No job is bigger for the business owner – or more important – than this!

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Dear Sir,

I am running a 10-man SME and I am finding it difficult both the recruit and to let non-performers go. As an SME, it is already difficult to attract people so when people join us, we hope that they will stay. And sometimes we wait and wait for performance from the person, and it doesn’t happen. I then find reasons (most times excuses) to keep the person because it is better to have warm bodies than no body to do the work at all. But due to the non-performance, we are bleeding money and it is always a mad scramble to make payroll. My question is, how can I get the right person for the job?

Dazed Businessman

Dear Dazed,

There are many issues contained within your situation and I will pare them down one by one.

1. Intent

Actually, what is your intent in employing the person? From what I read, it is more to simply have someone there than to get the job done right. Yet, you know how it is when you are paying someone for nothing. It actually increases the stasis. Running an SME is different from running an MNC; we cannot wait for someone to become competent on the job. If he doesn’t make the grade within your confirmation period, it is time to let him go! Your intent must be clear – get the job done right the first time around.

2. Assumptions

You are being dragged down by a couple of assumptions; the biggest is that having warm bodies is better than having no body at all. I believe you are being improperly framed by this thinking. In many situations, having the wrong person on the job is more detrimental to your business than not having anyone at all. It is more important to resource correctly; than simply putting a warm body on the seat. Your cost to repair the damage of a wrong person is much higher than the revenue that person brings in – trust me!

Another assumption is that SMEs cannot attract the right talent. Most of the time, having the right vision, and working for something bigger than themselves, is what will attract a talent to join an SME. If you don’t have a compelling vision, and you cannot sell that vision to prospective employees, you will never be able to sustain in the market, let alone get good people!

3. Constraints

We all have many constraints – important requirements for a successful decision. In your case, you need to be able to forecast a baseline revenue upon which to setup your budget. This budget must then become your manpower constraint. You should also make as much of your manpower costs variable – if the company does well, and the employee is deserving, you should pay well.

4. Systemic solutions

One of the centres of gravity of any successful SME is sustained revenue. If you can get a high lifetime value (LTV) of a customer, you can resource better. The key drivers of LTV are your rebuy rate and your customer retention. If you can get all of your customers to constantly buy from you, you can increase your customer LTV, and therefore, your revenue. Don’t try to be a one-hit wonder; that will not give you leverage and you will always be running after the next customer. Remember: rebuy, rebuy, rebuy.

5. Innovations

While this may be been sung to death by the government, innovation is one of the keys to keeping a business going. It also helps attract good talent who want to be in on the action of making something bigger than themselves. This is what you will need to sing to prospective employees when attracting them to work with you. This is your vision. It has got to be compelling, so how you sell this vision is as important as how to deliver it.


So, Dazed, you will notice that my response is more than a simple hire or fire answer. You will ultimately have to fire people who are not working because their presence infects the rest of the people who are genuine workers. Don’t be hoodwinked by smoke and mirrors – a person who tugs on your heartstrings but doesn’t add to your purse strings is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Get them out of your company quickly! Otherwise you might have a bunch of disinterested people in your company; disenfranchised by your (lack of) leadership. It is better to keep the seat empty than to fill it with a passive aggressive who might pull the rest of the team down. And there are many of them out there!

Yet I am also advocating a larger picture than that. I am advocating a “Vision Overhaul”. Don’t be enamored by your vision that says a lot without saying anything! Make sure you have the right picture that compels people to work for you and the company beyond the call of duty. You then get the whole team to run past the finish line, doing better than you thought possible, and then sharing in the spoils. No other job is bigger, and more important, than getting your whole team across the finish line. No laggards, no shirkers, please!

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