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Hiring the best in the propane industry

August 1, 2005 By    

The most successful companies seem to recruit the very best talent, retain top producing individuals and get the most out of their employees. Weak ones often have high turnover, can’t keep positions filled and make mistake after mistake in their hiring process.

 Carl Hughes, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
Carl Hughes, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

One characteristic that separates strong companies from weak ones is their hiring practices.

Most of us will agree that it takes a certain period of time for any new employee to truly become effective. A top Inergy retail manager has said that it takes a full three years before a key hire is producing at peak performance. If that’s the case, what does it say about the costs of making a hiring mistake?

Making a bad hire sets back any initiative by a company or business unit. Making a series of bad hires can set a company back in a big way. In challenging operating environments, bad hires in crucial roles can threaten the company’s very existence.

My next three columns will offer a framework for hiring that gives you an approach that, once incorporated, will improve your hiring practices and will recruit and retain better employees in your company. As a result you will begin to create a more effective company, adding value for your employees, your customers and your shareholders.

The basis for this series is a straightforward concept in evaluating candidates that is effective for all roles and job descriptions in your company. This series of columns pulls heavily from a particular book by Martin John Yate titled “Hiring the Best.” I believe it belongs on every hiring manager’s bookshelf.

The three most important questions that you should ask yourself when you are filling any role in your company are:

Does the candidate have the ability to do the job? Assessing the ability of candidates for any role is the first determining criteria. This will be applied differently for different positions. The first mistake we all make as managers is placing a new employee or promoted employee in a position so far beyond their capabilities that they cannot possibly succeed. This hiring mistake is highly avoidable.

Is the able candidate willing to do what it takes to do the job? Talent runs abundant in our industry, but it is a smaller pool of individuals who are willing to commit to learn, take responsibility and have the desire to succeed in the challenges of the daily grind.

Is the able and willing candidate manageable within your organization? Using comparisons found in professional sports, we can all think of talented athletes who have a reputation for being difficult, often switch from team to team and are said to be uncoachable. The same applies to some workers in our industry. This last test is the most difficult to assess in our candidates.

In the next three columns, I will address each of these critical questions and attempt to apply them to the three core role positions within a typical retail propane plant. The three most common roles in retail propane are:

Customer Service Representative – For the purposes of this column, this role is multi-tasked but includes clerical data entry, customer service responsibilities via the phone, over the counter customer sales and service and general administrative responsibilities.

Driver/Technician – The most common role in all of our propane companies is that of the driver. Drivers and technicians are at times dual trained, but generally they are separate roles. These are the individuals who have responsibilities for vehicle safety and physical contact with customers, and who are technically proficient in a particular aspect of your business.

Managers – This broad area is anyone in the company who supervises others. It can be a plant manager, a manager of a service team or another type of manager, like an administrative manager.

I will attempt to apply a three-step selection process to provide you with an effective model to use in all hiring situations.

Carl Hughes is vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at 816-842-8181 or by email at

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