Hiring & Negotiating with New Staff

One of the most exciting parts of your new role as leader is the opportunity to hire new staff. You have identified several talented individuals. How do you negotiate reasonable positions with them and more importantly, position them for future success?

Effective and engaged staff are key elements of a successful organization, i.e. “the right people on the bus”. (See my last post “Recruiting New Leaders”, for details regarding processes for a search. While that post focused on searching for leaders, the same process including a search committee is ideally completed when searching for new staff.)

The search for the right staff begins with an explicit role/job description. The description must articulate responsibilities and accountabilities. The role/job description needs to be circulated to key individuals to whom the individual will report and also with whom the individual may interact with or be required to work with. Human Resources may have institutional templates for job descriptions that need to be incorporated. When searching or hiring, the job description is condensed into a brief job advertisement. Institutions (i.e. hospitals) often have policies regarding hiring practices with a specific boilerplate language for job advertisements. The job description and advertisement may be critical to successful immigration, if required, and thus the specific language is often also extremely important.

Ideally when hiring new staff, the preferred candidate should come before a search committee. The search committee must represent all constituencies relevant to the appointment. For example, if research is an essential component of the position, then a research representative ensures the appropriate candidate is chosen but also ensures that the appropriate support is provided to make a candidate successful.

After the chosen preferred candidate has been identified, negotiations ensure. This step is critical to the chosen candidate’s success, but also as their first formal contact with the institution, it sets the tone for the culture of the institution. Often through the job description and search process, special considerations for the chosen candidate have arisen that need to be part of the negotiation.

Candidates must receive a letter of offer. A standard letter of offer must include the necessary resources for success of the individual, general accountabilities related to performance, and any standard language for an appointment and/or employment. Included within the letter should also be how the individual will be evaluated and any key measures or milestones of success. The letter of offer should include financial remuneration, objectives for the individual, details of a mentorship program and clinical resources (e.g. clinical space and OR time) and for academic appointments, research start-up funds (i.e. research space, start-up equipment, support for research personnel and duration of support). Also, the expectations of the individual should include expected clinical activity, clinical responsibilities, on-call frequency, teaching expectations, and if appropriate measures of success (e.g. for research usually a focused and productive research program).

Too often the candidate is placed at odds during negotiations with the direct supervisor over resources, e.g. amount of protected time for academic pursuits. The chosen individual and the leader both have the same interests; success of the individual. The aim of recruitment is to ensure that appropriately chosen individuals are given sufficient support and encouragement. Thus, don’t situate the candidate for failure by providing unreasonable expectation and/or insufficient resources.

During the negotiations, some individuals will want every possible detail specified in the offer letter including all contingencies and future needs. This need may originate from some institutional approaches to future needs; ‘if it’s not in the letter it’s not available’. If so, lawyers are often needed to draft language. However, lawyers tend to slow down the negotiation process and make letters unduly complex. An alternative approach is for the letter of offer to include the key elements of support but not consider all future events and/or needs. Such letters reflect a philosophy of recruitment that it is important to provide resources essential for success at the time of recruitment but not into the indefinite future. Thereafter resources are supplied to the individual to the best of the institution’s capability at the time of the need. This approach works if the same opportunity exists for all staff for as long into the future as needed.

Letters of offer may often have additional nuances. In Canada, physicians have appointments and privileges at hospitals and therefore cannot be dismissed without pursuing a separate process though the Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) and the Board of Trustees. Thus, letters of appointment cannot usually provide unilateral without-cause termination stipulations. Also, the distinction between “remuneration” and “salary” is important if the individual is deemed to be an independent professional by the Canadian Revenue Agency. Similar issues may need to be considered in other jurisdictions.

In summary, negotiations with new staff are critical for ensuring their success.

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