Great leaders always come at a premium, even more so when unemployment is low and talented people have more choices. That said, no matter the economic highs or lows, all businesses need great leaders to manage the ebbs and flows of the industry, as well as to strategically plan for its future. How does a company attract the best of the best so it can maintain excellent client service, while at the same time continue to expand and grow to deliver great aquatic experiences?
First, it is important for business owners to take a minute to look inside the mind a talented candidate to understand what they see. In surveying their career possibilities, these candidates will likely find a few large organizations and many small ones. If they have leadership abilities, the will to take charge, along with a good skill set and the drive and determination to move forward, what career choice should they make?
They may ask themselves: “Why would I want to work for a small, family-run pool service company that employs 10 to 30 people when I could work for a large corporation with all the benefits it would bring?” Candidates will have to make this decision themselves, but before doing so, they should know a majority of companies employ less than 500 people. Therefore, the reality is, small businesses are truly the backbone of not only the aquatics industry but also many communities and the country as a whole.
Small businesses develop careers
Almost half of all new jobs come out of the private sector. Even though many of these businesses may be relatively small, when looking at the aquatics industry as a whole, each one can be considered an incubator and the fertile ground for future business leaders to stake their claim and develop a successful career.
Unfortunately, however, a candidate is of a certain age, they may have to adjust their career goals based on how young they are. This author once had a business associate say, “I practice age discrimination. I do not hire anybody under 40.” Today, this is a common feeling about this current generation of candidates in large part because of biases based on a lack of knowledge. Yes, this age group has different expectations when it comes to their career. In fact, history has shown each generation has had different expectations, and each of them came with resistance from the one previous.
For instance, consider the G.I. generation (a.k.a. the greatest generation), the baby boomers, and the millennials (a.k.a. generation Y)—each one could not be more different. Candidates from each of these age groups have different expectations and needs. Therefore, a business owner with the mindset of practicing age discrimination might find this concept to work short term but, as a result, they may not be in business long-term, as one-third of today’s workforce comprises millennials. In five years, this number will increase to approximately 48 percent. In 10 years, this generation will represent 88 percent of the workforce. Therefore, business owners will either adapt or change to meet the needs of the candidate pool so they can find great talent; otherwise, they will not be in business for long.
What are these future candidates looking for?
More than three-quarters of today’s candidates are looking for a collaborative work culture. They are looking for a boss who is a mentor or coach, and they want to be with a company where they can make a difference and have self-determination. They cannot be told how high to jump and be expected to go do it. These candidates will want to know why they are being told to jump, as they want to be able to participate in shaping the future of the organization. The ’50s style of top-down management will not work anymore if a business plans to attract top talent.
Recently, this author was working with a business associate who was interviewing a strong candidate to work for his organization. At the end of the interview, he said, “Well, do you have any questions for me?” The candidate responded, “Yes, I do. What gets you up in the morning and makes you want to come to work here?” This was a great question, as this candidate (and representative of the talent pool) essentially told him, “I want to work somewhere where I can make a difference. I want to feel that me and my organization are making an important contribution and doing work that matters.”
Therefore, business leaders must come up with a compelling narrative about why their company is a good place to work. It should explain what makes the business unique, rather than blend in with all of the other opportunities that are presented to exceptional candidates.
After this is done, business owners have to determine how to create an organization that allows these candidates to rise to the top. Finding the next generation of leaders does not just happen. A system has to be set up that encourages those with the willingness and ability to lead to step up and do so.
How to attract tomorrow’s leaders
Talented people have options. This means there is usually a number of businesses trying to woo them in to hire them. To win their hearts, business owners need to make their organization more attractive and unique.
To do this, think about the typical small business. Most of the company information is in the owner’s head. There is not a lot of transparency and, because the owner plans to ‘live forever,’ there is nowhere to go after reaching a certain level.
Instead, a business can be differentiated from others by creating a metric or a tool to identify those who have the will and ability to lead and by giving them greater responsibility and an opportunity for advancement. These two things alone will help a business attract top talent.
This can be taken one step further by having a formalized method of giving a candidate all of the information they need, the institutional knowledge in the industry, and make it available to them at their fingertips through systems and processes. This will empower them to be more successful in the business, as well as be able to represent the organization knowledgeably.
It does not stop here. These candidates should be empowered to affect real change in the organization. For instance, if they have a great idea, how can they implement it quickly rather than offering endless suggestions that go nowhere? By answering this question, business owners can increase their chances of winning these candidates over.
Finally, if the organization is a great place to work, maybe there is an opportunity to create a great business environment for this candidate—one that helps them grow to carry on the company’s legacy. It is not about what the business owner has created. It is about creating multiple generations of talent who can continue to achieve the company’s goals without any setbacks.
Unfortunately, when it comes to finding a good candidate, there is no one-size-fits-all method. This author found networking to work best when looking for top-quality candidates. For example, suppliers and others in the aquatics industry meet many different people at service desks, interacting with them every day. This makes these people a great resource to ask questions like, “Who are some of the standout people you have met that had a strong work ethic and great passion for the industry?”
Another method this author used was keeping a file called ‘Mining for Gold.’ Anytime this author met an impressive contact in the industry, their name and contact information would go into this file. Even though a candidate may not have been needed at the time, this provided a resource for when the company was looking to fill a position. When using this method, it is also a good idea to reach out to these contacts every quarter, or every six months, to keep the company’s name top of mind, as well as to develop relationships, however tenuous.
Business owners should even consider reaching out to a number of tech schools who are training people for the industry. Try to develop a relationship with the instructors or department chairs and ask them to keep an eye out for their top apprentices. At the same time, tell them why the business might be a great fit for these individuals. These educators want their students to succeed and they want them to land a job that will allow them to advance their career.
Finally, when it is necessary, business owners can also use a placement firm. These firms have their own database of candidates that they can help qualify. However, this route lacks the personal touch the other methods involve, and as a result was not this author’s first choice.
Always be on the lookout
Finding and surveying the field for great talent is not something a business owner just does when there is a job opening—it should be done all of the time. Some even create business cards with the company’s name and address that say, “I’m looking for top talent.” The backside of the card can be used to list some of the characteristics the business is looking for in a candidate. By handing these out, the business is essentially saying, “Hey, if you are looking for a career, these are the types of people we are trying to attract at company XYZ.”
Business owners should think outside of the box, as well. For example, this author’s company is an engineering firm. When looking for engineers, one might think the first place to look would be engineering schools. Instead, however, this author’s company identified engineering schools that had a competitive swimming program. Then, rather than reaching out to the head of the engineering department, the swim coach was contacted. By doing this, the company could filter its search by finding out who on the team was in the engineering program to see if they would be interested in applying their knowledge in a field they were already passionate about. The ability to get this granular and specific helps a business zero in on those candidates who are not only motivated and talented but are also enthusiastic about what they are doing every day.
The bottom line
If a business owner wants people who love their work and are engaged in it every day as much as they are, they must constantly be on the lookout. They will also have to listen and figure out what today’s top talent want from their workplace and then put systems in place that will allow them to thrive. It is all proactive and sometimes difficult work.
Most business owners have likely taken risks to build their companies into an organization that serves its employees, its customers, and its community. Finding the next generation of leaders will ensure the company’s legacy is sustained long after the owner has made their exit.
This article was written by Scot Hunsaker and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].