Guest view: Lessons for sustaining family-owned business

When a family business thrives under second-generation ownership, the secret to success is in the foundation laid by the first generation.

My recruiting and staffing firm, Abel Personnel, carries the name of my father, Franklin Abel, who co-founded it as Abel-McConnell Personnel in 1969. In those days, women interviewed for “women’s jobs,” so they hired my mother, Dottie Abel, to help for two weeks. She stayed for 18 years and continues to have an advisory role.

My dad passed away in December 2018, just shy of Abel Personnel’s 50th anniversary. In the months since his passing, I’ve had time to think about the legacy of integrity that he and my mom created. They taught me seven lessons from yesterday for navigating the business climate of today.

Lesson One:  Ethics before profits

Create an environment where nobody checks their ethics at the door. Never allow anyone to feel pressured to make a decision that’s not in the best interests of the client. Chasing quotas doesn’t foster long-lasting relationships. Talk to your employees, get to know them, and always reinforce a company culture of support and responsibility.

Lesson Two: Hire based on a strong work ethic instead of specific experience

I can teach the skills we need, but work ethic, positive attitude, strong communications and empathy are innate. I look for diversity of experience, rarely hiring people who work for other staffing firms. I want team members who understand business from a wide range of perspectives.

Lesson Three: Understand financials

This might seem self-evident, but when a business passes from one generation to the next, the financial foundation must be solid. What you learn in college is just the start. You need to know your company. My dad taught me about accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, and all the fundamentals that assure a business can turn on the lights and pay its people, week in and week out.

Lesson Four: Take a genuine interest in people

My dad would strike up conversations in airports and restaurants as naturally as breathing. With that example before me, I pushed myself to establish connections with strangers and deepen ties to acquaintances. Along the way, I learned the value of building relationships from the ground up.

Lesson Five: Diversify

I was in business for 19 years when my parents asked me to join the firm as marketing manager. It meant breaking out of my shell and using the Yellow Pages – remember them? – as a tool for cultivating new clients. The work wasn’t suited to my personality at the time, but I persisted because my dad stressed the need to diversify. We had a fabulous relationship with a client who provided the bulk of our revenue, but he reminded us they could vanish at any time. My job was to help the business prepare for that day.

Lesson Six: Deliver excellence

In my business, we work with clients, organizations with staffing and recruiting needs, and candidates – the people we find to fill those jobs. Good service requires staying attentive to the needs of all. My parents taught me not to think about just getting the deal done, but always considering what was right for the client, candidate and company. In our case, that means taking the time and effort to ensure you’re sending the right job candidate.

Lesson Seven: Lead by example

Never expect employees to do something you won’t do yourself. Make a call. Pick up trash. Plunge the toilet. Anything that contributes to a functioning workplace deserves your attention. My parents never expressed this belief in words. They taught it by example.

Final thoughts

Together, these lessons boil down to what I call the “employer-employee mentality.” In a healthy relationship, each side supports the goals of the other. Employees who perform with distinction deserve rewards and recognition for advancing the company’s mission.

When employers invest the time to create a positive, supportive and ethically-grounded environment that never loses sight of their clients’ needs, the outcome is a successful business that can bridge the generations and meet the challenges of our modern, evolving economy.

Deborah A. Abel (Photo: Amy Spangler)
Deborah A. Abel (Photo: Amy Spangler)

Deborah A. Abel is president of Abel Personnel, which includes Abel Executives and A+ Teachers, which provides and supports qualified substitute teachers, school nurses and classroom aides for Central Pennsylvania school districts. She can be reached at 717-561-2222 or [email protected]

Guest view: From a firm in the middle, a perspective on hiring

A year ago, about 75 percent of managers surveyed nationally were struggling to find suitable candidates.

Here in Central Pennsylvania, where unemployment was even lower than the national rate, that percentage was likely even higher.

And a year later? Little has changed. We’re experiencing the tightest labor market conditions in 18 years.

The unemployment rate in counties in Central Pennsylvania ranges from 3.0 to 3.8 percent — great for job applicants but a significant challenge for employers with open positions to fill.

Those of us in the staffing and recruiting industry understand those challenges — we’re dealing with them ourselves. While most of our time is spent finding top prospects for our clients, we’re also looking for and hiring candidates for our own open positions.

Tackling the challenge

With most professionals currently employed and not job hunting, businesses are having more difficulty than ever finding candidates for key positions. To combat shortages of skilled and technical labor, companies are increasing pay and expanding training opportunities.

And in this strong economy, companies are adding positions as well. So, while they may be searching for qualified people to fill vacant existing jobs, they may also be looking for skilled workers for new positions.

Some searches are requiring extraordinary time and patience, particularly for positions that entail specific technical skills. Top performers might be mulling over several employment offers. So, if you need to find the best candidates for a key position, start sooner rather than later. Your search could take even longer than it would have a year or two ago.

Now more than ever, companies need to be strategically smart when recruiting employees. Here are several actions to include in your recruitment plan:

  • Network with peers from other companies — yes, competitors — who may have leads to share from time to time.
  • Review salaries and benefits, compare them to the local market and upgrade as needed. Improve other incentives, such as advancement opportunities, training and education.
  • Look at employees already on your payroll who show promise and ambition. With some training, some might be well-qualified for open positions.
  • Use behavioral and personality assessments to identify candidates who appear compatible with your company but may need additional training. While ability is important, so is a good fit for your company’s culture and values.
  • Be more flexible when hiring part-timers by fitting their work time to their needs. If you can accommodate their personal schedules, you have a better chance of keeping them.
  • Plan ways to create positive candidate experiences. Today’s employees desire a work/life balance and want to feel happy and fulfilled, including at work. Potential employees are more likely to join your firm if they sense camaraderie and a welcoming environment.

When the market is tight, your competitors are experiencing the same challenges, so don’t let your best employees get lured away by your competition. You might have to go the extra mile to retain them. In addition to providing generous compensation, offer valuable employees professional development and mentoring as well.

What will the employment picture look like a year from now? No one knows for sure, but 2019 is looking to be much the same as 2018. So, continue to plan ahead, start candidate searches promptly and use strategy in your recruiting efforts.

(Photo: Submitted)

Scott Fiore is president of TriStarr, a staffing, recruiting and consulting agency in Lancaster. TriStarr serves client companies, as well as temporary and permanent workers, in the Lancaster, Harrisburg, York and southern Berks County markets.