The Right Hire: Why It's So Important at SMBs

By Dave Sobel

The Wall Street Journal recently did a piece about employees and the difficulty finding people.  It’s an interesting read, and the professor of management at Wharton has a lot of things to say.  He’s also not working in a small business, and as business school knowledge often is, he is out of touch with the average business owner.  

It’s incredibly popular to talk about large employers when discussing the idea of jobs – but it’s not actually the case.  The U.S. economy is driven primarily by small business, not by Fortune 1000 employers.  

I want to break down a few of the so-called myths presented in the article.  

To start, there’s the discussion about inflexibility of employers.   Making the statement that an employer should be reorganizing jobs to take different credentials is missing the problem of a small business.   When you have 25 employees, each hire is critically important.   Do you take someone who isn’t good enough and rework the job for them?  No – you simply can’t afford to do that.   Take an IT engineering position – I need my engineers to be billable quickly to start covering their salary.   Do I have time to train them?   Not often.   It’s already expensive enough to find a good person; if I have to teach them the role, that process can double their cost.   Can I pass that on to customers in this current economic climate? 

Dr Cappelli goes on to claim training is difficult to find.  I beg to differ.   My staff members each get a sizeable training budget, and in combination with vendor partners we regularly fully fund certification programs.   My biggest disappointment is in my own team – they simply aren’t willing to invest their own time.    The good doctor is also right in that training employees just to have them jump ship is costly – but what to do when employees won’t even give their own time to do training?   I’ll pay for it.  I’ll put them through it.  I’ll invest in them. But they have to have a little skin in the game.  And most seem to want it given to them – a common problem in today’s marketplace.

I don’t disagree with the options offered – but again, I’m less than convinced this approach applies to small business.   How can a small business work with a community college?   At best an employer may have a day or two to spare – not the countless hours to build the education program.    Apprenticeships are also good – but when the key elements missing are often communication skills, how can a small business risk customer relationships as an employee is learning on the job?   Apprentices require a significant time investment – which is difficult to accomplish in a small business.

I want to make a difference in the education space for potential hires – but I don’t hire hundreds of people a year, or even 10s.  I hire a handful.  And like many small business owners, I don’t get the economies of scale in the options presented in the WSJ article.   They’re good ideas – but they don’t apply to enough businesses and enough employers.  

To think big, we need to start thinking small.    How can we help the thousands of small businesses hire just one more person?   How can we help them get that extra bit of talent they need?    Making a mistake in hiring in a small company is incredibly painful when you consider the proportional impact.  This is the key to success – making this hiring easier to do and more successful.  And while I think Dr. Cappelli has some good ideas, they don’t help enough of the small employers, who are the ones who really make the big difference.

Dave Sobel is the founder and CEO of Evolve Technologies, a consulting firm that provides information technology (IT) and computer networking services to the small business, faith-based and nonprofit communities in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

This article was originally published on 2011-11-07