Impact players are employees whose knowledge, skills and work habits make them exceptionally productive. Of course, one always wants to hire new employees who have these attributes. In this post-recession period, financial managers are beginning to give lab managers the resources to increase new employee hiring. However, the number of new hires is very limited at most laboratories. Both financial and business managers are looking over lab managers' shoulders to assure themselves that they are making good hiring decisions, in other words that new employees begin to contribute both quickly and significantly to help develop new products and processes and supply high quality customer support.

So what can lab managers do to help assure that the staff members they hire will rapidly become impact players?

Look for problem solvers

The best indicator of future performance is past performance. Look for job candidates who have been outstanding problem solvers in previous jobs or in their academic work. Look for evidence of this when you review résumés, discuss candidates with their references, and then interview them. Listen especially carefully when candidates provide examples of their problem solving skills. When they provide these examples, ask additional questions to determine what impact their results had in terms of bring new products to market, new processes to market or increases in previous employers' business.

Often the hunt for new staff members who will have both a rapid and significant effect on lab productivity means hiring experienced people. Industrial experience can hone problem solving skills while providing knowledge of how to get things done in an industrial work environment. So while experienced staff members can cost more, they are often worth the extra money.

Structuring salary policies

One way to deal with financial managers' concerns over the higher salaries one usually offers experienced new employees is to use novel payment structures based on contributions. For example, one can offer job candidates a lower starting salary with rapid increases; say a 3-month and a 6-month raise, contingent on performance. Alternatively, lab managers can make these raises contingent upon achieve of project milestones or specified performance levels.

Look for flexibility

In addition to looking for outstanding problem solvers, lab managers should look for other skills and accomplishments. For example, experienced researchers often have first-hand experience with the process of recognizing inventions and working with patent attorneys to obtain U.S. patents. They could serve as mentors working with younger coworkers educating them about the patenting process from the researchers' perspective and mentoring younger colleagues.

Experienced new hires often come from laboratories employing different workplace procedures. Some of these may be more cost-effective than current ways your laboratory does things. They can help lab managers explore and implement new, improved operational procedures.

Aim for an age mix when hiring new employees

Of course one doesn't want to hire only experienced employees. Recent graduates often bring with them knowledge of and experience with new synthesis methods and instrumental analysis techniques. Combining these attributes with the skills and perspectives of experienced staff members can create a synergistic mix that increases productivity.

Sometimes, not always, younger job candidates have better or broader computer skills than older laboratory staff members. On the other hand, some of their soft skills such as written communication, oral communication and time management skills often are weaker and their can benefit from mentoring by older, more skilled colleagues. Thus having an age mix of employees can improve productivity through knowledge transfer among lab employees.

Younger new hires often require more time to adapt to working in industrial laboratory workplace cultures than more seasoned new hires. This can lessen their short term impact on laboratory results and their employer's bottom line. Having seasoned coworkers as mentors can reduce the time younger new hires need to get up to speed.