For DeLine, the decision was clear. Since last December, he has almost completely replaced his staff of 40. The effort to improve customer service, product development and sales paid off big in the first quarter of 2001: Phone volume was up 15 percent and Web reservations were up 450 percent over the prior year. Sales now average $15 million. "No way is it too late to replace mediocrity [with] talented, smart people," says DeLine, 40. "You can be a lot pickier now."
A year ago, Craig Schiff, 44, was more tolerant of low performers. But the founder and CEO of Stamford, Connecticut-based technology company OutlookSoft is now receiving resumes from people coming out of failed start-ups. Now he can be a "little harsher" in evaluating the skills and productivity of his 90-plus employees, and he's begun weeding out underperformers.
"I can look around and say 'Are these the people who will take us to the next level?' And if not, are some of these resumes coming my way the ones that'll do it?" Schiff says. The company is hiring aggressively in the sales and service areas, and annual sales are about $6 million.
The soft economy has left more quality people than positions in some cases, and applicants who would have been hired in a heartbeat even six months ago are going through multiple interviews and reference checks. "Placements that we used to flip in a couple of days are taking weeks," says John Doffing, founder and CEO of StartUpAgent Inc., a San Francisco Internet talent search firm. "Employers are waiting for the perfect person, rather than the almost-perfect person."
When StartUpAgent recruited for a content manager position this spring, it received nearly 500 resumes within a 72-hour period-all great applicants, says Doffing. "It epitomized to me how things have come full circle. It's a great time for companies to be hiring."
This pendulum shift has employees on edge. Where there was a degree of hubris, there's now "a new rationalism. People are realizing how competitive it is," Doffing says. Employees who once knew that they were hard to replace are asking Schiff whether he's happy with their job performance. "They're very concerned with the market changes out there, and they want to stay here."