How to hire, train, and maintain an hourly workforce

Archive for the category “Hiring”

Great Doesn’t Happen By Accident… Indoctrination

Navy seals What Does It Take To Build And Develop A Truly Great Team?  Part 4 of a series… So here we are in part 4 of this synopsis of my 70 or so post series, walking through hiring the best hourly team members, indoctrinating them onto our team, choosing the right apprentices, and changing the culture of our team from the one that allowed us to be average to one that will not allow average people to remain on the team.  The original posts can be found here starting with hiring… We’ve talked about the importance of hiring for qualities rather than skills (remember, we are hiring hourly team members, from no experience/entry level to Store Team Leaders) since we can train almost anyone pretty much any skills that might be needed, however we cannot teach qualities…   Qualities are the things that make our best people “clone worthy”. We’ve also talked about using the “ketchup question” when hiring for customer service, and the need to determine the default customer service level of your applicant. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1part 2, and part 3. So… we’ve interviewed our applicant by making them comfortable, and getting to know them through an in depth conversation, where we asked questions to find the behaviors that describe the Leadership qualities we are hiring for. And, we’ve decided to hire the person siting in front of us. Now what?  Well… In order to build a truly great team, we cannot allow our great new hire to simply adapt to the team as it stands.  We will simply end up with yet another mediocre team member. First step: Before I leave the room I will spend another 45 to 60 minutes with my new hire.  Yup… another hour to make sure that I get them off on the right foot invested now will pay off in more ways than you will believe. Remember, great does not happen by accident.  We are not satisfied with the standards of behavior, or the culture of our current team (if you are, good for you!  Keep up the great work!), and it is going to take hard work and tough decisions in order to affect the change that needs to happen.  You can do this, and you need to start today… right here and right now. You will invest the time and energy to get this new hire fired up.  You need them to come onto your team with a full understanding of the new standards you will be holding the team to.  You need to indoctrinate them with your excitement about what the team is going to be like, how excited you are to have them on your team, the important role they will play in achieving the goals of the team, and how interested you are in helping them achieve their goals (you just got done talking to them for an hour… you better be able to talk in depth about their goals!). Some people will state that they don’t like the word indoctrinate… and that’s OK.  You don’t have to use that word if it makes you feel uncomfortable.  And… Think of the best, strongest, and highest performing teams you can.  Perhaps the Navy Seals come to mind?  I grew up in the town that borders West Point… that comes to my mind (and where I hope our 17 year old will go)…  Now, do those teams welcome and train their newest team members?  Is there coffee, nice music playing in the background while we talk about how we like our team members to treat each other with the same respect you would like to be shown?   Not so much… What kind of process is it? I’ll give you a hint… it’s indoctrination.  Before anyone is brought onto the team they are told that it will be a difficult job, that it will be hard work, that you’re your teammates will be committed to excellence, and that you will be expected to uphold the highest standards of behavior and performance. I don’t believe that there is any way to maintain that level of performance without some form of indoctrination.  You don’t have to agree, and has what you’ve been doing gotten you a great team?  Is there a reason you can’t have a team that functions at an incredibly high level?  This process of hiring for qualities and indoctrinating every one of my new hires worked wonderfully for me, and that’s why I’m suggesting you take a chance and go for great! Whatever you choose to call it, if you want to achieve and maintain a very high level of performance, you will have to instill your new hire with the values and beliefs of your team.  Make sure they understand how much you value having them on the team, and that you are looking forward to them using their experience and knowledge to help the team improve everything it does. This is not something that you can delegate, nor can it be left to someone who does not even work on your team.  You, and only you (because you are the team Leader) can instill your new hires with your excitement about the future of the team, your passion for the success of the team, the rewards that come from achieving the goals of the team, and what the future can/will hold for your new hire.  If you feel you have found a great addition to the team, make sure they really understand how excited you are about having them on the team, and how they will be a key player in helping the team achieve it’s goals. If you do this right, your new hire will come in for his or her first day of work with more motivation that anyone currently on your team.  And as long as you continue to stay involved in their work and development, you can help them maintain that level of engagement. I believe that team member engagement is all about our relationship with the person to whom we report.  So you are starting to build that strong, trusting relationship the day you decide to hire them! Since we are transparent, we make sure our new hire understands that we are a team in transition. That means they might work with team members who are not upholding the expectations we just discussed, or acting in a manor consistent with the culture we described, and that does not mean it is OK for our new hire to do anything other than meet or exceed those expectations. We will explain that we are working on changing/improving the culture of the team, that we have some team members who may not be a good fit on this team, and that we are working hard to change their behavior of get then off the team. It is imperative that we are honest and transparent from our very first encounter with each and every great new hire.  We may not have always been as honest and transparent as we should have been in the past, and the only way to develop a truly great team is by making a commitment to honestly and transparency moving forward. I wrote a post about how and why I indoctrinate (you can read it here) and your indoctrination process should be personal, and fit your workplace.  I honed this process hiring and developing great teams for Whole Foods Market… a fast paced retail environment where standards are high and so are customer expectations.  You should indoctrinate your new hires with your ideals, your team’s values, and your hopes for their future.  Tell them everything you would want to hear if you had made it onto a team that had very high standards, and happy to have you join them. That’s probably long enough for today (too long by many standards), and I feel that too often posts and articles are too short to effectively help us really understand how to achieve the results talked about in the post.  So… I write until I feel I’ve said enough to actually help you.  I know this will mean some people won’t read them, and that’s OK. In part 5 we’ll talk about the next steps in building a great team, like the next steps in our new hire’s work life, moving those who are holding the team back off the team, and how to change the culture of our team.


Great Doesn’t Happen By Accident… Part 3

huge fossil shark tooth

What Does It Take To Build And Develop A Truly Great Team? Part 3 of a series…

So here we are in part 3 of this synopsis of my 70 or so post series, walking through hiring the best hourly team members, indoctrinating them onto our team, choosing the right apprentices, and changing the culture of our team from the one that allowed us to be average to one that will not allow average people to remain on the team. The original posts can be found here starting with hiring…

We’ve talked about the importance of hiring for qualities rather than skills (remember, we are hiring hourly team members, from no experience/entry-level to Store Team Leaders) since we can almost anyone pretty much any skills that might be needed, however we cannot teach qualities…   If you are interested you can read part 1 and part 2.

Back to it…

You will have to determine what, if any, qualities are particularly important in your workplace. As I stated in the earlier, I believe that teachability (the ability to hear feedback and change our behavior accordingly), some level of self-awareness, self-responsibility, honesty, and some level of emotional intelligence are perhaps the most important qualities when hiring hourly team members, and I will not hire anyone in which I can’t find some level of development.

Teachability because they will be coachable, and able to hear feedback.

Self-awareness because if we are not aware of our own character, desires, and everything else that is going on within us, we end up feeling that life happens to us, rather than seeing much of what happens as a consequence of our choices.

Self-responsibility because if we don’t own our actions and behaviors, we end up blaming everything and everyone else for our problems. This goes hand in hand with self-awareness.

Honesty because, well we don’t want to hire anyone who is not honest or lacks character. We need them to do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Emotional intelligence because I don’t believe we can develop honest, authentic relationships unless we know what we are feeling. If we are not aware of our feelings, we can end up driven by our feelings… out of control.

I’ve already mentioned that every applicant I hire has to have a default standard of customer service that is at least as high as my own, because it’s next to impossible to get someone to consistently uphold a higher level of customer service than the level they believe is the right level, at least without constant supervision, and who has the time for that?

As I described earlier, and starting here over 3 posts on my blog, I’ve identified behaviors that describe the qualities I am looking for. Then during my conversation with the applicant, I concentrate on finding those behaviors. I’m sure you can come up with many more behaviors than the ones I listed… and then you just have to get your applicant comfortable and talking all about themselves. You keep listening for the behaviors that describe the qualities you need.

For customer service, I ask one question, and one question only. It is the ‘ketchup question’, and I talk about it at length here. I may need to do a video of it, because after teaching scores of people how to ask it, I’ve found that the delivery is incredibly important. Once you get it down, it is the only question you need to make sure your hires have a very high level of customer service. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you have about the ‘ketchup question’ or any of this.

So… since this is a synopsis, I’ll skip ahead to the point where we’ve decided to hire our applicant because they answered the ‘ketchup question’ the way we wanted, and we are satisfied that they have developed the qualities we are looking for enough so that we feel confident we can help them continue to work on their Leadership qualities.

Next step, indoctrination. Yup… next time in part 4.

Great Doesn’t Happen By Accident… It Takes A Carefully Planned And Ruthless Assault On “Good”

Assault on horseback

What Does It Take To Build And Develop A Truly Great Team? Part 2 of a series…

So here we are back with part 2 of this series. We are starting with hiring hourly team members, everyone from no experience/entry level to Store Team Leaders. When hiring for this level we are hiring almost exclusively for Leadership qualities. This is because those qualities are the things that make people clone worthy, as opposed to skills. We can easily train for pretty much any skills needed, however we cannot train qualities. So let’s continue…

Before we get too far, we should talk for a minute about the actual interview. I’ve seen it happen enough times that want to state very clearly that the interview process is no place for us to ‘exert our authority’, make sure ‘they know who is in charge’, or work to make the applicant uncomfortable to see how they react. If you are doing these things you are doing it wrong, at least if you want to call yourself a Leader by any stretch of the imagination. Interviewing with this attitude is pretty much guaranteed to give you mediocre workers who will do what they are told to do, and little more. Mkay?

Hiring for qualities is a bit different from hiring for skills, as at least in my experience, the best way to determine what Leadership qualities our applicant has been developing is through conversation, rather than simply questions and answers… I find “tell me about a time…” much less useful than getting my applicant comfortable enough to tell me all about the things in her life that she is proud of, where she puts her energy, what kinds of things frustrate her, and what gets her into a ‘flow’ state, to name just a few. I believe that we all have Leadership qualities within us to one degree or another. The key is finding the people who have been developing these qualities throughout their lives.

I know that a large percentage of our applicants have been interviewed many times now, so a good number of them know just what we want to hear. If they are smart they probably have already thought about how to answer many of the questions they have heard before. This is another reason why I prefer the conversational approach… it doesn’t allow the applicants to stick with their ‘script’ or preformed answers.

I believe the best way to find Leadership qualities in others is to determine whether or not they show the behaviors that describe those qualities. Qualities, by their very nature can be difficult to pin down, however I think we could easily come up with a list of behaviors that describe each quality or trait. Read more about behaviors that describe Leadership qualities starting here.

For instance, I believe that the ability to hear and respond to feedback is on of the most important qualities a new hourly team member can have… In my experience it is perhaps the best indicator of future success, maybe because it means they are trainable, coachable, and humble. So… how will we determine whether or not our applicant has this quality?

I try to get them to tell me all about their experience of school, trying to get into college/grad school, involvement in sports, or any other way they may have received feedback. I don’t ask specific enough questions to allow them to fall back on any prepared answers. Since no one else ever asked them what they thought about their performance in that pick up game last weekend, how they responded to the feedback they got from their high school football coach, or the grade they got in that college class when they thought they deserved better, I generally get honest answers.

Any instance in our lives when we get feedback is fair game. What makes you think you are a good driver? On what do you base that opinion? Do you follow the advice of the personal trainer at the gym, or do you think you know better? What have you learned in your personal relationships? I can easily give many examples of when I have hurt the feelings of people in my life, and how I reacted to that feedback. Is that their problem? What’s my responsibility, if any? These are all roads that out applicant has never been down in an interview, so we are likely to have an honest and genuine conversation.

I know you are all screaming at me… how about feedback from another job? Of course this is appropriate, and can be very useful. However, remember that our applicant has been asked about this many times already, so again, if they are smart they have learned what to say about feedback from work. I also feel that my personal experience has some bearing here. I’ve worked for, and with, some really poor bosses, and at work places where honest feedback was not the rule. There are a lot of people out there who have been forced into the bottom, middle, or top third simply because that’s the way the company did things, so bosses had to come up with some reasons for assigning a person to this rung. Because of the way this is set up, the feedback that many people get at work is often not honest feedback, with the intention of helping that person learn and grow. If it happened to me, it happened to a lot of other people, so I feel we have to take feedback from past jobs with a grain of salt.

What about another quality before we call it a day? How about self-responsibility? Since we are already involved in a friendly, casual conversation with our applicant, we probably already have some example of something that didn’t go as planned. So we just need to find out a little more about the outcome… who was at fault? Did our applicant have any part to play? What about that feedback you got from your guidance counselor/coach/parents/friends/boss? What did you learn from that? How were you responsible for what happened?

Have you been late for work or some other appointment? What happened? I need to hear the applicant take responsibility… yes the train was late… not your fault. And… what, if anything did you do? Did you start taking an earlier train since we know trains will be late? Did you find alternatives, like friends you can call when the train is late? These are simple examples of self-responsible behaviors.

To spell it out, I need to hear that our applicant, at least at some point recently, heard feedback and understood that the other person’s experience of them is that person’s reality.   To be coachable, the applicant needs to have changed their behavior in response to that feedback. For self-responsibility, I need to believe that our applicant takes responsibility for the things that happen in their lives; that their choices determine what happens (not everything that happens of course) and that they are responsible for the choices they make. If I don’t hear these things, I’ll thank them for coming in and move onto my next applicant.

Self responsibility, teachability, honesty, some level of emotional intelligence, some level of self awareness, and feeling that quality work is it’s own reward are some of my make or break qualities. If I do not believe that my applicant is developing these qualities I will not hire them, no matter how skilled they might be. Remember, this is just a quick synopsis… you can find my whole 16 part series on hiring, with a lot more detail, starting here.

Wow… this takes so long to discuss doesn’t it? That has to be long enough (probably too long many will tell me) for today, and we’ll pick up next time with what to do once we decide to hire the person sitting in front of us. No… if we want great we cannot simply shake their hand and send them off to have another person take over. We need to indoctrinate them. Yes… I understand that many of you don’t like that word, and all of its connotations.   And… I don’t believe that we can get ‘great’ by using the same process (welcoming and training, the same onboarding that gave you the average team you have) you’ve been using. Great doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a planned assault on Good. Hey, that’s catchy… maybe I’ll use that for todays title huh?

What Does It Take To Build And Develop A Truly Great Team? Part 1 of a series…

blue angels

A truly great team requires obsessively great hiring, a trusting, transparent Leader who strives to be a servant Leader, shared goals and values (best if developed by the team), a culture of ownership and responsibility, and a need for constant improvement.

I have been writing about hiring and training the best hourly team members, as well as how to change the team culture to enable the development of a truly great team on my blog for some time now. It’s been almost 100 posts in the making, and I imagine it can be daunting jumping into what is essentially a book on hiring and team development.

So… I thought we might shorten all of those posts into a much shorter series on hiring the best hourly team members; how and why to hire for Leadership qualities; honesty, trust and transparency as they relate to Leadership (servant Leadership in particular); developing team goals and values; developing/changing our team culture; and developing enough trust and ownership in that culture that will not only allow for constant improvement, but will demand it.

I’ve been hiring hourly team members, from entry level/no experience people to department Leaders and Store Team Leaders for 30 years now, and that is what I’m writing about. When hiring executives, or other jobs where specific job skills, talents, and/or a specific educational background is needed, weed out the applicants without these mandatory requirements, and then follow the steps I outline below. If you disagree, I’m sure you’ll let me know

Hiring is arguably the most important thing we do. You cannot have a great team without hiring great people. If you don’t have the team you want, the first thing you need to look at is your hiring. In fact, if you don’t have the team you want, and you have been doing the hiring, I’d suggest that you need to get someone who has a track record of hiring great people either take over your hiring, or retrain you on how to hire. Yes it’s hard to own up to that, and admit that we aren’t good at hiring. And… without great hiring we will never have that great team.

Too many of us have some notion that we cannot admit we are not that good at hiring… for some reason admitting that is a huge blow to our egos. We are all very good at one or two things, OK at most things, and not so good at other things. Build and play to your strengths, and find people who are very good at the jobs you are not so good at. You can read my whole series about how to hire hourly team members for Leadership qualities starting here on my blog. It will take some humility to fully accept that we need to unlearn our old ways of hiring in order to learn to hire for qualities. And the payoff is simply amazing!

You will be hiring for attitude/qualities first, and any needed skills second (again, I’m talking about hiring hourly team members). In fact, you should be hiring for every position based on Leadership qualities first, skills second. If you are serious about developing a great team, you will need the best Leaders. How many places have you worked where great Leaders are being developed? Any? So… you will have to grow your own, and hiring for Leadership qualities is the best way to start. The hourly team members you are hiring today will be your Leadership team in the near future.

Your should read my post about Hiring for what can’t be trained, and in a nutshell… Think about the people who you would love to clone… they are probably really good at the skills of their job, and is that what makes them clone worthy? Probably not… They are most likely clone worthy because of the qualities they possess… because of their attitude towards their work… that’s what makes them great! I can take the next person you see and train them how to do every task needed to run a grocery store (you can probably train the skills needed for your workplace), however I cannot train qualities. We cannot train anyone to be self aware, to show self responsibility, to have courage, to extend trust, or to be honest… those cannot be trained, so we must hire for them, and I dare to say, at least for hourly team members, almost only for them!

The best way I have found to determine which people have the qualities we are looking for is through a long and friendly conversation, with some specific questions used to draw out our own make or break qualities.

For instance, if your new hires will be dealing with your customers, it is imperative that their default level of customer service is at least as high as your expected level of service. I have found it next to impossible to get people to consistently provide a higher level of customer service than they believe is the correct level, without constant supervision, and no one has the time for that. So… we must hire people who already believe that our expected levels of service are the correct and only reasonable level of service. Then, and only then, can we count on them to consistently deliver that level of service without any supervision. I wrote a post specifically about hiring for customer service here.

Well, we knew this would be a series… next time we’ll start to talk about just how we discover whether or not our applicant has been developing the qualities we’re looking for.

Do You Remember What It Was Like To Be New?

Train track making connections

We were all new at some point. We can be new in our job… perhaps getting a promotion or hired in at a level that is new to us, as well as simply working in a new environment. Both of these bring challenges, and as Leaders our actions can have a major impact on the kind of relationships our new hires develop at work, as well as how they feel about us and their new job… which in turn determines their level of engagement.

What I’m talking about goes much deeper than onboarding… our happiness, satisfaction, and level of engagement at work is directly connected to our relationship with the person to whom we report.

Different organizations have different onboarding procedures, which can certainly enable our new hires to want to be helpful, and feel as if they are welcome and part of the team. And it’s you; their team Leader, working with them daily (or as often as you possibly can) that really allows them to help the team achieve its goals.

And if we stay in the same organization for a while, we can easily forget what it’s like to be new. It’s all too easy to become a bit arrogant about what people should know, what basic expectations should be understood and automatically met, what rules and roles are universal as opposed to unique to our organization, and what behavior and communications styles are expected and acceptable.

If we as Leaders fail to remember what it was like to be new the damage can be irreparable.

We can easily alienate our new hires by failing to show empathy. Starting a new job can be stressful enough without out boss expecting us to know and understand all of the in’s and out’s of our new workplace in the first few days/weeks.

We can make it easy for them to feel overwhelmed, which will certainly impact the quality of their work, as well as their level of commitment to the team goals.

Our demands and expectations can encourage them to think that perhaps this was a mistake… maybe they should not have accepted our offer? This is tough to fix once the damage is done.

Or minimally, we can fail to make this transition period as short and as pleasant as it can be.

So how can we remember what it was like to be new?

And in what ways can we help our new hires adapt to their new role and new environment?

To remember what it’s like to be new we can:

Spend some time with kids. Kids are constantly learning and exploring the world, and spending time watching and interacting with them can help keep us grounded. Kids constantly remind us of what it’s like to be new at something.

If we keep our long-term goals in mind, seeing them… living them every day, we will be much more likely to remember what it’s like to be new. Keeping our long-term goals active helps us asking “what if”? And “why not”? These are the questions we asked when we were new…

Work with your new hires at every opportunity. You have a vast ocean of knowledge and experience compared to the thimble of knowledge your new hire has. Only through working with them can we impart that knowledge to our new hires. Every day, when we work alongside our new hires, with their fresh eyes, they ask us questions about things that we have come to think are obvious….

At times it can take A LOT of patience, and the rewards are well worth the effort. You will be building relationships that create engagement, loyalty, and trust.

To help our new hires adapt we can:

Be mindful of not doing things the easy way… not taking shortcuts. As Leaders we should always do things the right way… people will almost always find their own short cuts, so if they see us, their Leaders, taking short cuts they will find a shortcut from that point, probably leading to poor quality work. We will have set them up for failure.

Make sure that your new hire really understands your commitment to helping them achieve their goals. This will come from meeting with them, working with them, and developing an honest, trusting relationship with them.

Make a quick list of all of the mistakes you have made. For me, there is no way this is a quick list… Remembering and sharing all of my mistakes with my team members helps keep me from taking my knowledge and experience for granted, and it puts my new hires much more at ease. They can avoid making a few of my mistakes, and they seem to have an easier time approaching me with questions.

Make it clear that you expect mistakes. If we are not making mistakes we are not trying hard enough to achieve great. Just make sure I hear about it from you first!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to remember what it’s like to be new, as well as ideas about how to help our new hires adapt to their new environment.

If You Want To Be Great You Need To Redefine Your Job


Mount Rushmore

What exactly is your job?  No… I don’t mean the tasks you are responsible for.  I mean what is the overarching purpose of your job.

My thought is this…

If you are doing your job based on the tasks you’ve been told you are responsible for, or based on the things you’ve been asked to do, it is impossible for you to be great.  The same goes for everyone who works for you. 

Here’s why I believe that to be true.

Even if you are the very best in the world at doing the tasks of your job, you are still stuck at good.  Because:

Doing a good, or even great job at those tasks is the expectation

Great is only possible when we go beyond the expectations, and take risks.

How’s about an example?  OK, fine…

If the job description for my team Leaders includes merchandising their entire department using the product mix to ensure that they will meet their margin target, I expect them to do just that.  If they do that, they will have met my expectations… Thank you!  That’s it… good job.

Defining your job by the tasks you are responsible for limits your ability to be great.

So when I ask if you know what your job is, I am asking if you know the overall purpose of your being there.  It will be a very broad description of the part you play in achieving the larger goals where you work.

For that team Leader, the day I hired them I would have told them that their job is to run that team as if it were their own business…  As if every dollar of profit went into their pocket, and every dollar returned, every customer complaint, every team member not trained properly, every spoiled product, every dollar in unknown shrink, was a dollar out of their pocket.  That is your job.  Do everything you need to do in order to run that team as if you owned it.

We would talk about many of the things included in that broad description… KPI expectations, product quality standards, food safety, customer service standards, team member training and expectations, and a whole list of other things.  At the end, I would make it clear that this is just a ‘starter list’.   For someone running the team as if it were their business, there would be many additional ideas and concerns… driving sales, keeping an eye on our competition, developing team members, making mistakes, when to ask for help… And I always end by insisting that when they have a great idea, they ask for forgiveness rather than permission.  If it were your store, what would you do?  Then do it!  Time for me to step aside and let them do their job.

That kind of job description opens up a whole world of possibilities… a whole world of how to be of great.  Now my team Leader can imagine ways of driving sales, building customer loyalty, beating margin and other KPI targets, and inspiring their team members that I would never think to put into a job description.

Within this general job description would of course fall all of the normal tasks associated with the job, and these can always be written out as before if that’s what you are comfortable with.  The point here is to stop limiting yourself and your team members by describing your jobs with such a narrow scope.

So let’s try another… Let’s hire a porter.  Normally a job description might include sweeping floors, clean up spills, checking bathrooms every hour, emptying trash cans, and a host of other tasks that indeed do need to be done, and are important.

However, we are limiting our new hire’s ability to be great if we tell him or her that this is the job.  How else could we word an overall job description for this person… this person who probably interacts with more customers than you do?  This person who has the opportunity to see and fix customer problems that we are never aware of?  Porters see the parent struggling with the baby in the stroller, and could easily get a balloon, a snack or juice box, or ask what else they could do.  And if their job description isn’t wide enough… if we have limited their vision, they are not likely to take that chance.   So even a great porter is still only good, because a clean bathroom and dry floors are my expectation.  We all see people cleaning up everywhere we go… do they smile and greet you?  Do they offer help?  If they worked for you would you want them to?

If we give that porter a broad overall job description, perhaps as an example, to include ‘keeping our customers and workers safe and happy’, we allow a much larger range of behaviors.  A porter with that job description might offer to keep the break room fridge stocked with condiments; ask for cases of juice boxes or balloons for kids; sweep up the parking lot when it’s a mess, even though the landlord is really responsible for it, knowing that it reflects on our business; or ask for wipes to keep handy for parents who need them.  That’s the porter I want working for me.

Hiring the right person, and then allowing them the freedom to see their job as much more than the usual list of tasks will help you get from good to great.

OK, fine… you believe me.  So what now?  Just what are you supposed to do?

If you are taking the time to read this, I’ll assume that you care about your job, and already do a very good job at the tasks for which you are responsible.  If you are not currently doing a great job at the tasks you do, that is first and foremost.

  •        Now, I suggest you think about your job, and what you would do if your job were your business.  What would you do if you owned the place? ·      How would you reframe your job to allow the person doing to it achieve greatness?

    ·      What would you stop doing, and what new things would you try?

    ·      What new goals can you come up with?

    ·      Are there things you can delegate to give you more time to spend on your new ideas?

    ·      Remember, unless you are the only one who can do it, delegate it.

    ·      Try thinking ‘what would I do if I were brand new in this job’?  Or alternatively, ‘if I left today, what would my replacement do to change and improve things’?

    ·      The only way to find greatness is to break out of your limiting job description, whether it is your actual written job description, or simply how you currently think about your job.

    ·      If you have the ability, speak to each member of your team about reframing their role, and together come up with a job description that will allow each of them the freedom to be great.

    ·      Perfection isn’t the goal… building relationships and constant improvement is the goal.

    ·      Remember that great often means asking for forgiveness, rather than permission.  So if you are giving your team members this advice, you must be ready to forgive them!  They are going to be taking the risks needed to be great.

    ·      If they are not making mistakes they are not trying enough new things!

And if you believe that in your workplace thinking like that will get you fired, maybe talk to your boss about these crazy new ideas of yours before making any huge changes…. Just in case… I’m just sayin’…

Leadership Training and You… The Sobering Truth

Train on tracks

OK… maybe that title is a bit dramatic.  And…

Leadership development programs don’t work as expected.  They will have some small impact on most participants, and no impact on a few.  However they will only have the desired impact on one or two participants.  Why?

Because Leadership is not a skill…

Many of the actions that Leaders take could be seen as skills.  We can teach people how to go through the motions of almost any skill.  We can teach people what actions people who have certain Leadership qualities take… what actions describe that quality.  However, since Leadership is not simply a compilation of skills, or simply a list of actions, we cannot teach Leadership.

Leadership is not a science…

Leadership is not facts, figures, or formulas.  We can tell people how a Leader might act when faced with a particular situation.  However, since Leadership involves other people who are all unique, there is no one right way to deal with any situation.  Remembering what to do, or how to act does not make great Leaders.

We have to want to take the actions that describe Leadership…

Simply knowing what actions to take does not mean we will take those actions.  Almost all of us know how to pray, and yet how many of us pray on a regular basis?  It takes a high level of faith, or belief to keep us praying daily throughout our lives.

It’s the same with Leadership…

We can teach people what generous people do, and that does not make people generous.  Only those who have a strong belief that giving is fuel for contentment; who feel good when they give things away; who feel good when helping others; and who see the world as abundant, with plenty to go around will actually be generous.

We can teach people what people who listen to understand do, and that does not make them good listeners.  Only people who believe that listening to others is important; who care about others enough to be interested not only in what they say, but how they feel; who believe that the thoughts and feelings of other’s are important; and who really care about helping others will actually listen to hear both what others are saying, and how they feel about what they are saying.

We can teach people why good communication skills are important, as well as how good communicators act, however this will not create good communicators.  Only those who believe in building strong relationships; who understand why ‘no one took them the wrong way’; who believe that they are responsible for how they come across; who are not constantly judging others; and who genuinely care about others will communicate in a way that will allow others to fully understand.

These are just three simple examples of why Leadership cannot be taught… because

Leadership is really a way of seeing ourselves, the world, and how we fit into that world.

This view only changes for each of us through mistakes, personal growth, maturity, and emotional development.  We cannot force these types of changes on others, no matter how much any of us wants it to happen.  Leadership is only developed as we learn life lessons about ourselves.  We can only foster a culture, an atmosphere, where people feel safe, trusted, and valued among other things.   This way those people can make mistakes, confide in us, trust us, and believe that we are here to help them develop these qualities, and support them through this process.

We only learn life lessons when we are ready to learn them…

We will only learn about qualities when we are ready to learn…  that is, when we have reached the appropriate level of maturity, and emotional development.  Any adult who ever attempted to teach a child about self-awareness, self-responsibility, or empathy knows that this is true.  Until we reach a certain point in our development, have made enough mistakes, and are then open to hearing about them, lessons about qualities simply make no sense to us.  The people we are trying to teach are not stupid, or incapable of learning… they are just not yet ready to learn what we are attempting to teach, and cannot understand it.

Your time, money, and energy are much better spent truly supporting Leadership and Leadership development in your workplace.

  • If you really want to support Leadership and develop Leaders:
  • Be the best example of great Leadership for everyone around you.
  • Encourage and support mistakes… if you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough
  • Allow your Leaders the time it takes to build strong, trusting relationships with their team members.
  • Encourage and support disagreement, and opposing opinions… we only learn from people who disagree with us.
  • Create a Leadership library, start a Leadership book club, and get involved in the discussion.
  • Foster transparency… there should be no secrets… everyone should know and understand everything.
  • Hire only the best, never settling…
  • Hire only for Leadership qualities first and foremost.
  • Include insurance that covers mental health.
  • Work honestly with poor performers… can they be great in another role? If not, move them off the team.
  • Align your rewards systems with Leadership and the development of others. This is the only real way you will see this continue.

People can be taught to do something once, maybe twice… to have the behavior continue after that, that they must believe in it.  They must want to do it because it’s the right thing to do… the only way to be.  This cannot be taught.


I have, for your reading pleasure, links below for articles I’ve written about the subjects above.  Thank you for your time and attention!


My thoughts on what Leadership is and is not.

My 16 part series on hiring for qualities rather than skills starts here.

My recent article on job descriptions and mediocrity.

Transparency and trust

And this article about Leadership training from Forbes by Rajeev Peshawaria that I thought was interesting

Everybody Needs An Amber


I was thinking over the 5 or so years I spent as a Grocery Team Leader at Whole Foods Market, while talking to my honey who is currently a Produce Team Leader, and I realized that everyone needs an Amber.

OK… I’m sure you are wondering what in the world that means. I always did my best to hire those who were better than I was. Once in a while, and if you are lucky twice in a while, you might hire yourself an Amber (again, if you are lucky you might get a Jenna too). These people will come to you skilled in many areas of expertise, however they will not be arrogant. If you are able to accept that they are better than you, teach them what you know, and allow them to grow by making mistakes on your team, they will help you take your team to new heights. With the help of these people you can transform your people into the great team you have been working towards.

For many Leaders hiring someone who is better than they are can be scary. In many workplaces people feel insecure about their jobs, so you might think hiring someone better than you could put your job in jeopardy. You might think hiring someone who could be promoted past you will make you look bad. You might feel threatened having someone who is smarter, or a better Leader than you around.

The reality of your situation is this… you cannot accomplish your goals by yourself. You need your team to execute and get everything done. You need people to make you look good. Hiring people who are better than you is the best way to do this, and the best way to achieve great. So read my series on hiring, starting here, and hire yourself an Amber.

That means hiring some who:

Will challenge you.

In order to be the best Leaders we can be, we need to be challenged. Even those of us who drive ourselves to be the best, will have some areas that we don’t see as important… It’s in those areas that our Amber will challenge us. Your Amber will also push you to think about which things are important and which are not, as the choices you made to suit your circumstances in the past may not fit today’s needs. We all fall into ruts, and get nice and cozy in our comfort zones at one point or another… If you want to achieve great, you need someone to challenge you!

Is better than you.

As a Leader you must realize that you cannot know everything, or be the best at everything.   In fact, if you are the best at any of the tasks your team members are responsible for, you are not doing your job. So… the best way to get new ideas, and a creative spark is to bring in people who are better than you are.   Your Amber should have a different career path, a different background, and disagree with you a lot. Remember… we only learn from people who disagree with us.

Will keep you in line.

I can really only speak for myself, and I believe that we are all human. We all get caught up in our own issues, what’s going on at home, and at times we all make mistakes. Having an Amber means having someone who will tell you to ‘knock it off’, that you are allowing your anger at your spouse to influence your work decisions, or that sharing a larger portion of that bonus would be a better choice for the long run. If being a great Leader was easy, we would all be doing it… it’s not easy. We all have the ability to make decisions based on fear, selfishness, or jealousy. Having someone there to remind us of the right thing is invaluable…

Can take anything and everything off your plate.

Amber will come to you with many skills, and will be able to take on many responsibilities right away. You will have to teach your Amber some things, as her experience will not match yours, and there are some things that are unique to each workplace. Once this teaching is underway however, Amber will be able to take pretty much anything off of your plate, and then she will teach others to take things off her plate. This will allow you to spend time on your next level apprentices, and help them develop their Leadership qualities. It will allow you to feel free to take the time to hire only the best people, and never feeling as though you have to settle.

Will be coachable.

Hiring the right people mean they come to you willing and able to hear feedback. I have come to believe that the ability to hear and act on feedback is the most important forecaster of success. So hiring Amber does a few things for you. It allows Amber to move quickly into a position of taking on just about anything you need her to take, and at the same time this shows a great example for the rest of the team. Your other apprentices will have varying degrees of development, and seeing Amber partner with you, hearing feedback and adjusting her behavior accordingly, will be a great example for them.

Is good enough to coach you on a thing or two.

Since we are focused on hiring people who are better than we are, and with backgrounds and experience that is different from ours, the great people we are hiring will be able to teach us what they know. The key here of course is for us to be teachable as well. Too often Leaders become arrogant without realizing it. We come to think that we are better than the people we hire, and that they have nothing to teach us. Even if we, like many, are hiring only people we believe we are better than, they will still have a thing or two to teach us if we are able to learn. Amber will not only have things we can benefit from learning, but she will know how to teach others in a way that allows us to want to learn from her.

Is happy to teach others all they know.

Amber does not act from a place of fear. People like Amber know that sharing knowledge is the only way to achieve greatness, and they are happy to teach others. You will be seriously shocked at how much more training and coaching can happen when you add another ‘you’ into the mix. Amber will help to raise the level of commitment and engagement much sooner than you thought possible.

Challenges others.

Just having Amber on the team will challenge others to rise to her level. They will see that the bar you’ve been setting can indeed be reached, and even surpassed. The rest of the team will quickly see how much having a great team member like Amber benefits everyone, and will support her. Of course there will be those who are jealous, or fearful… you will have to do your best to help them understand that they have nothing to fear, and eventually they will get on board.

Raises the bar.

Amber is not satisfied with OK, or mediocre work. If you are lucky enough to have an Amber, you should push forward with wherever she wants to set the bar. By yourself you could only set the bar so high, however with the help of someone better than you, the bar can be set much higher.

The downside:

Yes… there are always downsides. However they are not big enough to make you think twice about hiring your Amber. You will be able to address and handle anything that comes up, and that upside will be worth the effort.

There will be conflict.

You will have team members who feel threatened by Amber. Even on a good team, you probably have a couple of team members who don’t really want things to change. You will have to stay alert and address these issues as soon as they come up. Do not allow them to fester!

Authority and Amber…

What authority does your Amber have? Sometimes an Amber will come along and you may not have the appropriate role open for her. Hire her anyway, at whatever rate and role you can. However, this will cause problems, since Amber is full of ideas and will be looking to make positive changes, while not having the title or ‘positional authority’ to make those changes happen. Have no fears, Amber will earn the respect and they will soon give her the authority she deserves, and in the mean time you may have to work extra hard to get everyone on board with what is happening.

You will eventually lose Amber.

Yes… people this good will not stay on your team forever. You will benefit by thinking of them as temporary help, to assist you in moving your team forward. Appreciate them and allow them as much leeway as you can, and they will help you raise the level of your whole team.

And I’ll end with this… if you are not comfortable hiring someone who is better than you are, talking to your coach or mentor about it might help. What would you tell a subordinate who had the chance to hire someone better than themselves, and came to you for advice? Yup… you’d tell them to jump at the chance. So hire yourself an Amber, and make the most of it.

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