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Don't Follow the Crowd in Hiring Strategies

By Mary Lloyd

How much of your human resource decision-making is based on "what everybody else does?" The tried and true ways offer the reassurance that other companies are thinking the same way. But to gain an advantage, a business needs to come up with unique approaches. Ignoring the skills and talent of the 50+ workforce is currently the mainstream strategy. Your business can get out in front by employing it wisely instead.

Employees differ a great deal in what they can get done for the company. Some of that has to do with the formal training they acquired before they came on board. Some of it has to do with the role they are asked to play for the organization. But an awful lot of it has to do with how long they've been doing what it is they've become good at. That last one gets lost in the shuffle when it's time to cut costs. If you don't see the negative consequences of losing that experience, it's easy to decide they are the ones you need to lay off. It's even easier not to hire new employees who have experience because "they cost more."

Yes. Maybe they do "cost more" in terms of salary and benefits, but those aren't the only measures of cost you need to be looking at. You get what you pay for. Look at more than payroll costs when you decide about hiring (or laying off) experience. Even better, recognize it as an option for solving some of the thorniest business problems.

Do the solutions the company implements create more problems? Problem solving skill is largely a function of experience. You can have all the book learning of a PhD, but if you don't grasp the context of what you're trying to fix, it's very likely you'll just create a new problem in solving the current one. Older workers are more seasoned as problem solvers and are able to work "in context." They have also tried many of the solutions before and can anticipate potential new problems prior to implementation. Extensive experience gives them a broader perspective so they are more likely to notice who's going to be affected besides the obvious players. And their networks can help "grease the skids" if the solution needs to be explained to time-honored but peripheral third parties.

Even if they aren't cutting edge tech wizards (which many are), you need 50+ employees on the team for all the other things they're good at.

Are you losing customers? A couple years ago, I gave up on my favorite grocery. The young clerks were more interested in talking to each other than in paying attention to me as a customer when I was checking out. Even when I gave them a second chance a year later they hadn't improved. So I don't shop there anymore. Perhaps you think that's not a big deal, but I entertain a lot and do a lot of cooking as gifts. I also buy a fair amount of wine. The store I left doesn't know why I left and I'm not going to put effort into telling them.

Thinking you'll be able to catch this stuff via customer complaints is naive. So is assuming any decline in volume is a function of the economy. Customers vote with their feet and their wallets, especially as they mature as consumers. The 50+ market holds 50% of all the discretionary buying potential in the US. Your sales and customer service staff needs to include people from that segment both for the rapport they build with their peers and the insights they can offer.

Are your customers ordering less? Is the volume of business from your tried and true accounts slacking off? It may not be because they don't need as much. A lack of customer rapport will make them comfortable buying the things they don't have to buy from you elsewhere--even if what they are buying is consulting expertise.

Changing out a key marketing or sales person for someone who has much less experience is about more than the payroll and benefits savings. You may lose a hundred times as much in sales than you save on the human resources stuff.

Are your turnover rates a problem? If you want to avoid turnover problems, hire 50+ workers. They aren't looking for the next rung on the career ladder. They're looking for a job they can do well and a company that believes in them. The older the worker, the more loyal they are likely to be, all the way into their 80's and beyond. If they can do the work, hiring them makes huge sense. They are more even-keeled emotionally, have fewer issues with absenteeism, and won't jump at the first chance for a better salary.

Take the time to assess your true costs when you define your human resource needs. Oversimplifying it is going to leave you in the dust if your competitors figure this out first.