I Fired Santa.

“He’s doing it again, Rich, and customers and employees are irritated with him” said Tina, my department manager.

“Are you serious?” I said  “I just had another talk with him a couple days ago and he promised me he would stop! I will talk to him again.”

Being the long time retail anchor in downtown Missoula, it was up to us to provide the “official” Santa Clause for the community.  Every parent wants to have a picture of their little one with St. Nick.

Up until then, I had no problem because I just simply hired the gentleman who had been doing it for the past decade, but this year he was no longer physically able to play the roll.  I had to find a new Santa and I hit the jackpot – I thought – when I discovered a professional birthday clown/Santa Clause looking for work!  He had experience, could tie balloon animals, and had his own Santa suit!

We set up his chair, the camera, and backdrop along a main aisle.  We ran an ad in the Missoulain and posted his hours throughout the store.  Now I could focus my attention and concentrate on executing the store’s Holiday sales, profit, credit, and customer service strategies.

Instead, we quickly discovered our new Santa had a very odd personality – one that my customers and employees found very irritating. Irritating enough to complain and avoid him.

He would make a strange comment or crack an awkward joke to everybody who walked by him – nothing inappropriate but strange.  It got to the point where my employees would take another longer route in order to avoid having to walk by him when they saw he didn’t have a kid on his lap.

I sat down with him in my office, with him in full costume, and had a “fierce conversation”  letting him know that I had received complaints and that he needs to concentrate more on being jolly and less on being irritating. He initially resisted but after I gave him several examples of his irritating behavior, he agreed that he would  try to do better.

This was Santa’s first warning.

I noticed an improvement in his behavior but that only lasted two days. He reverted back into his old irritating ways and the complaints started again.  I sat down with him again, again with him in full costume, and we had our second “fierce conversation” where I told him that he needs to alter his behavior quickly. He’s driving customers away and irritating my team causing a reduction in their productivity.  The critical Christmas season is short and I can’t afford to have Santa hurting my business.

This was Santa’s second warning.

Again, it took another two days before his behavior to reverted back to his irritating ways which led to the conversation at the beginning of this post.  Well, I had had enough and sat Santa Clause down in my office for the final time, again him in full costume, and said the words “I’m sorry, Santa, but I am going to have to let you go.  It’s just not working out.”

I had just fired Santa.

So now I had no Santa.  Now what?  Well, all I know is that the General Manager of the store (me) would mysteriously disappear whenever Santa showed up to for his shift…

You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right.

This story points out that we occasionally have to do some very uncomfortable disciplinary action on employees or independent contractors.   I sure could have avoided dealing with the situation, he was Santa after all.  And he was only going to be in the store for a couple more weeks.

You have to have the courage to do what’s right.

Even if it’s firing Santa.

How We Staffed a New Uranium Mine

Last year I started a series of posts describing how I went about developing and executing the strategy to staff the new uranium mine my company recently built.  I decided that I don’t like the series and decided to just write up a new single post instead.

Here it is…

I was given the task to hire 50 employees in south central Wyoming to staff and operate our in-situ uranium mine, the newest – and one of only six – in the US. Because of the permitting process and the uncertainty of timing, I was given only two months to fill 50 jobs. In addition to the short time frame, the local job market was very tight and the skill-sets needed to staff the mine were very specialized and rare.

So I developed a three part strategy.

First, I identified and developed relationships with the key people in the communities – these included city and county politicians, the heads of the workforce centers and business councils, media/journalists, education leaders, chamber leaders, etc. I made a lot of phone calls, knocked on a lot of doors, and visited the communities telling people the Ur-Energy story. I gave formal presentations in front of council meetings and met with people in their offices and in a coffee shops. I continued to keep them in the loop sharing new news by emailing, calling or visiting with them when I was in town. This helped the folks in the communities put a face to the company and engendered their strong support.

Next, I had to determine the local skill-set inventory, which I was able to accomplish, in large part, through my relationships with the key community members. I discovered that the current major employers in the area had jobs with skill-sets that could transfer to our operation. I also was able to determine the best way to advertise the job through some trial and error along with local input and advice. Radio was by far the most effective means and generated nearly 90% of our candidate flow.

Finally, I designed an efficient in house hiring system that enabled us to process the nearly 300 candidates and 50 new hires. I started by running radio ads designed to reach currently employed candidates. I backed that up with newspaper ads and Workforce Services opened up their offices for s series of job fairs throughout the month and a half. I trained our supervisors how to conduct effective interviews and made them practice by role-playing. I also set up a candidate tracking system, local drug screening process, background screening, and established an on-boarding procedure.

The end result was completing the hiring campaign ahead of schedule and right on budget. Hiring 50 candidates who had the skills or transferable skills to do the specialized jobs needed at the mine. In addition, the turnover rate was 24% compared to the 90-100% expected by management from their previous start up experience.

Developing the Strategy for Staffing a New Mine – Establish Contact With Employment Agencies

The second thing I did, while continuing developing relationships in the communities, was to focus in on connecting with the employment agencies in the communities from which we were going to hire.

I simply contacted the Rawlins and Riverton Wyoming Department of Workforce Service offices and set up face to face meetings with the respective directors.  I also met with the regional director so that she understood our employment needs and could help.  I met up with these good folks many times throughout the process either by dropping in on them when I was in town or when I was attending the same community meetings they were also attending.  I also kept them in the loop by sending them copies of our news releases so they could more easily monitor our progress as we went through the permitting process.

This effort established trust and credibility in me with the folks at the employment agencies which was very valuable when we officially launched our hiring efforts. As an extra bonus, I can call these people friends!

Staffing a New Mine From Scratch – Introduction

I think I’m safe claiming that not a lot of HR professionals have been responsible for staffing a new mine from scratch – much less a new uranium mine.  There are currently eight (including ours) uranium mines operating in the United States with the most recent one, before ours, coming on line two years ago in Texas.  When we were finally given the green light to start construction of the mine in October of 2012, I had to start the implementation of the plan I had been working on for four years.  I want to share the steps I took in a multi-part series of posts, starting with this introduction.

It took a lot of work laying important foundations during the four years because there was no HR department when I started.  Everything basically was built from scratch along the way.  There are also not a lot of experienced uranium miners to recruit and hire.  It was a challenging undertaking but that’s what made it rewarding and interesting!

I’m very proud of what we accomplished and want to share it here on Hard Hat HR.  Hopefully you will find it interesting and helpful if and when you need to staff a new and remote start-up operation.  A lot of what we did can be applied to other industries but you will discover much of what we were able to successfully implement will only work in smaller rural communities – “Hard Hat” communities if you will.