Hiring Practices, Inside-Out and Upside-Down

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review asks the question, “What if a Company Maximized Jobs over Profits?” Most companies hire the bare minimum of employees to get the maximum possible profit, but a recent trend of “job entrepreneurs” seeks the opposite–to employ as many people as they can, and earn enough profit to make this possible. They start with a group of people they want to employ, and then design a business model that leverages their particular talents. For example, one “job entrepreneur” sought to employ people along the autism spectrum, and designed a web maintenance and software testing company that allowed his employees’ attention to detail and repetitive focus to be assets to their job performance.

I was struck by this “reverse” way of thinking about hiring. Besides being an impressively self-sustaining business model that takes the place of charity, it’s also a sort of exponential extension of my advice to employers on hiring: you have to look closely at the job you need done and determine exactly what skills an employee needs to be able to do it. Take a step back and look at your business; what does it really take to get the widgets out the door or the shelves stocked or the food served or the machines put together? Maybe there’s an underserved or underemployed group of people who would be perfect for the job, but have been overlooked because you haven’t understood the essentials of your business.

When I lived in Boise, Idaho, I knew a house-painting company who employed only ex-convicts. With good screening, the owner found employees who were willing to work for lower (but still living) wages for a chance to put their lives back together and build stable job histories. With the money saved, he was able to bid jobs at lower prices, get more business, and employ more people. It was profitable, sustainable, socially responsible, and a new perspective on hiring from which many businesses could benefit.