by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Firing people is no fun. But it’s almost always the fault of the person or group who did the hiring in the first place, not the one being fired. Why? Because they are who they are, and didn’t suddenly change when they started working for you. The fact you didn’t determine in the hiring process that they were lazy, sloppy, chronically late, disorganized, obstinate, or incompetent is your problem, not theirs. Their job is to present the best portrait of themselves; yours is to get to the truth.

But how? What can you possibly do — in the course of a typical hiring exercise — to know what this employee will be like a month or a year from now? You can’t, with certainty. But these steps increase the chances that your next wellness hire is everything you’d hoped for and more:

  • Skip the resume (at least to start). They’re full of embellishments and half-truths, and are often put together with help from friends, family, or professors, over extended periods. Unless you’re going to hire them all, the resume isn’t much help.

  • Ask the person to write you a letter explaining why they want to work for you. Smart people are usually good communicators. And a huge part of wellness is about communication. If they simply restate what sounds like a resume in paragraph form, they didn’t pay attention to the question and won’t be a good communicator. You’re looking for something from the heart... a letter that shows they gave this some serious thought.

  • Have a couple phone discussions. Seeing someone can introduce bias that you’re not even aware you have. And what a person looks like is almost always irrelevant. You’re not going to have a resume in front of you, so the call will feel more like a conversation. Your goal is to get the prospective employee to talk as much about themselves as possible. So ask open-ended questions — tell me about… describe for me… share your experience… — then sit back and listen. Their responses will lead you to your next question. Focus less on technical expertise than personal attributes in your initial conversations. You and your participants are going to work with the person, not the 4.0 they got in kinesiology.

  • Invite them in for a meeting with a handful of staff members and/or participants (if the steps above go well). Ask them to bring enough copies of their resume to share. Let the group ask the questions while you observe the interaction. You’re looking for their ability to converse, answer questions under pressure, and a genuine personality. This can be nerve-wracking for the interviewee, so don’t count nervousness against them.

At this point you can eliminate candidates — do it with a positive-sounding letter. The next steps are intense for you and the candidate, so you don’t want to put either of you through it without good reason. Your goal is to hire 1 great employee, not choose from multiple candidates that don’t excite you.

Don’t Cut Corners

These final steps are critical in getting the right person; shortcut them at your own peril:

  • Develop a skills test. You have a job description, now create exercises that will give you a sense of the candidate’s ability to do the job. This is hard work for you. It forces you to really think through specific responsibilities, what’s most important, and the standards you expect, then come up with a reliable, fair approach. Our skills tests — depending on the position — last anywhere from an afternoon to a week. We’ve had people we didn’t hire describe it as “brutal,” and those that we did as “fun.”

  • Call references. You want to talk with former supervisors and colleagues. Again, ask lots of open-ended questions. “Tell me about your experiences working with Jerry… What was Jerry’s work style like… Talk about some of his projects… Share some things that he found difficult…” If you listen long enough, you’ll get a sense of their feeling for the candidate, which is the most important thing you want to know.

    Note: Many organizations have policies saying you can only confirm dates of employment, which is pretty useless. When we get to the point of contacting references we tell the prospective employee that we’re very serious about them, that we’re calling references because we’re considering making an offer, and that it’s vital we have an open, honest conversation with former supervisors and colleagues. We simply cannot extend an offer without it. That almost always opens up the channels. If it doesn’t, consider walking away.

Be prepared for this to take time, but don’t drag it out unnecessarily either. Once you think you’ve found the right person, complete the process promptly.

If you’re a wellness manager who's hiring employees (full-time, part-time, or contract), it is your most important responsibility. Nothing else comes close. Give this the time and effort it requires. You never want to worry about letting someone go because you didn’t do your job well to start.


by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Whenever we review promotion strategies for clients we collect samples. Maybe the biggest shortcoming we see is not asking potential participants to register — up front and often. Usually readers have to wade through a bunch of copy before the piece finally gets around to asking them to sign up.

To make sure you’re getting to the point (participation) of the web page, email, flier, brochure, or letter try these techniques:

  • At the beginning — Ask participants to sign up in the headline or opening sentence. “Walk This Weigh Guarantees Weight Loss Success — Sign Up Today.”

  • In the middle — After you’ve described the main benefits, insert a “Don’t delay” or “Why wait?” message, then proceed with “And there are 4 more reasons you’ll want to register now …”

  • At the end or in the PS — Close with a summary sign-up message like “With all these advantages, it’s easy to see how much you’ll get …” or include a bonus statement like “Register by September 1 and you’ll not only be guaranteed a spot in the XYZ program, you’ll be eligible for …”

If you have a good service, don’t hesitate in asking people to get involved now — because they benefit and so does the organization.


by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the next time you hear a speaker or vendor toss one out you’ll have another perspective to reference:

  • Best practice. It’s a nice idea that doesn’t exist for anything in behavior change. Often plastered on vendor websites or marketing brochures, it’s an attempt to convey extensive research and the best science in delivering services. But the lack of sustainable success across populations for any intervention makes it moot.

  • ROI. Everyone wants to know “what’s your ROI” for this or that. Unless you’re willing to invest a lot of years and way more money than the intervention costs, there’s no way you can measure ROI for anything in wellness. There are just too many subjective variables you can’t control. Don’t feel bad; almost every discretionary benefit in business can’t be reduced to dollars and cents. They’re just not concrete enough to quantify.

  • Secret sauce. It’s touted as what makes your intervention so delicious that other people haven’t figured out. But there are no secrets in wellness — just little victories you build on over time to serve your population better, limit the rate of health risk increase, and, you hope, contribute to your organization's overall effectiveness and success.