Mama Earth Organics

How can I find talent who share my company’s values?

With the birth of their second child, it was time to pursue the family’s eco-dream.

So, Alex Billingsley left his job as a human rights lawyer five years ago, and started delivering organic food with his wife, Heather. The Billingsleys started working in their garage, packing baskets of organic produce that came directly from local farmers. It was a small, husband-and-wife operation, but to make the company–Mama Earth Organics–profitable, the couple knew they’d need a team of like-minded people.

“We’re growing steadily and we’re hiring every few months,” Alex Billingsley said from his home in Peterborough, Ont.

“We look for people that have a real interest in local food, farms and food systems and believe in what we’re doing.”

Staff pick up food from local organic farmers, pack it into boxes and deliver produce to 1,300 customers a week. The work is fairly simple, but the Billingsleys won’t settle on just anyone with work gloves and a strong back.

Whether it be dedication to the environment, a pledge to serve disadvantaged communities or following the simple mantra that customers are always right, Canadian businesses are increasingly looking for workers that not only do their jobs, but share in corporate values.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says finding the right talent is a constant concern for its membership. In a 2011 member’s opinion survey, 40 per cent of respondents indicated they had issues with skill and labour shortages. The intensity of the problem has been steadily increasing since the 2009 recession when, at the time, only 30 per cent of respondents reported similar problems. And, says Plamen Petrov, the organzation’s director of provincial affairs, as the economy turns around, the hunt to find quality staff is more important than ever.

“To be competitive, you need the right people to the do the right things,” he says.

Rob Tome, partner at Stem Wine Group, a Concord, Ont. wine importing agency, knows this all too well.

The company specializes in Italian wines, but despite a sharp learning curve, doesn’t require potential sales reps to know much about the vintages–they can learn. But hires do need to buy into the company’s culture, radiate professionalism and demonstrate a thirst for knowledge (and an appreciation for wine making). These, says Tome, are skills that can’t be taught.

Marcel Faggioni, of Intergrity Management Consulting Group, which provides management consulting services, says spending extra time to find employees that buy into company values is a worthwhile endeavor.
“Otherwise,” he says, “you’re just going to keep recycling people through. And there’s a big cost to that.”

So, here are some tips for starting the recruitment process off right.

1. Create an effective job ad

This means clearly indicating what owners require from prospective employees.

“The wording of the ad is definitely going to determine the quality of the person,” says Faggioni.

Tome agrees. He used phrases like “failure is not an option”, “succeed” and “self starter” in a recent ad. He says this helped attract a deep field of high-caliber candidates, 13 of whom he eventually hired

Advertising job postings in specific professional circles or interest groups can also help ensure candidates are able to easily buy-in to a company culture.

“If you can target your ad, certainly you eliminate a lot of people you don’t want to apply,” says Faggioni.

Billingsley says he turns to staff for hiring referrals, and has posted jobs on GoodWork Canada—an environmental job site—and his business’ Facebook page, which is already frequented by users with an appreciation for sustainable food.

Turning to these options helps shrink the potential candidate pool, saving hours that might otherwise be spent sifting through piles of resumes.

But hiring is about much more than just finding the right applicants.

2. Place candidates in hypothetical situations

When it comes to the actual interview process, Faggioni says his best advice is to place candidates in a real-life scenario by asking situational interview questions. How candidates react to these hypothetical situations is usually a good indicator of how they’ll deal with similar instances at work.

Questions can focus on areas such as organization, leadership, communication, interpersonal skills or technical aspects of the business.

Here are some sample questions:

•You have a deadline approaching that you don’t believe you can meet.  What do you do?
•You have an idea to improve efficiency within the company that goes against established practice.  How do you persuade someone to accept your idea?
•A co-worker is stealing company merchandise.  How do you address the issue?

But warns Faggioni, crafty candidates are often skilled at saying what employees want to hear —not what they’re really thinking.

3. Ensure candidates are genuine

Faggioni recommends involving other trusted employees and managers in the interview process to pick up potential warning signs a single interviewer may miss. Look for non-verbal cues to determine the an applicant’s sincerity. A lack of eye contact, fidgeting and sweating can indicate someone is lying. But interviewers shouldn’t judge too harshly—these are also signs that someone is simply nervous. It’s also wise to ask candidates how their references feel about them, and then verify the claim with a quick follow-up phone call or email.

4. Conduct two interviews

Chris Vuorensyrja, a human resource consultant with Integrity Management Consulting Group, suggests employers conduct two interviews with candidates: one focused on skills and the other focused on values.

The first interview cuts down the number of potential hires, and the second helps entrepreneurs find the best possible candidates.

Employers should draw on their mission statement and code of conduct, ask candidates how they feel about the company, and have them define its values in their own words.

Vuorensyrja recommends asking, “How does being an ethical person differ from an ethical corporation?”

It’s a trick question, he says, because there should be no difference.

5. Ensuring an employees care

Vuorensyrja says it’s important candidates know more about the company than what’s needed for their day-to-day jobs. He recommends employers quiz candidates on company values, and ask which ones make an impression on them.

“Not only are you confirming they did some research on your company and have some interest in finding out more about you,” he says, “you determine the ethics of the company are important to them.”

Petrov says effective hiring practices are crucial. Employees typically work closely with small business owners, so they have to stay in sync–both professionally and ethically. No hire is better than a bad hire, and, warns Petrov, if employees don’t share a company’s values, they won’t make much of an addition to the business.

“They’re not going to give you 100 per cent,” he says, “and they won’t stay with you too long.”

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