Quality Ironworks is a steel fabrication business located in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. They design and install steel structures, stairs, rails, fences and gates, and more.
Quality Ironworks is a faith-based organization that lives by six core values. Chris Widner, head of people operations, was nice enough to speak with us about Quality Ironworks’ emphasis on culture and their ambitious hiring plans.
Beyond relevant skills and experience, what does Quality Ironworks look for in candidates?
We value people who align with our core values. We’re a faith-based organization but we understand not everyone has the same beliefs. But we do try to hire people who will exemplify our values in the way they do their job and interact with coworkers and customers.
We’re in a high-turnover industry. People will change jobs to make even ten cents more an hour. Our values go a long way in creating a work environment where people are happy and supportive of each other and think long and hard before leaving for another opportunity.
How do you identify your core values in candidates during the hiring process?
Depending on the position, we include a question about core values on our online applications. We ask which one resonates the most and why.
What that allows us to do is a few a things. First, we learn if the candidate took the time to look at our website and core values. It’s a ten minute exercise, so if they’re not doing it, they’re probably launching applications out everywhere.
We look for candidates who are specialized but sometimes our job titles are confused for other roles. Using the word “detailers” attracts a lot of auto detailers, which isn’t what we do. Application questions force candidates to learn about our business and prevent the wrong people from applying.
Other times you get cliche or wrong answers. Those answers help you learn if the person can follow directions and communicate well, which is important for our admin roles. Some people look great on paper but give bad application answers. It’s not so much what their answer says but rather if they took the time to polish it.
On a phone interview, the first question I always ask is, “Did you look at our website?” At this point they’re getting an interview, so they should be doing research to prepare. The next question is “What do you know about us?”
I’m looking for them to mention our core values, which the careers section is screaming about. If they don’t mention them, I go over each value and ask, “Which one resonates with you and why?”
I also ask, “What accomplishments are you most proud of?” It’s great to hear how candidates go about achieving goals and if our values are part of their process.
How did hiring based on values become important?
I was originally hired to transform the culture here. Our CEO and founder had always had a vision of running a ministry of 100 people or so. Then it hit him that he runs a company with about 100 people.
That’s how it all started. We wanted to run a company that has values. “Honor God and serve others with an attitude of humility” was already a value but we needed to figure out what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. So I was hired to work on that.
Tell me about your hiring process at Quality Ironworks. What challenges and successes have you experienced?
In 2015, our leadership team set a five-year revenue goal. Then in 2016, we saw some opportunities coming our way. We decided to accelerate our five-year plan and attempt to accomplish our revenue goal in one year.
That required us to double our headcount. The biggest challenge was managing the growth. Growth is exciting but if you don’t manage it well, it can really drain you.
This year we took a step back and revised our hiring plan. We’re working on our internal processes and trying to make things more manageable. For instance, we would like our future hires to be onboarded more quickly. When you’re hiring that fast, you don’t always create the relationships you should with people. I love checking in with people during their first or second week or month. I want them getting to know their new manager and team. And I also want someone on my team checking in with them to make sure everything is going well and we lost that ability growing that fast.
The takeaway was we realized we can do this. We learned our weaknesses and saw that they can be overcome. But we took a step back and thought about what we want to accomplish. Even though our growth was tough, it was a success within itself.
What’s your hiring plan for 2017?
We’ve slowed down tremendously. We’re doing what everyone says they do – we’re going for quality over quantity. We’re raising the bar and moving slower in the hiring process. We’re also implementing new manufacturing software right now and will soon have some powerful analytics that will give us insight into our pipeline.
We’ll soon be able to anticipate hires about three months ahead of time. When we were going fast, we would often get off our hiring plan. I would often find out we needed a new person right away even though it wasn’t part of the plan.
With this new software package and our new focus on operations, we’ll be able to see in advance what positions we need to hire for, so we can plan accordingly.
Can you describe your onboarding process?
We tried to build a really formal route and it didn’t work out for us. It really had to do with not having the right systems in place in other areas. In my ideal world, we would set aside time to ask a core set of questions and document the answers on a one-to-five scale. But we found it was difficult to schedule time to get with folks.
So now we just go and talk with our new hires. Until recently, we had an HR assistant who would do daily walks around the shop. She would check-in with new employees and just ask, “How’s it going? Do you have any questions for me?” What was great is she had an amazing ability, which you don’t see enough in HR, where she was very compassionate toward our team but didn’t overreact to things. She never reported anything to me unless she heard it from three different people. People have bad days but when you start to notice trends, you need to address the problem.
As a result, we identified some managers who weren’t aligned with our core values, in terms of how they’re managing their teams. And sometimes we were surprised, since our interactions with them were always positive. But on the ground level, their team members were saying something different.
Do you have any stories about hiring an impressive candidate?
Yes, our Materials Manager. We hired him to take on a few special projects. We thought he was go-getter, willing to get his hands dirty and do whatever we needed to have happen. He definitely proved that with his special projects and he now oversees all our material handling and purchasing. His influence on our company continues to expand.
On the flipside, we’ve had people who we thought were great but later found out that wasn’t the case. Some people can be a great fit culture wise but don’t have the right skills. The nicest thing you can do is help them move on early versus holding on too long and just hoping something will change.
It sounds like you look for the right mix of skills and culture fit when hiring?
It’s definitely a mix of the both but a lot of times it comes down to a conversation around happiness. If you don’t have the skills to be successful in your job, you’re not going to be happy. Or if you have the right skills but don’t like the culture, you won’t be happy.
What’s the future hold for Quality Ironworks?
I tell my new hires we’re about 50 percent there in terms of being a company that day-in-day-out exemplifies what our core values are. Two years in – considering where we came from – 50 percent is pretty solid. And I’m always going to be harder on us than maybe I should be, so maybe we’re more like 65 percent there.
I think with the right operations and tools, we’re going to make it a lot easier for our people to know what to do next. We’re realizing the right systems and processes is critical for new hires and culture, in general. Its often overlooked but we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do with everything in place.