Businesswise | Finding suitable employees a big struggle for small businesses
"Can you please tell the young people here today what skills sets you are looking for when hiring employees for your growing business?"
"Describe for us who your ideal employee would be."
These questions were posed by former minister of youth and culture Lisa Hanna at a recent forum hosted by the US Embassy and CaPRI, titled Youth Perspectives on Bilateral Relations between Jamaica & The US, marking the one-year anniversary of US President Barack Obama's youth town hall meeting at the UWI.
Her questions were directed at me and a fellow entrepreneur, who was among the panellists at the event.
Though I appreciated the value of the questions, it was almost painful to answer. I found myself struggling to choose the most temperate words and deliver them diplomatically to avoid offending prospective employees or making entrepreneurs appear too dreaded.
The uncomfortable truth is that most jobseekers are neither a great fit for, nor would want to work with, a start-up or early-growth-stage small business. It's a major issue that we have yet to address at the national level, which is critical given the reliance on the MSME sector to create jobs.
Growth-oriented small businesses, especially those led by highly driven and visionary entrepreneurs, are usually unreasonable in their expectations and demands of the talent they recruit. They require a special type of employee who is often a struggle to find.
What do I mean when I say special? Here's how my colleague summed it up in his response:"I know this will be controversial, but I don't like to hire anyone who has been working for too many years prior because they tend to be steeped into a work culture that is different from ours. I need someone who is highly dedicated, willing to work for 12-14 hours a day. Someone who doesn't expect any big salary and is willing to accept shares in the company as part of their compensation. Someone who understands that as the company grows, they will grow. Someone who has bought into our vision and wants to help achieve it."
While not all entrepreneurs subscribe to his views, it underscores the principal that start-up and early-growth-stage businesses rely very heavily on the right people with a particular mindset and work ethic to drive their growth and viability.
These employees must have similar skills sets and characteristics to those of entrepreneurs visionary, innovative, risk-taking, efficient, profit-driven, diligent, tenacious, positive, creative, self-confident and faithful to the mission and goals of the company.
Critical, too, is integrity, reliability and loyalty. This is in addition to a myriad of hard skills and the ability to multitask and maximise every scarce resource available.
The expectations may seem incredulous, but that is the nature of the beast that is entrepreneurship.
Start-ups and growth-oriented businesses almost never have adequate physical, financial resources or human resources. There is no excess cash in the bank or retained earnings stashed away to pay employees just joining the team.
Everyone has to hit the ground running and deliver almost immediate results. There's no room for non-performers or poor productivity because there's no one to hide behind.
The fact is, just three, four or five months of poor sales can be enough to completely shutter businesses given the scarcity of resources.
Most small businesses simply can't afford people who crave the comforts of a large organisation with large budgets and lavish facilities. They also can't afford employees who are tardy, use every sick day, are clock-watchers, make excuses, take ad hoc leave, and expect substantial fringe benefits and perks.
When you also consider the risk that the business may not grow, or the lack of job security, and the fact that some business operators have very limited management or people skills, it reveals the complex underbelly of the labour-market dilemma.
So, how do we move forward? If we are to solve the dilemma outlined above, policymakers and stakeholders need to first understand the human-resource imperatives and nuances of start-ups and growth-oriented small businesses.
Special training and sensitisation is needed for prospective employees to prepare them for the employment opportunities in these businesses. Training is also desperately needed for many entrepreneurs who don't recognise that managing people requires special skills and considerable knowledge.
The majority of people who start businesses have no formal training in leadership, team building or organisational management. They need to learn how to value, empower, inspire, develop and meet the needs of their team members of whom so much is expected and demanded.
-Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of 'The Innovators' TV series. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @yaneekpage Website: ww.yaneekpage.com