The Three Things You Need Most In An Employee


Steve Kiernan
Co-Founder & CEO
March 11, 2018
minutes to read

Get to the Point

  1. Skill - Having workers who excel at their job makes a company run. If they don’t know how to do their job, they won’t be able to do it very well; it’s as simple as that.
  2. Aptitude - The ability to change and learn might be even more important than skills. Being able to get NEW skills while you work can keep a company relevant, and growing.
  3. Attitude - This can be the most important quality in a worker. A positive, hard working person will just strengthen all those around them. They make your company a great place to work, and your customers love them. Attitude is Key.

Hiring great people is absolutely key to running a great business and often, new business owners think that means hiring smart people. Lee Iacocca once said his secret to success was to "hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way." It's great to hire smart, but my experience is that smart isn't the most important quality. "Smart" people excel at certain types of jobs but overthinking can be a weakness, and causes people to go in circles. For me, the best hiring decisions have been made on three factors. Today, we'll look at those factors from least to most important.


This is an easy one to pick out. We all want talented people who can get the job done. Employees are the by far the largest expense in any service business, so having one expert who can do the work of five entry-level workers seems like (and often is) a great deal. Finding a truly skilled individual usually means someone who does fast, efficient, and most importantly, effective work.

Unfortunately, anyone who has spent time trying to hire knows there are a bunch of problems with evaluating potential employees only based on skill. The first and most obvious problem is that a good man (or woman) is hard to find. Candidates often inflate their resumés and it takes your precious time to weed out skilled candidates, especially when dealing with skills that are hard to assess.

Owners often have the experience of being a skilled worker for someone else before they start their business. If describes you, you know that people like you usually end up taking on more than their share of work and are the employees most likely to get burned out. Burned out employees often feel under appreciated and under compensated and end up looking for another job (or starting their own business.) When a skilled person leaves they create a gap in the business that often has to be filled by the owner, leaving the owner back working in the business instead of working on the business.


More important than skill is the ability to acquire MORE skills. Throughout the life of your business, things are going to change. An employee who is an expert in the tools and techniques of today is only skilled as long as those tools and techniques remain industry standard. Some skills tend to last longer (customer interaction) while others (product specific technical skills) can stop being relevant at the drop of a hat.

Growing a business requires people who can change and adapt with every changing circumstance. Owners need individuals who can take on a leadership role and managerial responsibility. These are skills that many technicians don't have.

The best employees have the ability to learn new skills and help others while the worst employees are the ones who stick to how they have always done things because they can't grasp the new, better way of working. Finding someone who has the drive and capability to grow with your business is far more important than any specific skill they have. Start with someone who listens well. You’ll be able to judge this during the first interview. In their own words, can they repeat an answer you’ve given them and get the details right?


As much as I believe in a candidate's aptitude, far and away the most important quality an applicant can have is attitude.

The thing about attitude is that it drives all the other fundamentals that make an employee great. They set an example for the rest of the organization when learn new skills and help others learn, too. Their fellow workers love them because they take time to mentor and to make other employees feel appreciated. And customers really, really, love them.

The other reason to hire based on attitude is because it is, by far, the rarest commodity in the business world. Finding an candidate with a great attitude is like finding a four-leaf clover or a lamp with three wishes in it. People with a great attitude will help you grow your business because they care. They will spend as much time thinking about your business as you do and always pitch in when something needs to be done without complaining. Candidate who can find the silver lining in a bad situation help others stand on good ground when times are tough.

A smart, skilled candidate with the ability to learn and a great attitude is something every owner wants to find but they are few and far between. It's almost impossible to evaluate initially whether someone is, or could be, all of these things. But in my experience, your odds are much better if you start with attitude.

Look at Pricing

The start of the year is a great time to look at pricing. Usually, you have an idea of how your company fared the year prior, and you want to ensure you will continue to grow in the months to come. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions with respect to spending or saving in our personal lives, and it’s no different for business owners. Making sure your pricing is in line with where it should be is one of the strongest ways to start the year the right way.

Part of looking at your price book is finding where the issues are, and that can take time. An HVAC company in January is going to be very busy, so it’s a difficult time for a close look. However, a plumbing company might not be as busy. Whenever you tackle this job, your best bet is to look at what your labor rates are. Start there, and let it trickle down across the board. Ask yourself, “Are my labor rates helping my business stay profitable?”

Remember, there are many different services out there and many different groups or communities that you can engage. Never hesitate to say, “Hey, I’m a business owner in Florida. What should my labor rates be?” You can build your price from there. There are also some great billable hour calculators available.

Set Goals

There is no better time of year for looking inward than January. Set your personal goals and company goals for the following 12 months. If you can break those down into departmental goals, even better! Perhaps that means a CSR booking closing rates a little better, or a truck doing 250,000 a year rather than 200,000.

Many companies have found that using an Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal-setting system pays off. Looking for a guidebook when it comes to OKRs? Check out Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr. 

One key question is the best way to handle setting goals: Is it smarter for business owners to handle this solo, together with staff, or to delegate completely? 

The best approach is to set goals at the department level. As an owner, you need to take the time to understand what the goals are in each department, and make sure they are in line with your goals for the company. No one likes to set unattainable goals for themselves, so make sure you push your departments to set goals that are lofty, rather than simple ones to feel good about hitting. Entrust your staff to aim higher, and watch how they respond.

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