Hiring, firing and creating a culture of accountability

My mother knew instantly what kind of character a person had. One time we were opening a restaurant and she came to help plant the front area.  I don’t think 30 minutes had gone by before she told me the GM we had hired was “completely worthless” my bosses at the time, who owned most of the business, chose to keep the person and later my mothers wisdom proved to be correct. My mother also told me that my boss’s ego “filled the entire room” and would be trouble for the company.  While she was right about that as well, my boss was also a very patient person who taught me many valuable lessons.

Unfortunately my mom passed away a few years ago and I no longer have her around to be a character judge for me.  If I did, I would now sit her with any potential new hires (more importantly, would be clients) and have her give me her famously brutal yet insightful opinions.  But what has often occurred to me often since then is how important it is to surround yourself with the right people.  I am a “glass half full” person and often find myself wanting to give a person a chance, work harder to motivate them and assume it may be my leadership that is keeping them from growing.  Now, however, my assumption is that person probably doesn't have the drive if it isn't readily visible from the start.  I wish there was a test that could give a rock solid indication that a person has the drive that makes up “the right stuff”.  It isn't always apparent, but for me I look for a sense of excitement and passion. 

A few years ago I met a guy who I like a great deal personally, as well as professionally, when interviewing him to take over the facilities department at a challenged company.   The way his eyes lit up when he talked about the details of how refrigeration systems work and how he loved explaining it, was a sign he loved what he did.  He also brought a picture from the front cover of a facilities industry magazine showing him waist deep inside a pizza oven doing God knows what to it 3 am.  He loved telling how he had figured out some big problem with the oven systems and I had a pretty good indication I was talking to the right person.  Now he is all about coming up with a solution for raised rail refrigeration units using glycol as the cooling mechanism. He calls this “Project Neptune” and I love listening to how excited he gets talking about it.  His attitude was what impressed me at first and his leadership skills and experience sealed the deal. 

I have always heard that Walt Disney hired by personality as opposed to experience.   Having a great attitude can get you far in life. I can think of several examples of great people I have worked with that had little experience, but had a good attitude that was unexpected and set them apart.   Not long ago when setting up a restaurant, I was in charge of remodeling, several of the staff that worked for the company in different departments were present.  I was doing what I typically do, opening boxes getting things set up and doing the décor direction while waiting for the questions that everyone always has.  It’s always interesting to me who steps up and starts chipping in, moving things around to get things out of the way and making themselves useful. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t explain to people how to do.  One person who (worked in the purchasing department) was all over the place helping out. Didn't once ask me what to do, she just started doing it. Later, when I was asked if that person could join the development department I said yes right way. With no experience, she is now doing a great job at the company and fills a role that it generally takes a higher level person to fulfill. 

A mistake many make is hanging on to people who aren't cutting it. I have done it more than once.  It’s tough for a lot of reasons. For me, I feel that it’s my responsibility to assist everyone person that works with me to advance their career in whatever ways I can.  So if a person doesn’t try for more and want to achieve greater things I feel I need to try a different approach. Everyone has the ability to do great things if they want to. In some cases, no one has ever asked a person to step and participate at a higher level so they simply don’t know how.  Tell them how and show them by example.  Set clear expectations and revisit them often on an individual basis.     

 It’s tough to have that conversation with the people who aren't achieving their potential. But not having the conversation isn't helping them either.  One time many years ago, my two bosses sat me down told me they were struggling with putting up with me having a less than stellar attitude and they were thinking of letting me go.  It was a huge turning point for me and I recall wanting to prove them wrong and immediately changed my habits.  I assume that as we age we are less likely to change, but you have nothing to lose by not being honest and setting the bar where it needs to be.  Think of the best person you have ever hired or worked with.  Compare them to everyone on your team.  Imagine if everyone was up to that standard.  

Creating a great team means having very high standards and holding everyone, including yourself, accountable.  No one can grow if there isn't a culture that, by design, has accountability built in to the fiber.