Greg Hull: Good people, good workersOver the years of my many-faceted career, I’ve had occasion to interview and hire people from a wide range of backgrounds to do an equally wide range of jobs.
By: Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
Over the years of my many-faceted career, I’ve had occasion to interview and hire people from a wide range of backgrounds to do an equally wide range of jobs. Some worked extremely well, and I enjoyed working with them. Some were adequate; a few were a real problem. Some were laid off, others just not re-hired when their term was finished. A handful I outright fired. Two or three of those I actually enjoyed firing. But only two or three.
I have pondered long what factors and experiences in a person’s background will indicate whether he or she make a good employee. I learned that there were things to look for, and other qualifications that didn’t mean a thing.
Education, by itself, doesn’t mean much. I have hired and worked with people who had earned doctorates from schools such as Harvard, Boston College and the University of Chicago. Other employees have had eighth-grade educations from country schools. Some had high school diplomas, others didn’t. Some were great workers, others weren’t. I once hired a Ph.d who was a great guy, very smart and generally did excellent work. He just never finished his work by the deadline. I once offered him a $500 bonus for not merely doing a particular project, but for doing it on time. He missed the deadline by three days. His wife didn’t talk to him for a week.
Athletic prowess and experience on a sports team doesn’t seem to be an indicator of success. The ability to hit, throw or catch a ball, or the speed someone could run or swim didn’t tell me anything about how well they would work. Rarely has anyone who had excelled at team sports ever translated that capability into being a dependable long-term employee for me. One fellow I hired had a notable career in Division I college football, and also played pro football in Canada. He only lasted four days at the mill. It seems he had never perfected the art of going to bed early so as to be able to get up soon enough to get to work. As far as I know, he still hasn’t.
Eventually I came to discover three experiences that all the successful employees I ever hired had in common. Now when chatting with a prospective worker, I look for them amongst the qualifications of their education, experience, and training. To have one of these is good, two is excellent. If all three are on a person’s application, I immediately ask “How soon can you start?”
One is whether they were born and raised during the Great Depression, or in Depression-like conditions. Nearly without exception, I have found children of the Great Depression made excellent workers. One friend, “Bomber Jim” had been a B17 pilot during WWII. At 21, he was the “old man’ on his crew flying bombing missions in the Pacific Theater. He survived being shot down over Iwo Jima, and came home to go to school, marry, and raise a family. He retired from the corporate world in his mid-fifties, and went on to spend the last 30 years of his life working for missions organizations helping people all over the world. He earned a fraction of what he might have otherwise earned with his professional experience and contacts had he decided to be a consultant and sell his expertise. Jim knew a paycheck wasn’t an attendance award given at week’s end. He also knew work had important value far beyond its monetary rewards. He also was living proof that “slow and steady” beats “fast and erratic” every time.
Another positive indicator in a person’s background was if they were raised on a farm. People who have grown up around the daily grind of raising crops and caring for animals seem to have a fundamental understanding about work instilled in them. Maybe once you’ve shoveled out calf pens in the spring, you appreciate the fact that no job is beneath you. That, and almost no job can be worse. One woman who worked for me had been voted “Least Farmiest – Farm Girl” by her high school Senior Class. Aside from her excellent personal hygiene (she invariably came to work amidst the scent of flowers, never cows) her organizational skills in arranging her work area and her ability to prioritize tasks ensured that she got more done before lunch than many employees got done in two days. All without any supervision.
The third positive indicator in a person’s background was if they had ever been in business for themselves. It was an added bonus if they had gone bankrupt. These folks always seem to have a sense about which tasks are high-value, and which unproductive and energy-sapping situations need to be avoided. These were the people who knew the adage: “If you’re early you’re on time; if you’re on time you’re late; if you’re late you better have a good reason.” Broken bones sticking through the skin or blood spurting from a severed artery are good reasons. Everything else is just an excuse.
On this Labor Day weekend, we commemorate the working people who built our country and society. They are the workers who know about dependability and the value of hard work. They don’t see unpleasant tasks as beneath them, and give a good day’s work in exchange for a day’s pay. They know that it’s not the hours you put in, but the results of your labor that count.
They have never been in that group who I have had to fire. These are the folks who are my kind of people.
Greg Hull is owner and operator of Hull’s Sawmill.
He traded his necktie and wingtips for a hard hat and steel-toed boots nearly 20 years ago. He’s never regretted it. His email is email@example.com