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Pet Care Business Staffing: Hire Slow, Fire Fast

Hire Slow, Fire Fast is just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

By Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA

Jamie Migdal, founder and CEO of FetchFind, is well-versed in what it takes for pet care businesses to grow and sustain a team of qualified pet care professionals. In the Q3 2018 issue of Pet Care Pro Quarterly, she presented innovative ways to find pet care professionals in “Need Staff? Think Outside the Box”. So now that you’ve found your candidates how can you be sure they’re the right fit to hire? And why (and when) would you ever fire? Jamie addresses the next phase in pet care business staffing.

You’ve posted your job, you’ve interviewed the best candidates, you’ve done the background checks, and you’re ready to make an offer – congratulations! I know how long and exhausting that process can be, and I know how that future perfect team member can look like a shining beacon on a dark and stormy night.

Now I’ll give you one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten: hire slow, fire fast.

That’s easy advice to give when you aren’t already down three full-time employees, with three more part-timers making noises about going back to grad school or starting rehearsals for a new play. Just about every business owner’s first impulse is to find and onboard new staff as quickly as possible so that you don’t have to say “no” to any customer requests. The second impulse is to assume that, if you’ve done the basic due diligence, the new hires can learn what they need to know on the job.

Let’s break this down.

Part 1: Hire Slow

 Do yourself and your company a favor by taking a couple extra steps before making too big of an investment in your – let’s face it – virtually unknown entity.

I think that one of the many, many wonderful things about the interweb with regard to human resources is that you can do a lot of pre-hire evaluation in comparatively little time. You can search resumes for keywords, you can fill out background check requests online (remember fax machines?), you can automate references, and – the best part – you can start training your new hires before their first day at the office.

I am a huge fan of pre-arrival training for a few reasons:

  1. Your new hires can hit the ground running with a good set of foundational skills and a common professional vocabulary.
  2. You can leverage pre-arrival training as an evaluation tool to see where the knowledge gaps are.
  3. You can use the very request for pre-arrival training as a litmus test to see if the new employee is willing to do what’s needed in their new position.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you “steal” time and labor from an employee by requiring them to work before they’ve even filled out payroll information. But more and more employers are using basic training videos as the bridge between the final interview and first day on the job. Pre-arrival basic training enables you to evaluate intangibles such as the capacity for teamwork and intellectual curiosity, as well as tangibles like technological skills and language aptitude. Not every new hire will be a computer whiz or poet laureate – and that’s ok! – but it’s always better to know of any job-specific deficiencies in advance so that you can tweak the onboarding process.

Note: There are few things that will sour an employer/employee relationship more quickly than real or perceived wage theft (in either direction). If a job offer has already been accepted, and you go back with a request to complete several hours of video training before the first day at work, you’ll need to offer fair compensation for that time. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a $25 gift card at the end of the first pay period as a thank you for an hour or two of pre-arrival training is significantly less expensive than dealing with resentment and all of its knock-on effects (like absenteeism and apathy). If pre-arrival training is an expectation for your employees, be upfront about that in the job description and during the interview process.

Part 2: Fire Fast

What happens if your wonderful new team member turns out to be (as the saying goes) “all hat and no cattle”?

I firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Lots of people deserve a third chance. Virtually no one deserves a fourth, fifth, and sixth chance, but desperation can make business owners overlook a lot of unacceptable behavior to keep the staff roster full.

Again, I know how easy it is to say “get rid of the dead wood” when you aren’t faced with back-to-back clients who expect service. If you’re lucky, nothing will go wrong, and your new team members will be conscientious and responsible quick studies. But if you’re not lucky, everyone suffers. Don’t let desperation endanger your business, your customers, or your reputation.

One of the things I hear from FetchFind subscribers is that they are reluctant to require too much training time from their employees. They worry that people will just say “nope” and walk out the door, and they worry that paying for training time will break the bank. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about those things, but there are simple ways to make training a natural and pleasant part of the job.

One of the things you should keep in mind is that comprehensive, ongoing training is a big predictor of job longevity and satisfaction. It keeps your staff engaged, it keeps them safe, and it makes them better team members. That directly translates to less turnover, less operational disruption, and more client satisfaction, which is great for your bottom line.

Ongoing training requirements also benefit you as an employer because it allows you to regularly evaluate who is doing well, who needs a little reinforcement, and who can’t be bothered to make the effort. The sooner you can spot undesirable behavior patterns, the sooner you can course correct – and sometimes that means letting people go. Once you’ve determined (and documented) that an employee’s behavior and work habits are unacceptable, it’s best to cut the cord cleanly, humanely, and swiftly. It might be difficult to reallocate the workload in the short term, but it’s better and safer to take on those extra dog walks yourself, or even turn down additional work, rather than let the situation worsen while you search for a replacement.

BONUS! Make staff training fun and easy with these tips!

  • Gift cards: offer gift cards to the employees who get the highest scores.
  • Lunch and learn: treat your team to sandwiches once a week while you go through the curriculum.
  • Learning station: set up a computer in a central location so that staff can access training any time they’re in the office

Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA, has been working with dogs and their people, and innovating within the pet industry, for nearly 25 years. Having successfully built three national pet service companies, Jamie is an expert across all aspects of the pet industry, including education, technology, business development, sales, marketing, and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, sells staff training and other business solutions to pet care service companies around the globe. In 2018, Jamie joined the PetSmart Review Board as a Director. She also received the Pet Age Women of Influence award, participated in the VentureSCALE accelerator program, and was shortlisted for the Information Age Women in IT Rising Star award. In 2016-2017, Jamie completed the prestigious  Prosper Women Entrepreneurs and WiSTEM1871 Chicago accelerator programs, and received the  Pet Age ICON and Women Tech Founders Midwest Women in Tech awards. FetchFind was selected as one of the top five most innovative pet care companies via the Purina Pet Care Innovation Prize,  completed a successful crowdfunding campaign on Republic, and increased their market share with the acquisition of PawedIn.