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By Regina Olbinsky

I have helped organizations with human resource issues for nearly 30 years. This includes hiring, developing, managing, coaching and firing. Organizations from two-member law firms to multibillion-dollar international conglomerates.  Guess what? The issues are all the same.

  • Finding great people, with the right skills and values who fit not only the role but also the culture
  • Keeping great people through development, coaching, good leadership, challenging opportunities, appropriate recognition
  • Developing good people to greatness through improvement in communication, conflict management, emotional intelligence
  • Removing toxic or bad fitting people with as little disruption to the remaining staff and the organization as possible

A Good Fit

Rarely, if ever, do any of these things have to do with whether the person can actually perform the basic functions of the job (regardless of the level or type of job).  The thing that causes the most success or failure (for both the employer AND employee) is whether there is a fit that exists.  It is this sometimes elusive fit that causes the most consternation for hiring managers and business owners.

So, at this point, you might be thinking, “If this is so hard, how can I ever get it right?”

Well, the answer is nuanced.  You may not be able to get it right all the time – no one does. But you may be able to do it much better than you are currently.

First, the golden rule of staffing: Hire Slow, Fire Fast. Not only is it a great book written by Atticus founders Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis, but it is also absolutely the best philosophy you can put into your staffing strategy. And yet, many attorneys I meet want to instinctively do the opposite.

Hire Slow

Here is my top 10 list for a successful hire:

  1. This may seem like a strange place to start, but you really need to know your firm’s mission, vision, and values. If you’ve never gone through this exercise, or if it’s been many years, I encourage you to go through a facilitated conversation to uncover these. The answers improve your hiring processes.
  2. Figure out what position you actually need to fill – it may not be the one that the last person occupied.
    • A thorough assessment of who you have on board, their skills, and the functions they perform is the first step.
    • Next, consider how far down you can push work – starting with you and going to the lowest level of competency.
    • Finally, you’ll have insight into where the gap lies (usually, it will be a lower-level role, but not always).
  3. Once you have the job in mind, you’ll want to come up with a job description that describes the role and responsibilities, but also (and more importantly for the actual hiring process) what competencies and values (based on the above exercise) you need.
  4. Next comes the recruiting phase – getting the word out through your network, online sources, or industry ads.
  5. Screening resumes will identify the skills necessary and answer the questions “Can they do the job?” and “Do they have the requisite experience and education required?”
  6. Schedule telephone screens first, then in-person interviews. Sometimes, it may make sense to have the former done by a trusted colleague or assistant. In smaller firms, that may not be possible. In both cases, look for past behaviors as the biggest predictor of future behaviors and the intangibles. Asking questions to get at that is key.
    • Their demeanor, professionalism, follow up, responsiveness, how they treat admin folks
    • Do they pass the airport test (would you want to be stranded in the airport with them?)
    • When you ask a question (always open-ended), listen for the answer – not what they want to tell you, but what you asked for; and if you don’t hear it, clarify the question and what you are asking.
  7. Make sure all appropriate current employees meet and evaluate any final candidates – their opinion matters – you’re building a team (their team!), they won’t want to bring in someone who will hurt the team.
  8. Check references, including contacting people whom the candidate might not have provided – called blind references. Pay attention to what they say and also what they don’t. Ask them similarly worded questions that you asked the candidates.
  9. Make the offer based minimally on the Rule of 3 for timekeepers, and include billable hour requirements in your conversation. Today’s employment climate discourages asking candidates about previous salaries because it can perpetuate salary gaps or inequities.
  10. “Welcome aboard! We’re so happy to have you here!” That’s what every new hire needs to hear and feel. What you do during your new hire’s first few weeks and months makes all the difference in how well they do (for themselves and you). And so, prepare!
    • Their space should be ready and comfortable, including a designated office, computer, supplies.
    • Business cards/email and a phone should be setup.
    • Introductory breakfast or lunch (food is always a good choice for team building) with everyone present – getting to know each other as colleagues and as people.
    • Expectation/Goal Setting meeting with you and a plan on regularly scheduled check-ins over the first couple of months to ensure a smooth landing.

There you have it.  But don’t forget there is another part of the hiring that’s critical besides the strategies found in Hire Slow, Fire Fast – and that is to always develop. I’ll cover that another time.  In the meantime, happy hiring.


Regina Olbinsky is an Atticus Certified Practice Advisor with nearly 30 years’ experience helping organizations of all sizes develop staff and businesses.  She holds an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and a BS from Ohio State University. She is a passionate lifelong learner with numerous certifications in leadership, including DiSC, 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, Emotional Intelligence, Appreciative Inquiry, Human Resources, and Coaching. In addition, she is a business owner and entrepreneur who graduated from the intensive Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program.

Atticus, Inc.

This article was written by an Atticus staff member.

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