As the only management position, in my new role as the division head for a new chain of coffee houses, I was now in charge of site selection, lease negotiation, store design, construction, marketing, training, recruiting, operations, sales, human resources, buying and everything else that needed to get done. I was coming behind a Starbucks recruit as his successor. His ways had not worked for our company. I was nervous as the retail/hospitality environment was new to our whole company.
Oh, but I forgot, I was given permission to hire an operations manager to help me. This was my first decision that would set the stage for the team that would grow this new chain of coffee houses.
Traditional Hiring Criteria
I was so nervous and there were many things to consider in making this first hire. I knew this would be one of the most important decisions of the division’s future. Here were some of the considerations:
- Expertise – making sure the candidate complimented my contribution. I didn’t have a background in operational management.
- Culture – the Starbucks’ folks who started the division did not match our seeded, regional, family-owned business culture. This was their downfall. I knew that I had to get a closer match with the company’s culture and values for this person to be successful.
- Work Ethic – the parent company is known for professionals who really work hard. If you weren’t comfortable with a minimum 50-hour work week… you wouldn’t survive. (I don’t agree with this–at the time it was just a fact.)
- Flexibility – there would only be two of us to start. Whatever I didn’t do, this person would have to do.
These were a few of the criteria that plagued me as I interviewed and tried to decide whom to hire as my right hand. The decision I made on paper wouldn’t make sense to anyone.
It didn’t follow logic or lean on experience. It was all about HEART and INTUITION. We had to think on our feet, be comfortable with constant change, problem solve by the minute, and be willing to jump back in, even if we messed up.
We had to love it, take full ownership, be willing to sacrifice, and enter what I called “The Season of Humility.” I was on my fifth promotion with the company and I felt as incompetent as the first day I started working there as an entry level financial analyst.
So, in all of my experience and performance with the company, given the opportunity to hire the linchpin that we would build the team around, I hired an internal candidate, another person from the company’s base business.
In 4 years, we would grow to a team of 400 employees. One of the Board of Directors for the company was the CEO and President of Ruby Tuesdays. I remember him telling me once that even as the CEO he still spent at least one-third of his time on people issues. He said he had imagined he would always have a hand in recruiting and leading, and told me it was the most important thing he could spend his time on.
His words made a big impact on me. I knew that building the team would be one of the most important activities I would spend my time on. I think I personally interviewed at least 85% of the eventual 400 employees. I started out hand-picking the one operations manager and together she and I grew to 30 stores, which required 2 regional managers, 3 district managers, 2 trainers, 2 full-time recruiters, an expansion manager, 2 marketing professionals and a host of store personnel.
Recruit 24/7, 365 Days A Year
To accomplish this, we were continuously recruiting. We talked about our needs with vendors, customers, friends and family. Recruiting became a process and we built a fabulous team. This team had unity. They had each others’ backs. I had to make them go home sometimes because they would just keep working. They loved what they did.
It more than paid-off for me to stay entrenched in the division hiring, performance management, and organizational development. It kept my INTUITION honed and it was also the most FUN part of my job. I loved selling our concept to prospective candidates.
You could visibly see their eyes start to sparkle in an interview as they listened to the vision of this family-owned coffee chain. I knew when the light brightened in their eyes that they wanted the job. Then, I could focus on if they were the right candidate.
Promote From Within When Possible
This was important when hiring externally, but also for our internal team. We wanted to promote from within whenever possible. The rapid growth provided many opportunities. We spent a considerable amount of time keeping our employees updated about our expansion plans. We talked up future opportunities and we defined for them the hiring criteria for each new position.
Many, many conversations occurred about what an employee needed to develop in order to be ready when the next opportunity came along. We were incredibly open with the team; several employees did get new opportunities, yet many weren’t ready yet. We had a balancing act and I could see how finding and cultivating the team would always take that 33% of my time.
Our Teams Must Embrace Vision and Values
If you are a Christian business owner, there are a few things that are probably true for all of us:
- God gave us the vision for our business.
- We want to build our business on rock, not sand – which means building it on Christian values.
- We want our team to embrace our vision and our values.
Our people are the core of our business. In God’s economy, people and relationships are the only currency. To build a foundation on rock, not sand, our team needs to see the vision and reflect our values. It isn’t likely that our business will really match our ideal without the right team.
You can hire recruiters or outside recruiting agencies to do the legwork for you. I just recommend that whenever possible to be involved in the final hiring decision yourself.
Does your team care about the vision of your company? Do they fully embrace and match your core values? Do you see this as foundational to building a strong team? I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments.
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