Recruit for results: why entrepreneurs need to hire the right talent, not the right friends or family

By Hugh Latif

Entrepreneurs face a major challenge when they are ready to hire their first employee(s). These days, many recruit online and become quickly discouraged when faced with dozens (sometimes hundreds!) of applicants. All are unknown, and each one represents a long process of interviewing, checking references, and then training.

Finding someone who “fits your culture” is the new catchphrase, so you may be thinking to yourself, “Who could be better suited than a close friend or family member?” It just seems so much easier — and safer — to hire someone you know. If they don’t exactly have the skills you need, all you have to do is help them along, right?

Wrong. In too many instances, entrepreneurs who hire friends and/or family end up with good people, but not necessarily the right talent. They overlook the skills and experience that are required for the specific business, thinking that this gap can be addressed along the way. But what follows is a lot of “gymnastics” as the business owner, already neck-deep in the demands of a growing enterprise, has to continually step in and fill the gaps, flip-flopping from crisis to crisis.

Avoid the costly mistake of a wrong hire

At the core of every successful company is a team of talented and qualified people. This is your chance to do it right. Keep in mind that wrong hires cost businesses in North America millions of dollars each year in terms of lost time, retraining costs, down time, and general disruption. Harvard Business Review points out that as much as 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions. It’s a mistake an entrepreneur cannot afford to make.

The first step is to write down exactly what you want the new hire to do (the job description), and then describe — for the purpose of fit — their profiles in terms of character and personality (the applicant profile). Then you recruit to fill the position, knowing exactly what you’re looking for in terms of both skills and fit.

Once you do this, the chance that a friend or family member will fit the bill is unlikely. For larger organizations, it might work because there can be more time and budget available to train the person; plus you don’t have to be the one supervising their work. But in a smaller, owner-run company, a wrong hire is going to cost you time, money, and possibly a friendship or relationship.

Tips for recruiting

There are good checklists available for how to recruit the right talent (e.g., Tips to Improve Your Recruitment and Hiring Decisions produced by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses [CFIB]).

One of my tips, as recommended in my new book Maverick Leadership, focuses on the need for the right fit with your team. Before you make a final decision, introduce the applicant to some of the team members they will work with. This gives both sides a taste of what to expect, and if successful, is the first step to team building. Remember to listen to your team members after the interview.

As a “maverick leader,” my focus has always been on the fundamentals — practical advice that often seems so obvious that it’s hard to believe the answer is that straightforward. But the truth is, organizations don’t run themselves, or at least run themselves well. Starting with the right human talent (which usually means not your family or friends) is one of the most important steps you’ll take.


hughlatifHugh Latif has over 40 years of experience in management consulting and general management. Since 1996, his consulting practice has successfully completed over 350 assignments. Previously, he held senior executive positions with the Dun & Bradstreet – A.C. Nielsen Group in Canada, Italy, Brazil and France. He specializes in strategic planning, sales and marketing, succession planning, advisory board governance and business turn-arounds. In his book, Maverick Leadership, Hugh shares his insights about the fundamentals of leadership and business success.

For more practical advice for general managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs, Hugh Latif has put his wisdom from 40+ years of business experience together in Maverick Leadership, now available in Canada and the USA. Click here to learn more!

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