As part of SFBW’s 2021 Excellence in Human Resources Awards, Editor-in-Chief Drew Limsky hosted a post-event roundtable where select honorees and industry veterans discussed the unique challenges of today’s evolving work environment. Five HR directors—Medtronic’s Lisa Lopez, Jessica Ayers of Sentry Data Systems, Natalia Velasco of Fluent Cannabis Care, Adalyn Tello of RCC Associates, and PeakActivity’s Peggy Myers—were joined by Alan Berger, VP of human resources at the executive search firm StevenDouglas; and Stephen Garber, founder and CEO of Third Level. THE HR MANTRA LIMSKY: I’ve never heard the phrase “hire slow and fire fast” so many times as in the past couple of months, the idea being you should be very intentional about the way you hire, and then in terms of firing it’s very important to rid the institution of toxins. What do you think? BERGER: “Hire slow” is a great concept, but if you lose out on a great candidate you fail. The important thing is knowing who your candidates are and what their timing is. I’m working on a role right now for a global head of HR. I presented six candidates. They looked at two and want to move forward. I told them that neither is interviewing anywhere else, so they have time. There’s another search I’m working on where I said two of these people are actively interviewing, two are in transition, so they’re going to take something that pops up, and the other two are typical candidates. If it’s a really tough-to-fill job, you’d better focus on moving pretty fast. On the “fire fast” side, document the hell out of why you’re firing them. Any HR pro will tell you that nobody should be fired without being given a chance. If they did something completely wrong and inappropriate and it requires firing, then you’ve got to do it. But if it’s performance-related, if it’s a pattern, document it to protect yourself in the future. GARBER: What do we mean by hire slow? We mean intentional. We mean well-planned. To make sure there’s both a job description and a cultural fit. Not just a warm body to fill a position. As for the fire fast part, one of my first CEO clients, decades ago, said to me, “Change the people, or change the people.” If you see things that people aren’t doing well, give them the opportunity to learn and improve. Coach them, guide them, train them. But if they are not able to learn or willing to learn, people teach you who they are. Listen to them. LIMSKY: How do you handle severance situations? LOPEZ: It’s important to take care of your employees. It creates a reputation. The people who stay and the people who leave speak to each other. That’s also true with job candidates. What about all the people you didn’t hire? How did you treat them? The messaging is important. There are more of them out there than there are in your company. MYERS: In the business I’m in, we need people quickly. We hire very intentionally, and I work with my leaders to get clear on what the job is and what’s needed in that role before we even start the process. It’s important to be intentional about what you’re looking for with the culture and the fit. In terms of fire fast, I struggle with that one unless it’s blatant. I’d want to document. I also don’t think that most companies have good enough orientation and onboarding to help people to be as successful as they can be. The expectation that someone is up and running in two weeks and should be contributing 100% productivity is unrealistic. LIMSKY: What is a common mistake that businesses make during the onboarding process? MYERS: Planning for the onboarding. You should have a 30-, 60-, and 90-day plan for people when they come onboard. I’ve found that most people don’t get fully integrated into the company and into the role for six months. Especially if you’re dealing with knowledge positions. I think preparing on the front end for that person, hiring intentionally, like Lisa said, prevents you from having to “fire quick.” I worry that people aren’t being given the runway to really be successful. It’s something that we continually look at to make sure we’re doing the right things and always improving. WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY LIMSKY: So it’s not about finding the best person, maybe from even out of state, who’ll come in, but the best person within a reasonable window of two or three weeks, and that includes how people respond to your posting. After a certain point, there’s probably diminishing returns, with the most appropriate people submitting applications within the first five to seven days, right? MYERS: Absolutely, and we’re having to do passive recruiting more than ever. When you have a passive candidate, they’re not sure if they really want to leave their current job. So as much as you sell, and say, this is what we have to offer, you’re still in a position where they’re not necessarily looking, but they may be the best person for the job. It’s tough right now. VELASCO: This industry, medical cannabis, has been challenging because of changing regulations. During covid, we need people ASAP, because we have the license all the way from the seed to the final product that goes to the patient. So I hire people from entry level cultivation all the way up to CFO, CEO. It’s taking about six weeks because of the requirements of the industry. All my employees need to pass a background check, fingerprints, drug test. And because of covid, everything is taking a long time. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to fill two roles in the corporate office, and we’re very close. I interview a person, and if I want to take the time to get to know if they fit with the company culture, they’re out of the market the next day. Hire slow? I don’t know if I have that option right now. AYERS: I’m finding myself having issues with the drug screen process now more than ever with candidates testing positive for marijuana, and how we’re dealing with that in our state with medical marijuana. It becomes a discussion about every single candidate in that boat, which delays the process. Are we going to make an exception here? How are we going to handle this person? Maybe they were so hard to find that we’re willing to overlook it in that particular candidate, but maybe we still want a drug-free policy elsewhere. That becomes a real issue with hiring and consistency and everything else we keep tabs on.

Helping to guide the evolution of a community bank that began doing business from a converted mobile home in Conway, Arkansas, into a financial institution managing more than $17 billion of wealth across the southeast United States, David Druey knows first-hand how gaining financial insight and fostering community relationships can pave the way for prosperity. After a stint as a scuba diving instructor once he earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Mississippi in 1994, an interest in the financial field beckoned. Wanting a more stable career path and not exactly sure which industry to explore, he found himself at Northwest Financial Corp. in Jackson, Mississippi, for a very simple reason. “They hired me,” he says. After his tenure in Mississippi, Druey began working as a loan officer in 1998 at Centennial Bank, where he watched the bricks being laid on the bank’s first branch and quickly climbed the corporate ladder to become its regional president based in Pompano Beach. Experiencing the transformation of a small community bank barely capable of lending $5 million, to an institution managing more than $17 billion in wealth, didn’t happen overnight—and neither does developing the relationships that made it possible. “Sometimes, you want to pinch yourself,” he says. “We were just going to be a small community bank in Conway, and we couldn’t even fathom or imagine having that in 1998.” Working for a community bank that was trying to establish itself while simultaneously growing in an unfamiliar industry didn’t afford Druey any room to make mistakes. During the initial stages of his banking career in Arkansas, he encountered what he calls his “career loan.” A local business was looking to construct a new facility, and Druey knew the owner and industry well. The loan was close to the bank’s legal lending limit at the time, so any slip-up could cost the bank its lending prowess. While the loan was risky if the borrower defaulted, Druey had a rapport with the executive, who assured him the construction loan could be repaid regardless of how the business performed. “It’s kind of like a black-swan event like COVID,” Druey says. “You would never underwrite to COVID, but then COVID happened. We built it and then this particular industry shut down for a period of time and I still remember them calling and saying, ‘Hey, we’re not opening.’ And then they said, ‘But just like you and I have already discussed, it’s OK because we’re going to still be able to make the payments and uphold our obligations.’ That was one of those a-ha moments of how important character is when you’re loaning somebody money.”

Business strategy is on the shelf with three new books. Ron Friedman’s Decoding Greatness explores the hidden structure to success, using as examples Agatha Christie, Andy Warhol, Barack Obama and Serena Williams. In Amazon Unbound, Brad Stone shows how a retail upstart became one of...