Confronting the Hiring Gap

Attracting, hiring, and retaining talented people is becoming a whole lot more difficult.

By Ron Slee

The single most important attribute to the ongoing success of a business is the skills and attitudes of the employees.

Oh, I know, the founder or owner is critical. They had the vision, drive, and wherewithal to get the business started and maintain it. That is vital. But they can’t do everything themselves.

And didn’t we hear over the past decade or so that the labor participation rate was at its lowest level in decades, meaning we should be able to find a few good men and women out there?

So, what is going on?

Currently, there are more than 5 million jobs open in America that are not filled. The story is companies can’t find anyone to do the work. We’re hearing we don’t pay enough to get people to apply, our benefits don’t fit the bill, or millennials don’t have the same work ethic we did, and on and on ad nauseam.

But there is more going on here.

Make Yourself Visible

How do we make our businesses attractive to potential employees? How do potential employees know we are hiring? How do we keep our current employees excited about their jobs to the degree they want to stay with us as loyal contributing partners?

The answers are complicated and require a lot of effort.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful clients. I have met some absolutely brilliant managers as well. All, however, ask the same thing: “Where do you go to find the talented people we need to hire?”

It is getting harder and harder. It has to start with recruiting, and that starts from the visibility of your brand, your business.

All of us in the groundwater business do worthwhile work. Our work has meaning. It involves water, the resource that keeps us alive. But that doesn’t do us any good if we are not known by the talent pool.

We need to be involved with the guidance counselors at the high schools. We need to be at career days at the technical schools, junior colleges, and applicable universities in our areas.

I used to teach and do lectures at the technical schools and junior colleges each semester. It made me and my company visible. You have to be out there to be noticed, and you need to be noticed if you want to attract people to your teams.

One of the things we did at two dealers I worked with early in my career was we hired people in the summer who were one year away from graduating. We put them through a “mini boot camp.” If they made it through the camp, we offered them jobs when they graduated.

Another thing we did was offer after-school temporary work to high school students. A few afternoons a week or perhaps a Saturday morning on projects exposed the young people to what we did and who we are.

Make Work Meaningful

Hiring is the most difficult task of any business. It is almost too easy to fool someone in an interview. Coincidently, it is extremely easy to get rid of someone who is not performing. You really don’t have to do much; the employee does it all for you.

Retaining someone you want to keep is the critical element. Once you have done the work and attracted the person, it seems to be a waste of energy and resources to let them get away.

This is an extremely difficult area. It has nothing to do with money. Money alone does not motivate people. The question becomes how do you motivate people to do their best or even to do what you want them to do?

Those of you who have read me over the years know I don’t believe anyone can truly motivate anyone long term, it comes from within. But you can clearly “de-motivate” someone in the short and the long term.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral scientist, talks about an experiment he conducted in his TED book, Payoff.

He took a control group and paid it to make toy action figures called Bionicles out of LEGOs. When the group finished, he asked the people in the group if they would make another one for a lower price. This went on and on until they finally said, “No, this isn’t worth it anymore.” Ariely called what this group did “meaningful” work.

For the second control group, he also gave it LEGOs and asked it to build Bionicles for pay. However, he destroyed the Bionicle the team was making as they worked on it. This continued as well until the group’s members finally said it wasn’t worth doing anymore. Ariely called what this group endured the “sisyphic” condition—named after Sisyphus, the man condemned by gods to push a boulder up a hill and never get to the top of the hill before the boulder comes crashing down on him.

Here is where it gets interesting. Researchers asked the “meaningful” and the “sisyphic” groups what the numbers were before they said it wasn’t worth it. They knew there would be a difference, but they didn’t know the order of magnitude. It turns out that meaningful work was significantly more rewarding. Not a real big surprise.

Now translate that into the work your employees do on a daily basis. How many of them feel they have “meaningful” work and how many feel it is “sisyphic” work?

This is where we can make a difference. If the sense employees have each day is they do the same thing—only with different numbers and different customers, it won’t feel meaningful and it will be hard to retain these employees.

Think about processing parts orders, doing repairs and maintenance, or doing filing and ordering—all day long every day.

Now it is up to you. How do you make this meaningful? How do you make this enjoyable?

Think about contests, campaigns, or specials. Have team-building exercises or process development. Think about anything that can break up the monotony and make the work meaningful.

Without that meaningful aspect to the work, you will have a hard time with employee retention. And never forget there is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and loyalty and customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The choice is yours. The time is now.

Ron Slee is the founder of R.J. Slee & Associates in Rancho Mirage, California, a consulting firm that specializes in dealership operations. He also operates Quest, Learning Centers, which provides training services specializing in product support, and Insight (M&R) Institute, which operates “Dealer Twenty” Groups. He can be reached at