Growing your business sustainably requires shifting into a higher gear, not just working harder. Accomplishing such a shift usually involves effective delegation, which starts with hiring someone to whom you can delegate. Hiring is a critical management activity and not to be treated cavalierly.

In REMODELING’s July issue, I focused my column on identifying the right time to hire — an essential task because even the best hire, if made at the wrong time, creates problems rather than solutions.

When your analysis indicates that the time is right, start by writing a job description for the position you want to fill. Be clear about tasks, accountabilities, and criteria for evaluating performance. Include both essential and desired characteristics. To attract high-caliber candidates, instead of just defining the immediate position, identify possibilities for future advancement.

With description in hand, search first within your personal and professional network. If a viable candidate can be found within your current contacts, you’ll avoid a costly and time-consuming general search.

If your personal network fails to produce a viable candidate, the next step is to solicit résumés (not phone calls) with ads that clearly state your essential criteria. Review and rank the responses, enlisting an additional set of eyes for this initial screening.

For key positions, call the top five candidates and ask them open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Contact references, once again asking open-ended questions.

Interview the top three candidates in person. Start with number three for practice and work your way up to the strongest candidate.

In addition to general conversation about their experience, ask all three several identical questions so you can compare responses. Conduct second interviews if warranted.

When appropriate, allow current staff to meet the candidate before you make an offer. When you do make an offer, specify that the 30- to 60-day probationary period will be followed by a performance review.

Hiring is rarely a short-term fix. Expect a lag between start date and increased productivity. Guard against hiring based on whimsy or impulse. A good hiring process yields a substantial ROI because it can reduce turnover, increase performance, and help your company shift smoothly into a higher gear.

More REMODELING articles about hiring:

Building Capacity: Knowing when is the right time to hire

It’s Hiring Time: How Much Help Can You Afford?

Hire Power: A new process for interviewing potential hires