Talent War

Sure, you have positions to fill. You need employees yesterday. But author Richard Abraham warns against taking the hiring process too lightly: you could end up with one problem employee who could cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sure, you have positions to fill. You need employees yesterday. But author Richard Abraham warns against taking the hiring process too lightly: you could end up with one problem employee who could cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Abraham, author of "Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships" about the lost art of networking in person, has written another business title. He and Dr. Christopher Croner wrote "Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again," about why certain employees find success. The common denominator of success in sales is drive, the book says. Employers can learn to nurture it, leverage it and build a high-performing team from the outset.

"If you are grinding it out in sales, and it's just not working for you, there is a good chance you weren't born to do it," Abraham said.

He spoke with PRWeek from his office in Oak Brook, IL.

PRWeek: Although the book is about salespeople, this relates to public relations, right?

Abraham: Drive can relate to anything. In the context of this particular book, we are concentrating on sales and communications. And what I mean by that is a big component of this has to do with the optimism factor, and that's the ability to not take rejection personally, or not let rejection stand in the way of your goals and objectives.

PRWeek: Why do you think so many employers overlook that need to have a basic drive to succeed?

Abraham: The answer to that is pretty clear. It is hard to find those people. The [percentage of] high-drive people in the general population is not especially high, and the high-drive people in that segment of the population where an employer might be looking to fill a job in sales or public relations is smaller again. So the filter gets tight. And it requires a tremendous amount of focus and rigor on the part of the employer to wait for the right person, to actually recruit, and qualify, and ask the right questions and talk to a lot of people until they find the right one. A lot of employers just won't make that commitment.

PRWeek: What about employers who are reluctant to fire people, because they don't want turnover?

Abraham: Reluctance to fire people is very natural, for the reasons that you can imagine. It is not something that is much fun to do. It is sometimes an admission of failure on the part of the manager in the first place. It takes time away from things the manager would rather be doing. So once a bad salesperson gets in to the mix, you are stuck with them. We have done some calculations, and the cost of carrying a person who is not going to make it in the long run is just horrific. It's probably the largest cost of any business enterprise.

PRWeek: Explain just how much a bad employee can cost an organization.

Abraham: Obviously, it depends on the specific metrics involved, but if you take a look at the hiring and the employment continuum, it starts out with interviewing people you shouldn't be interviewing in the first place, and taking that time. Going on then to the hiring, and managing and training the person, then the hand-holding when the person starts to get in to trouble and hand-holding the customers that aren't receiving the quality of service that you would like. The big killer is the opportunity costs: the clients you could have been successfully selling to if you had the right person in the mix. It's huge. It always runs in to the six figures. We have had companies tell us it costs more than a million dollars per sales person when someone flames out.

PRWeek: That's crazy.

Abraham: It is, and you would think on the front end they would be more meticulous, but it is something that has not evolved that way.

PRWeek: Is it possible that people who have drive naturally lose it? And do they ever gain it back?

Abraham: When you have drive naturally, it can certainly fluctuate in terms of intensity. For example, later in life when you have accomplished certain goals and you decide you don't need to go down that path again. If someone is testing you specifically for being the world's greatest encyclopedia salesman, and you said "I've done that, I've climbed to the top of the mountain, I don't really need to prove myself in that area any more." That could come out in the test. However, the drive would probably transfer in to something else.

Talent War is a regular online column by San Francisco bureau chief Celeste Altus

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