Recruiting the best people for the job

David M. Grouchy, President, and Janet Grouchy, Trainer, Grouchy Enterprises, Falls Church, Virginia; Presenters, 2006 APWA Congress

Wouldn't it be great if you could get only the best people for every job you need done? Would it make you more effective, let you sleep better at night, and feel more confident that the work is being done properly? Well, it can be done and you can do it, probably within your existing organization. Because all public works organizations are under tight budgetary constraints, and because taxpayers demand to know what is being done for them with their money, it is critical to not only do more with less, but to do even better with less. One of the great challenges for any supervisor or manager is finding the best people to do the work that needs to be done. The good news is that they may already be available to you, and finding them may be easier than you think.

Take the following steps and you will get the work done, develop a stronger team and develop leaders of the future for your organization:

  • Lead by example.
  • Focus on the job.
  • Delegate authority along with responsibility.
  • Recruit from your chain of command.
  • Look for leadership and decision-making ability among your subordinates and coworkers first.
  • Fill vacancies carefully, focusing on getting the job done now and in the future.
  • Communicate: Ask, "What do you need?"

Lead by example. Show people what you expect in a supervisor or manager by being one yourself. Dress appropriately to represent your department to the public as well as to the people you supervise. When you make decisions, get input from the people who will have to do the work, then tell them what the decision is and how you decided. They'll respect and admire you for it. Encourage your subordinates to make decisions at the lowest competent level.

Focus on the job. The only reason anybody is working at the public works department is to get the needed work done. Demand that the people working for you keep equipment well maintained, follow safety and environmental procedures and be professional in their dress and language. People who gossip, whine and spend a lot of time focused on non-job-related issues have a difficult time becoming competent supervisors. Tell them what you are looking for and they will probably respond.

Delegate authority along with responsibility. When you give someone the responsibility to get a job done, ask him the "Reporter's Questions": What, Who, When, Where, Why, and How. You may be surprised by the answers.

Ask: What are you going to do? What do you need to get it done? Who are you going to use for the work? When are you going to start and finish? Where are you getting the materials, expertise and support you need? Why are you using those people, that method or making those particular decisions? And how are you going to solve the problems as they arise?

Your subordinates will not want to disappoint you, so they will try their best to excel and earn some praise. If they do well, praise them. Let them know that you value initiative and follow-through. If they make mistakes, counsel them privately and help them make better decisions next time. Never embarrass them in front of their coworkers.

Recruit from your chain of command. There will be times when you will have to ask your boss for help in handling a situation that is beyond your level. Be direct and explain that in order to get the job done, you need him or her to do something you can't do yourself. This could be anything from getting cooperation from other departments, such as asking the fire department to blast accumulated debris from culverts, to authorizing overtime to get a job done faster.

Look for leadership and decision-making ability among your subordinates and coworkers first. Morale and the sense of teamwork can be damaged if your subordinates get the message that they are not good enough to be seriously considered for promotion. There can be the backlash of Malicious Compliance if someone is brought in from outside to supervise people who were passed over for the promotion. As a supervisor, manager or administrator, a large part of your job is to develop the latent talent in your department. Your workers will appreciate your efforts to help them excel. One word of caution, though: If a worker says he is not ready to take on more responsibility, don't promote him. Give him more responsibility in the job he has now, to help him learn how to handle more challenging tasks. Let him know that you have confidence in his abilities.

Fill vacancies carefully, focusing on getting the job done now and in the future. When filling vacancies, look first to the loyal people working for you. If you have to go outside to hire a supervisor, make sure the same rules apply, and make sure that the subordinates understand that.

Communicate: Ask, "What do you need?" Whenever you are requesting effort from anyone, ask him or her what they need to accomplish the task. This gives them the responsibility of thinking beyond the immediate to the bigger challenge. When your supervisor, manager or administrator gives you a task, ask the same question. Everyone becomes more effective when they focus on the job and understand how they will be judged.

Recruiting isn't just getting the best people; it's also involving them in decision making and in planning for the future. The leadership and trust you demonstrate to your team will be seen as the model for the leaders in that team. Remember that nobody gets there alone. The more competent people you have working to accomplish your goals, the more successful you will be.

David and Janet Grouchy will give a presentation on this topic at the 2006 APWA Congress in Kansas City. Their session is entitled "Recruiting the Best People for the Job" and takes place on Monday, September 11, at 11:00 a.m. They can be reached at (703) 671-4719 or