By Huiping Iler
Running a translation business is not easy. As small as the industry may be, we as business owners face a full set of business challenges: personnel management, sales and marketing, client relations, and the list goes on. Everyday, we go into work hoping to improve the business, to make it more successful. Sometimes we wonder, what is the killer factor? What makes some companies more successful than others?
A study by Jim Collins, the author of From Good to Great, researches eleven companies that have made the leap from being good companies to great companies (for details visit jimcollins.com). He found that the most important step in making the leap from good to great is NOT setting a new direction or adopting a new vision and strategy for the company. Instead, it is finding the right people. In his words, “they [referring to the leaders of the great companies] first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.”
So if having the right employees is so important, how do we go about doing it right? How do we ensure we have bright and loyal people on board to help fuel the growth of our businesses? It is something which is easy to grasp the concept of, yet very difficult to implement well. In actual fact, most entrepreneurs fail at this.
For the translation industry, employee selection posts a unique challenge for a number of reasons. First, compared to other industries, we are not competitive in the salary we offer and career upward mobility. Most translation businesses range from 1 to 99 people. In traditional business standards, this is considered very small. However, we are just as in need of talented and dedicated employees as any other industry. Yet, we are competing against industries that are bigger and better financed than we are. Secondly, for an industry that is relatively new (translators have been around for a very long time, but positions such as project managers and localization engineers are quite new), there are not enough experienced professionals, such as project managers ready for hire. Often times, we are faced with the challenge of hiring people from outside the industry and as a result providing long training to our employees. The stakes for making a wrong hiring decision are great – all the money and time we invest in employee selection and training will be lost.
So how do we succeed in attracting the talent we need when our salary cap is low, our requirements are high and our benefits not as comprehensive? What is it that we need in order to win this war for talent?
Let us first determine whom we are competing for. Are the hot candidates such as MBA graduates what we need? Are we looking for people with outstanding resumes that list high levels of education and relevant work experiences at reputable companies?
My answer is “no!” I find these sought-after candidates to be a poor fit for most small businesses. These individuals are usually very ambitious, eager to climb the corporate ladder. They want their mega salary now and promotion fast. They find our environment too small and feel that they are fish destined for the big pond. In many situations, they hang onto their position in a smaller outfit until they find another job. It is not that they are not capable; they simply do not invest the time and energy to really know their job. They are in for the pay and once the promise of a bigger pay cheque arises elsewhere, they are gone. Every time a hiring mistake like this occurs, the business is pulled back a step.
So, who should we be looking for? In order to find out, let me ask you this: do you consider yourself to be good at your job? If so, what makes you good? Is it your education? Is it your previous work experience? Or is it something innate in you – your perseverance, resourcefulness or other qualities you came to possess either from life experience or another source? I have observed from those around me, who I deem smart and good at their work, that they are good rarely because of their education or “hard” qualifications. Most often they are good because they have a genuine interest in what they do, and they invest all their time and energy in pursuing what they are interested in. Education seems quite irrelevant in most cases, as are most of the items on their resume. They are good because of who they are, not where they went to school and what prestigious companies they have previously worked for.
Having said that, as employers, do we usually make employee selection decisions based on the candidate’s personal characteristics and interests? Or do we make most of the judgements based on their education and previous work experience? In other words, the tangible qualifications they have accumulated? What I see in reality is the latter. In my opinion, this is the number one reason why bad employee selections are made. So, how can we be wiser? The answer is simple: we have to pay more attention to the “content” of people, rather than the “packaging.” Talented people come in various shapes and forms, sometimes disguised in unconventional packages. It is the ability to resist the temptation of buying the packaging and instead, the content that will be the deciphering factor of success in hiring. When you recognize a talented person that other employers have overlooked, most often, that individual will reward you with loyalty and hard work, showing his/her appreciation and proving that it was worth the risk you took in giving him/her an opportunity.
If you find what I said interesting, then stay tuned for an article in the works on how to identify great talent in the interview process. In the meantime, allow me to recommend an inspirational book – the story of Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. It is about the power of uncovering dormant talent in unlikely heroes and how champions are made as a result. The undersized, limp looking racehorse Seabiscuit became one of the most spectacular performers in sports history, thanks to three men who discovered him. See you next time!