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Take Your Time Building Up Your Staff

August 25, 2017

This time we hear from Lisa A.K. Kirchenbauer, president of Arlington, Va.-based Omega Wealth Management. She describes her experience building a team, and how she learned to hire slowly, fire quickly and listen to others.

Almost 20 years ago, when I began my career as a financial planner, my business consisted of just me and an administrative assistant. Like so many others who start out small I was planning to build my business by hiring the best and the brightest. That turned out to be easier said than done. Some bad hires helped me put a process in place to make better choices at the outset and helped me learn when it’s time to let people go.

Back in the early days of my business I hired a client services person to take care of daily logistics: paperwork, getting money to clients, making transfers and that sort of thing. This person had all the cognitive skills that we needed, including a degree, but it turned out that was not enough.

At first I noticed this person had some issues with following through on assigned tasks. I let that go because I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. But things just got worse. It’s one thing to neglect your coworkers but when clients are not treated promptly and to their satisfaction, then you’ve got a real problem.

Eventually we let this person go but in retrospect I realized we didn’t act promptly enough. I didn’t fire this person right away because I felt bad, and to be honest I didn’t want to go through the hiring process again.

In another case I told my staff I was considering hiring an associate financial advisor. I had high hopes for this hire because I had met this person at various networking events and I had a great feeling about the value this person could bring to our little company. My gut told me to go out and get this person.

Well, my staff wasn’t so sure. They were worried about whether they could work effectively with this person. Their guts said “trouble.” But I was the boss and I believed myself more than others. I made the hire.

And it turned out to be a big mistake. We ended up having the worst internal conflicts that our workplace had ever experienced. This person was combative at almost every turn. They would even try to argue with me in front of clients. Even so, I still hung on much too long because of my prior convictions. I just could not believe that my intuition about this person had been wrong.

Lisa Kirchenbauer

I learned some important lessons from those experiences. First, we now take our time when hiring for all positions, from client services to advisors. We have since instituted a multi-step hiring process that involves evaluating a candidate’s cognitive (skills), affective (personality) and conative (action) abilities. I even use outside resources to conduct a first-level screening. This all takes time, but it’s worth it.

If we have resource gaps to fill during a lengthy hiring process we use temp agencies to get the work done. There is simply no good reason to rush into hiring anyone.

That’s the “hire slow” part of our formula. The second part is “fire fast.” It doesn’t do anyone any good if a bad fit is kept too long in a position that is not working out. You are not doing the employee a favor, because he or she would be better off somewhere else where they can succeed. And you are definitely hurting your own business. It’s never fun to let someone go, but once you are convinced that someone is not working out, you need to act fast.

Finally, a big lesson I’ve learned is to listen to others. We are a small company of about five people, and I now pull everyone into the hiring process. I also pay strict attention to their views. If one of my staff has issues with a potential hire, I sit down and hear them out. They often pick up on something that I’ve missed. We still trust our guts, but we crosscheck them against each other’s.

Take my advice: hire slowly, fire quickly and listen to your team. You will save yourself a lot of grief, time and resources.