I used to say everything begins with hiring, but I was wrong - everything begins with recruiting. A long-term, happy, safe and productive employee is just as valuable as - or perhaps even more valuable than - a client to your overall success in business.

I used to say everything begins with hiring, but I was wrong - everything begins with recruiting. A long-term, happy, safe and productive employee is just as valuable as - or perhaps even more valuable than - a client to your overall success in business.

In the construction industry, a significant percentage of the labor base is Hispanic. In last month's issue of Roofing Contractor, I talked with you about the importance of recruiting properly. We discussed recruiting Latino workers in schools, churches and Latino social organizations. I strongly encouraged you to stay away from advertising in newspapers, hiring friends and family members of existing employees and, especially, from hiring day laborers. None of these are recruiting techniques.

Now, let's assume that you took this advice to heart and you are recruiting in the right places and in the right ways. Let's assume now that you are looking to hire a few people. What do you do now? Who do you hire? The bottom-line question is, "How do you hire a workforce that will be productive, safe and long-term?"

There are three things you must do if you are going to hire properly. They are:
  1. Hire people in proper ratio to your need.
  2. Hire people with the right attitudes.
  3. Hire people with the right skills.
Let's face the truth here for one moment. Most construction-related companies hire when they absolutely need someone. They are so pressed for bodies in the moment of crisis that they would hire just about anyone who showed up who looks like he could do a physical job. I have consulted for several roofing contractors and know this to be a fact. This is not hiring; this is plugging a big leak with a little finger. This is reacting to your business, rather than planning ahead and creating the business that you desire.

Hire in Proper Ratio

This is simple math. If you know that for every three laborers you need a crew leader, then you should hire one crew leader for every three people who would be good as laborers and who do not aspire to any type of leadership position. Most companies hire all laborers and hope and pray that one or two of these people will somehow make a good crew leader or supervisor. If this happens, it is sheer luck.

As you know if you read these columns, most supervisors who are Latinos have been promoted to a supervisory position because they are bilingual, not because they have leadership skills.

Laborers need one set of skills and abilities, and leaders need another set of skills and abilities. So, here's the deal. If you need one crew leader or supervisor for every three laborers, then hire new employees at this ratio. If you need one crew leader for each three laborers and one supervisor for every three crews, then hire this ratio. If you need one crew leader for each three laborers and one supervisor for every three crews and one superintendent for every three supervisors, then hire in this ratio.

Again, this is simple math.

I firmly believe that every person you hire should clearly understand what his or her role in your company is projected to be. Business is not luck; business is about people and planning. Plan on how you are going to leverage your people before you hire them, not after. Otherwise, you are playing a game of Russian roulette with your company.

Hire the Right Attitudes

Laborers need one type of attitude while leaders need another. Leaders are people who have ambition, desire and vision. They want to grow. They want to move up. Leaders aspire to leadership. They feel and sense a calling that is unique from a person who simply wants to work with his hands. Leaders must work with their brains and be able to understand and filter their gut feelings. Laborers do not need these abilities.

It is unhealthy for a company to employ five people who all want to be leaders when there is only space for one leader. This creates a civil war - way too much jockeying for position and potential conflict. It is equally unhealthy for a company to hire five people for labor positions and hope that one of them can somehow lead. This is a common problem in the construction industry, and it is especially acute among Latinos, as, generally speaking, most people in this group have not been trained in American leadership styles.

Bottom line: Hire people for each position with the right attitudes for that position. There are many people who do not aspire to leadership positions. There are also those who do aspire to lead. When you hire, you should evaluate the attitudes of the prospective employees so that you can hire in the right ratios.

One last thing here regarding hiring the right attitude - I would not hire people with prior roofing experience with another company or, for that matter, with yours. If they left another company, it was either because they got fired or quit. Do you want to hire someone who already has a negative attitude about the roofing industry? I sure would not want this. You can train skill, but you cannot train attitude. The most powerful thing in life is attitude. It has the power to produce harmony or start conflict that can spread like a cancer. If you hire someone back who left you before for reasons other than sickness or family emergency, you are just plain asking for punishment. As the saying goes, "If you fool me once, shame on you; if you fool me twice, shame on me!"

Hire the Right Skills

Laborers work well with their hands. Some people love working with their hands. They love the thrill of building something. This is not derogatory or downgrading. Jesus himself was a carpenter, and I have never read anything anywhere about Him building a large carpentry firm. Evidently he was very content to work with his hands alone. In your language, he was still on the roof working. Working with our hands is as honorable as being the CEO of a large company. All of us have different skills and attitudes; they are neither right nor wrong, they just are. We are all necessary parts of a larger whole.

What skills do you want your laborers to have? Do they need to be able to do simple math? Read or speak a little bit of English? If so, to what degree? What physical characteristics should they have? Do you want them to be able to work quickly without getting frustrated by the pressure? Are they comfortable working at great heights? The answers to some of these questions are obvious. I just want you to think about what you really want before you hire people.

If you know what you want, you can test these skills beforehand. Don't hire someone and then find out they don't have the necessary skills for the job. Test them first. You set the stage as the leader. If you don't know what you want, no one in your company will be able to hire well and you will continue to get inconsistent results. You must establish these guidelines before hiring people.

Leaders need skills beyond those of the laborers. A leader must have good communications skills. A leader must have good organizational skills. A leader must have a servant's heart. Latinos, generally speaking, have not seen or experienced leadership by service. We have seen leadership by power. This is not leadership - this is dictatorship. Leaders guide. Leaders make the people around them better. Leaders are not fearful of their people growing or even outgrowing them. True leaders do not fear competition; they thrive on it.

All great teachers desire to have students who become better teachers than themselves. This is the ultimate mark of success. Leaders are teachers. Supervisors, crew leaders, and superintendents who zealously guard their title or position from competitors are insecure and unqualified to lead. You cannot lead and make people better when you are afraid of losing a title or position.

This is a huge problem in the Latino community. I know very few Latinos who work hard to make their people better due to fear of competition or of being replaced or losing influence or power within the organization. For this reason, we are now offering a course called "Líderes Latinos" (Latin Leaders), conducted entirely in Spanish, which is designed to specifically address the skills necessary to lead in the American organization.

When you finish reading this article, take a piece of paper and draw a line vertically right down the middle of the paper. Create two columns. On the left-hand column put the title "Labor" and on the right-hand column put the title "Leadership." Put under each column your proper ratio for hiring and then list the attitudes and skills that are necessary for each of these positions.

If you are not sure what attitudes or skills a person needs for each position, then take a few days and study your very best people in each position. Ask yourself what makes them good in that position. Take notes. Write down your thoughts. When you are done, you will know what attitudes and skills are necessary to achieve high levels of long-term success in each of these positions.

Next month, we'll put this all together and talk about how to retain the Latino person in your organization for the long term. We want to eliminate turnover because it is expensive, time consuming and new people get hurt more often.