Finding the One

Make your own luck when it comes to hiring

Have you ever said to yourself, “Thank heaven we’ve found someone to fill the position for general manager or produce mansger or deli manager?” They seemed nice enough at the interview. Said everything you like to hear. And as an added bonus they have even worked for a co-op before. A stroke of luck, finally!

Then, after the three, six, or even 12-month honeymoon is over and the person’s true talents and shortcomings start to show, you wonder why didn’t we see this before.

Often we can be blinded by our desire to hire when a position has been open for a long time and people are becoming burnt out from working the extra shifts. Or maybe (as Carolee Colter wrote in the Jan.-Feb. 2004 CG) we don’t find the person with the right motivational fit for the job. I think it is a combination of these things and a failure to plan.

So, what should you do? First, don’t hire from the depths of desperation. Many co-ops have and almost always end up regretting it. Take a step away from the interview and think on it outside the store, seek counsel from another person in your position who can help you look at it objectively. You’ve waited this long—a few extra days and a view from the outside can make all the difference in the world.

Next, look at your interview questions: Do they give you the answers you want or the answers you need? Do they tell you about how this person thinks they would react to a situation or how they did act in a situation? Walk them through the store: what does their body language tell you?

Is coming from another co-op always a plus? It depends on the co-op and how well it is run. While this person may come from the co-op culture, it is a culture too varied to have face value. It is worth your time to check outside sources.

What was management like at the other store? Yes, the candidate may have been on or led a management team, but was it a good management team? Was the team accountable?

Can the person show some of the systems he or she worked with? How did she order? Does he really understand margin? Can she show you some actual numbers achieved?

Was he handling sales similar to yours? Did she manage a crew of two or 10? This can make a huge difference in whether they can delegate or not.

Were he or she good to work with? What were her quality standards? Do you have any photos of the department? These are all things to help you make the best decision.

Another place to look is within. Sometimes you can find gems if you just look closely, especially if you have someone with passion that knows and loves the department and store. You may often find you have a better fit right under your nose.

Remember, someone can learn systems and ordering, but it’s hard to teach dedication or desire. I have been involved with several projects where a dedicated and talented employee with a proven track record of timeliness, hard work, and common sense has been passed over because of lack of experience in management or because he or she hadn’t worked in the department before, only to be hired six months later when the new hire didn’t work out.

That leads to the part about planning to fail or failing to plan. We can grow leaders right in our own stores if we invest in our good people and make growing a part of the store culture. If we are going to grow leaders in our stores, we have to start with a good foundation a foundation built on them having been given the tools to manage, held together with the strength of accountability and the opportunity to always improve.

We may want this environment but not know where to start. It starts with developing job standards and writing them down—and really looking into what it takes to do the job, not just how it’s been done forever. When you start, this don’t be surprised to hear a manager say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” when asked why things are done a certain way. Make a point to start teaching WHY and not just HOW.

The hard part often is in getting the old guard to give up the knowledge that they have spent a career collecting. This can be kind of scary to some managers. When I ask them to do this, they wonder if it will make them obsolete and are concerned about their job security. But the process of writing they often find to be very revealing and freeing at the same time.

This also gives the store some security in knowing it won’t have to reinvent the wheel if someone does leave. This opens the door for managers to see what they need to do, ask what they want to do, and look at what they can pass on to others in order to grow themselves. Once this starts, it can become the norm.

Workers in the department come to know that learning new parts of the job is expected and that growing their skills makes working at the co-op more enjoyable. The manager in turn knows that each member of his or her crew is growing as a leader and contributes to the overall running of the department. Managers often find that in their absence the department runs just as well or better. This allows the manager to grow the department in other ways and to be training his or her successor.

What if the manager is growing and loves their job and newfound responsibilities so much that he or she never wants to leave? If he or she is really growing and everyone is growing as well, the whole store wins.

When I gave up ordering and buying every day of the week, it created new positions for others and allowed me to start several community-based programs. That kind of growth isn’t the only positive. When a crewmember has reached full potential or is ready to move on, perhaps another co-op can benefit by hiring a rising star.

Coming from such a situation is when having an applicant who worked at another co-op really would be a plus.

Yes, hiring heaven can wait, and it can be worth it. But heaven doesn’t always have to wait when you are growing for the future.

See other articles from this issue: #114 September - October - 2004