Finding Managers When Everyone's Taken

Having trouble finding leaders? Maybe you're not accepting a basic truth about strong economies.

By Anthony G. Noel


Two months ago, I devoted this column to plant managers. Specifically, how to spot a good one and what to expect him or her to do for your operation.

That's all well and good, but how do you find a good manager in the first place, in an employment market as tight as this one? It's tough enough to find good production people; it seems good managers are as rare as hens' teeth these days.

The fact is, it is not tough to find good help. It is just tough find good help at the price you are willing to pay. If you have been in desperate need of help for several months or more, I would be willing to wager that the problem has more to do with your own stubbornness than the tight employment market.

Ask yourself: "How many times during my search have I increased the starting salary I'm offering? How many times have I advertised the position and included the salary range in my ads?"

If you answered "seldom" or "never" to these questions, you shouldn't be surprised that you are not getting a nibble, because you obviously haven't accepted the fact that the price of good help in an economy like this one is pretty much the price your candidates name.

Whether you are searching for a salesperson, production worker or office help, times such as these require a 180-degree shift from the hiring practices you would follow in times of higher unemployment rates. This is especially true when hiring managers. The fact is that pretty much everybody who wants a job right now has one, and most are happy in their jobs. If you are offering today what you would have offered for the same position a couple of years ago and are waiting for candidates to come to you, get comfortable - because you are going to be waiting for a long time.

Instead, accept that success in filling a key leadership role will require you to actively sell the position.

That doesn't mean advertising a salary range and jumping at the first candidate who comes in demanding 10K more than your top end. As the employer, you always have the right of first refusal, or at least postponement. Meaning: let your advertised compensation range pull in the candidates. But interview them carefully for a good fit and negotiate a compensation package that works for both of you.

That word "package" is an important one. Compensation comes in many forms, and one problem with hiring in a tight market is the possibility that, despite your best efforts to screen such candidates out, you might hire a manager who has used the tight times to climb far too high, way too fast. One way to protect yourself is to offer a good starting wage coupled with success-contingent incentive bonuses. Just the mention of this kind of arrangement will often sour those who know they would be in over their heads.

It is also a good idea to offer benefits which will keep a good new hire with you, like profit-sharing opportunities, early participation in retirement plans and even the chance to get a small piece of the ownership pie. Liberal vacation policies are also a valuable tool, for example, one week after six months, then two weeks within the 12-month period after that, for a total of three weeks within the new hire's first 18 months. If your manager is working as hard as he needs to, he will really appreciate (and will have earned) the extra time off.

Some people think about hiring a headhunter. While you shouldn't dismiss this option out of hand, remember that people found by headhunters, particularly in an economy such as this, tend to come at a higher price than you might want to pay (which, as we have already said, might be your main problem to begin with: you are not offering enough). So you might as well cut out the middleman and cough up the compensation it's going to take to shake a really desirable manager loose from his or her current position and come on board with you.

If you decide to engage a headhunter anyway, be sure that you, not your new hire, pays for the services. A new manager will have enough on his or her mind without having to feel bitter that he is giving a percentage of his salary to a third party.

Okay. Let's say you have taken a hard look at what you are offering and have accepted the fact that you need to sweeten the pot. Let's even say that you have found your guy or gal. There is one more thing you must watch out for, and it's an all-too-common practice among owners who have reluctantly agreed to offer a new hire more than they wanted to. I call it the "You're on your own, pal" attitude.

It's a stance many owners assume when they are shelling out more than they think they should for someone. It goes like this: The owner thinks, "Fine. But if I'm paying that much, he better be able to do whatever I demand of him, with little or no help." What nonsense.

Two things are crucial to finding and developing a good manager: (1) a mutually agreed-to set of goals, and (2) your sincere desire and willingness to help your new manager achieve those goals.

Everybody wants a "self-starter." And why not? It is every owner's fantasy - a wind-up plant manager who can swoop in and whip everything into shape before his first lunch hour, then exceed all production goals by the end of his first week. And owners want that even more when they pay what they feel is a lot of money (or at least a premium) for that person.

The problem with that logic, however, is rooted in the owner's valuation of the job. Just because you only wanted to pay "X" amount and wound up paying "Y," doesn't mean "Y" is unrealistic. Smart owners know that what is realistic is whatever it takes to get the job done. Those who don't understand this tend to cop the aforementioned attitude and jump all over their new manager the minute he or she makes a mistake (which they all do), screaming about how much he or she is getting paid.

Invariably, it is these same owners who set no goals or who set vague, unrealistic, or ever-changing goals when they set any at all.

Owners need to remember their main objective: Success. Period. The way to get that is to accept the realities of the marketplace and work with them. So, if you are not already doing it, you have to decide on specific, attainable goals for your company as a whole. Then you can do the same with your people, including the members of your management team.

One more thought: Just as the employment market always plays a key role in determining salary ranges, remember to think of your company as an employee, of sorts. Someone is "hiring" you to do work for them. So when demand is outstripping your capability, as it may well be right about now, you have every right (and the responsibility) to set the schedule.

Don't think twice about telling unreasonable clients that you are swamped, or don't hesitate, as you might in less frenzied times, to point out that their demands are unrealistic. It is real simple: They can either wait or go elsewhere. If they choose the latter, don't be shy about reminding them that they will probably lose just as much time there, because of the new supplier's inevitable learning curve.

Meanwhile, as you are buying that time for your production side, you have to make sure the time is well spent, toward the goal of increasing capacity or, at a minimum, streamlining and making operations more time-efficient. Are you doing time studies? End-of-the-job cost accounting? Front-of-the-job application of the lessons cost accounting has taught you on prior jobs?

If the answer to all these questions is "yes," great. If not, use the current good times to put firmly in place practices which will help you weather every economic climate.

Have a great holiday season. I bid you all peace and prosperity in the coming year.

Anthony G. Noel thanks Daniel Sawitz for suggesting this column topic, and welcomes your ideas as well. Send e-mail to [email protected].


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