Having trouble finding good employees? Make sure you're offering them a good job

By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal

A common lament I hear these days among employers and managers I speak with is how hard it is to find good people.

Sometimes I will see whether the lamenter has an interest in unpacking the issue.

Often this is simply a sign of frustration and there is no need for further discussion. Other times there is a keen interest in looking more deeply into the issue in search of remedy or insight.

And yet other times it becomes obvious that the manager or employer speaks with a sense of entitlement along the lines of “Why aren’t good people lining up to apply for the good jobs I have to offer!”

That last group has a lot to learn, but are not exactly in a learning mode. I am not in the habit of trying to change people’s minds. Over time my experience is that these people learn things the hard way, if at all.

But in the end, the market, like gravity, will sort things out for them.

Now that middle group, therein lies some fertile ground.

Let’s start with the term “good people”, often spoken as though there was some universal standard for this category of potential employee. Used to be, when I was in my youth, in a different economy, the standards for “goodness” were pretty easy to satisfy.

Many job requirements in that economy looked something like: two, hands, two feet, two eyes, can follow basic instructions, will show up and do as they are told etc.

In those days, the requisite conditions were so ubiquitous that when, following my first day of employment at Oldsmobile, I asked if I could be moved to a different place on the assembly line, one that didn’t require as much heavy lifting, I was given my immediate release.

As I left the plant I noted that there was a long line of other “good people” waiting outside for a crack at that good job. And they were good jobs — for the times.

And they also were good people — for the times. Those days, though not entirely behind us, are certainly fewer.

Good people are hard to find these days because unlike the era when we were sorting through a stack of needles, getting rid of the hay, we are now in a haystack looking for needles and we need different tools to do our sorting.

What I would say is today, wrong person in the wrong job, you won’t experience much success. The challenge is much more complex. Here are a series of questions we might be asking before we start looking for any new people.

  • Are you prepared to listen to new applicants to see where they may be going in their life, and if working for you would make any sense at all for both you and them?
  • How likely are you to be interested in what they might really have to offer your business or contribute, in addition to the job you are trying to fill?
  • Are you prepared to offer an environment where “good enough” is not good enough? Talented people want to be challenged, not simply used.
  • Can you accept that people are unique and need to be acknowledged not simply for the job well done but for what they bring to the business?
  • How good are you at keeping your promises to employees? The new generation of workers expects integrity.
  • Will you allow these “good people” to be on the inside, know your plans, share key information, feel like they are helping create the business?
  • Do you plan to adjust and pay for the value you are getting from the person or are you trying to pay the job, i.e., as little as possible?

Careful consideration of these questions sheds a whole different light on the search for “good people.”

Here’s what I must say about “good people”; these people know they are good and they know when you are trying to buy them cheap or are not prepared to make employment work for them as much as it works for you.

They also know there will always be a place for them in the work world and whether your job is a “good job” is as much for them to say as it is for you to offer.

I know this last statement has a lot of bite in it but I also know there are plenty of “good people” and you may be looking for the hay and not the needle.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at mike.cook@vistagechair.com

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