Quality Hires

Lots going on lately — at the office we’ve been working on replacing staff vacancies, retool with new positions, etc. I’ve also been cleaning out and consolidating boxes, which means I find notes and documents from previous gigs. One folder contained info on an employee I had to let go.

These things together make one think about hiring and retention, which also makes one remember all the people I’ve had to part ways with work-wise.

I’ve tried to be a good manager (and it took a LONG time to learn those lessons!), but more importantly I’ve tried to be a good judge of talent. So I took a few moments to look back at the metrics: over my years in my profession, I’ve hired 184 people.

And fired 6.

When I posted this tidbit on Facebook, comments came in which made me look at that ratio more critically:

  • All of those hires and terminations have been in higher education IT (three orgs), a large multi-state health insurance organization, or my current nonprofit, the Tulsa Area United Way.
  • The largest number of hires were within higher education IT, where I hired approx 30-36 folks each year to run student computer labs and help with client support calls all over campus (Tier 1 support techs). The terminations were equally distributed.
  • In my own 8 years of IT consulting, I brought in other consultants for projects and supervised junior IT talent at various firms. I don’t count those in these numbers as they were not my team — I would give them and their hiring managers guidance about their work and how to keep them happy and fulfilled, but that’s a different post.
  • All these people were professionals — not hiring folks to work on a manufacturing line or do repetitive tasks. Folks who have to think, design, solve. And do it differently each time. Tier 1/2 Help Desk personnel, network architects, database managers, developers, telco people, to name a few.
  • One of my main principles has always been to find the right people who will do well within the culture of the organization. Thankfully, these orgs have more in common than they differ so I think my lessons have transferred.

I’ve told my bosses in the past that everyone wants a job, but not everyone is cut out to thrive in the work environment we provide: Fit.

Mission focus: higher education IT and nonprofit management is a special calling. You know you’re not going to make the big bucks. But you appreciate the opportunity to make a difference — to help educate the next generation, make the world a better place, etc.

Beyond the Bottom Line: these industries are not big profit generators, but seek to expand services and control costs. I’ve always tried to build R&D opportunities into all the roles. One of my favorite examples of this was our computer lab manager at the University of Washington Bothell. He wanted to learn about alternative Operating Systems (beyond Windows and Mac OS), so we made sure he had access to hardware for creative destruction. It was a small price to pay — in fact, when we moved to our new campus, many of our surplus systems were made available to the IT staff for experimentation.

The virtual desktop systems in use by our partner agencies grew out of a skunkworks project to update an aging computer lab. It has grown into a robust platform remotely supporting 10 nonprofits, and we “eat our own dog food” by utilizing a similar system in-house at TAUW. Patch management, cloud/local backups, and access to resources anywhere via the cloud have given us and our partners a platform where there are no second-class citizens. Aging hardware isn’t perceived as we manage everything centrally, reallocate RAM and space, and everyone has access to the latest resources.

You can’t do things like that without quality people who share the mission of the organization.

On the whole I’m proud to have brought so many people into roles where they could stretch their innate talents. Many of my early computer lab student hires were not technical: a lot were liberal arts majors, looking for an on-campus job. But I recruited the ones with great customer service skills and “bedside manner” when things went wrong, and some of them went on to post-graduate tech careers.

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