and then they move on. It's how it should be. And it lets us care for more people.

Dr. Alice Waagen: What happens when you have to fire an employee?

Gina Schaefer: It's a sad day. But the reality is that even when you do everything you possibly can, it doesn't always work out.

Someone steals something from one of my stores every day. Sometimes it's a customer, but sometimes it's an employee. And it's a fact of life in the retail business. We have up to 29,000 products in each store, and it would be tough to constantly monitor the inventory.

Knowing that there's nothing I can do about it makes me know that I have two choices. I can do my best to keep the theft to a minimum and let the reality of this situation roll off my back – or I can dwell on it and feel stressed. Sure it makes me mad, but I try to put it into perspective. The big picture is that my customers are great, my employees are great, and that's all that really matters.

Learn more about Gina Shaefer's stores at

Read a profile about the good work Gina is doing.

Published by Inkandescent Public Relations, Hope Katz Gibbs: Editor
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