The Hot Standby

Chuck Smith —  April 29, 2013 — 3 Comments

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Have you ever been caught in a situation where events out of your control left you with few options? An important supplier fails to deliver on time. A business partner’s promise is broken and you’re left picking up the pieces. A key employee suddenly quits. At one time or another, it has happened to us all.

That’s why a piece of advice I heard recently from Jim Dolan, CEO of The Dolan Company, struck such a nerve. He said, “Do the extra work to have a Hot Standby.” Dolan’s example was about an investor who made promises to him and then at the last minute changed the terms of the deal. Since Jim’s investment banker insisted on “hot standbys,” they were able to close the deal with a back-up investor on the same day.

At NewHire, the examples we see of this overlooked necessity fall into two broad categories:

  1. Business owners who run into trouble when a key employee leaves with no one trained and ready to take that person’s place, and;
  2. Hiring managers who slow down or stop the recruiting process because a single well-matched candidate is identified.

In today’s business world few small and mid-sized companies (SMBs) have the resources to maintain a team of reserves. The GE model of management (where backups are constantly groomed for each position) is nice to talk about but not a realistic option for most SMBs.

Here are some suggestions more suited to most mid-sized businesses:

  • Cross train wherever possible. Make sure that your employees are able to do more than one job, paying special attention to the most critical job functions.
  • Maintain a pipeline of candidates, even when you are not hiring. You may not have the resources or the need to hire anyone today, but keep your eye out as if you do. Always be on the look-out for talent and create a method for keeping track of who you might like to have on your team in the future.
  • When you ARE actively hiring, schedule a second set of first interviews, even when you have identified a well-matched candidate in the first round. This second round of first interviews is an important way to have a hot standby for both short and longer term hiring needs.

When you are in the midst of recruiting for a job, don’t stop the process until your new person is on board. Too often we see employers say things like, “I like Terry, let’s see how the interview process goes before we meet anyone else.”

If we apply the concept of the Hot Standby, Terry is still the number one candidate. We just keep talking to candidates two, three, and four, until we know Terry is on board. What if Terry gets a better offer or a counter offer, or has a terrible 2nd interview or a no-go reference? If the recruiting process is put on hold waiting on Terry, it can add weeks, even months, to reach your desired outcome.

Jim Dolan’s Hot Standby concept is so powerful in recruiting and hiring. Our best-practice recommendation: keep the top candidates engaged all along the way and continue to develop and screen the candidate pool for other top talent. Having options takes additional work, but it’s often worth the effort!

Dolan was part of a nine-member panel put together by Bob Jordan to celebrate entrepreneurial success in the Midwest and the publication of his book: How They Did It.

Chuck Smith

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Chuck is a sought-after speaker on issues of talent acquisition, recruiting and hiring best practices with more than 20 years of experience under his belt. When not running his business, you'll find him in Hyde Park playing ultimate frisbee with his friends & family. Connect with him on Google+.

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Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    […] Dolan: Always do the work it takes to have a “hot standby.” I think he meant that successful people go the extra mile to think about backup plans. He […]

  2. What to expect when you're onboarding new employees. | NewHire - Recruiting Tips & Advice - May 10, 2013

    […] We’ve seen final candidates drop out of the race without notifying anyone, not show up for interviews, and never return calls or emails. On a typical set of phone screens, we’ve found that around 15% of the people we contact will never respond to our calls or emails. Even if it seems like one candidate is a perfect fit, don’t stop looking! We’ve seen some of the most promising candidates slip through the cracks. If they’re a great candidate, they might be getting other offers. Don’t sit back and assume you’ve got someone in the bag – keep looking and make sure you have a hot standby. […]

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