When you’re increasing production or expanding your facilities and have to staff a lot of people at once, why not take the opportunity to hire the absolute best?

The U.S. economy has been growing slowly but steadily since the recession of 2008, fueling investments in new construction. If you’re one of those moving to expand or build a new plant in order to maximize the productivity and performance of your operation, you must view getting the right people in place as part of a successful expansion strategy .

Think about it: Other companies might have the same machines you do, but they don’t have the same people. Taking time to ensure candidates mirror your company’s values greatly reduces turnover, which results in more efficiency and more streamlined growth.

What’s more, by investing in strong employees—both when you’re hiring them and through regular, robust training—you’re laying the groundwork for a healthy company culture that people want to be part of. Team members get to go to jobs they enjoy every day, and you get a high-performing workforce that boosts your bottom line.

It seems logical. And yet, all too often I see company leaders focus more on the logistics than the people when they’re looking to expand or make a greenfield investment, sometimes even outsourcing the hiring process entirely.

Greenfield projects require a tremendous amount of resources—money, technology, and physical space. But what will make or break a facility’s success is the people.

Narrowing the Field

In order to find high-quality employees when hiring en masse, I always recommend a funnel process that allows you to cull the best employees from large numbers of applicants:

1. Utilize mass hiring simulations. Typically, human resources first screens applicants through phone calls. Next, you should conduct hiring simulations with candidates who stand out during phone interviews.

In a simulation, between five and 25 candidates can participate in groups to accomplish a series of exercises. These very simple group games allow you to observe the candidates’ self-initiative, team leadership, and problem-solving skills, as well as more specific, job-related attributes that will be critical to the role’s day-to-day performance.

When JEDA Polymers, a producer and developer in the plastic industry, moved its entire manufacturing plant from Illinois to Iowa and building a new facility, co-owner Ronda Haskell needed to hire an entire production line of new employees. Hiring simulations allowed her to get it done without  hurting JEDA’s high standards.

“I never realized you could find out so much about a person without asking a single question,” Haskell said.

2. Compile a peer hiring team. Involving team members in the hiring process not only produces a better outcome, but also allows you to build respect and dramatically increase trust. For instance, you can have top employees from a sister plant be on the hiring team for the mass simulation. Because they already know the ins and outs of the job, they will be looking for the qualities—character traits and abilities—that are necessary to make the new plant successful.

3. Conduct behavior-based interviews. While traditional interview questions usually focus on technical, job-related skills, behavior-based questions are said to be five times more indicative of future performance. How candidates use their skills is more important than simply having those skills.

Supervisors and managers may need to be trained on how to interview. A hiring team can prepare in less than a day with training on what’s legal and illegal to ask, how to craft effective behavior-based questions, how to probe for deeper information and how to conduct a group interview. The session could close with the team mock-interviewing three potential candidates and making decisions on which, if any, meet their high standards.

Examples of behavior-based questions include:

• Describe a time when you took on additional work to help your team meet a crucial work goal.

• Give an example of when you put the interests of the team ahead of your own.

• Tell about a situation when you made sure all parts of a task (large and small) were accomplished without anything being overlooked.

AltraBiofuels, a producer of ethanol and biodiesel products, used this entire process to narrow down an overwhelming number of applicants for its greenfield plant in Coshocton, Ohio. The company had 1,200 candidates apply, several hundred make it to the phone interview phase, and then 150 that moved on to the hiring simulation. The peer hiring team selected 40 of the best for front-line operators.

When new employees exceed performance expectations, even while still on a learning curve, it raises the bar for everyone, and the entire organization benefits.

Sue Bingham is the founder and principal of HPWP Consulting, a company that focuses on organizational improvement to create high-performing workplaces.