Are You Tough Enough?
Does your company know how to hire right?
BY MEL KLEIMAN
Everywhere you look jobs are being replaced by new technologies
and automated systems.
We book our own airline tickets online. We fill our own gas tanks
and pay at the pump. Touch screens at the neighborhood deli allow us
to punch in our sandwich and beverage order. We can pick up a rental
car and check into and out of a hotel without ever interacting with any
of the providing business concern’s employees. And don’t even get me
started on automated voice call-directing systems.
Much of what is driving the rapid adoption of these new technologies is that business owners and managers worldwide are under increasing pressure to do more with less—along with an inability to find the
kinds of workers necessary to deliver quality service.
While the combination of these two factors may make it appear that
the roles of employees are being diminished, this couldn’t be farther
from the truth. With fewer in-person interactions between companies
and their customers, each interaction needs to be of the highest quality,
or you risk not only losing that customer to the competition, but also of
that customer telling 13 friends about their negative experience.
That’s exactly what happened when my computer locked up last
week. After two screening conversations that took about 10 minutes
each, I spent another three hours on the phone with one of the manufacturer’s tech support personnel. After all else failed, he asked me to
find a Phillips screwdriver and walked me through removing the bottom covers, popping out the hard drive and the motherboard and reseating them. As you might imagine, I was sweating bullets. The capper
is that when these extreme measures didn’t work, he wanted to send me
a box so I could ship my only laptop to them for a couple of weeks to
On the advice of a friend, the next day I took the laptop to the Geek
Squad at the nearest Best Buy. The young man behind the desk waited
on me immediately, fixed it in 10 minutes, and didn’t charge me a red
cent. Now where do you think I’m going to shop first the next time I
need any electronics or a new home appliance. And when I need a new
laptop, which brand do you think will not be on the short list?
And I’m not just saying that your technical people, salespeople, counter
person, receptionist, and cashier need to be the best. Everyone does.
When I rent a car, the only employee I meet is the one who lets me
out of the gate and the one who checks in my car when I return. They
are the only ones who have a chance to make sure I’m happy and let me
know my business is valued.
When I check into a hotel at an unstaffed kiosk the only employee I
ever cross paths with during my stay is a housekeeper. This means her
responsibility has expanded from just keeping my room clean to being
the property’s goodwill ambassador. At the best managed places, she
smiles and asks if there’s anything else I need in order to be comfortable.
At the core of Southwest Airlines’ tremendously successful corporate
philosophy is founding CEO Herb Kelleher’s (it’s Gary Kelly now, Herb
is chairman of the board) unwavering belief: “The day we screw up the
people thing, it’s all over.”
The airline is renowned for being picky about who they hire for every
single position—and just look at where it’s gotten them. In 1971, they
had four planes and 195 Employees (yes, they capitalize the word “
Employee”). In 2005 they set an industry record with 32 straight years of
profitability and now boast more than 33,000 Employees. And they never have a shortage of qualified job applicants—even in our increasingly
tight labor market—because everyone knows Southwest is a great employer. They have built their entire culture on the fact that the Employees come first and the customer second. They often say they treat their
Employees the way they want their Employees to treat their customers.
What one company has done, any company can do. So the obvious
question is, “Why don’t they?” Better yet, “Why don’t you?”
You’d think everyone would be all over this bandwagon. Instead of
recognizing that the most important decisions they make are who gets
hired, some are driven largely by profits, some by products, some by
growth, etc. And while many pay lip service to the hackneyed phrase,
“Our employees are our greatest assets,” very few really walk the talk.
This is aptly illustrated by the fact that more than 90 percent of
those responsible for hiring front-line employees in North America have
had little or no training in the proven best practices that result in superior recruiting results and the best hiring decisions.
Starbucks, the darling of Wall Street, is taking a lot of hits right now,
but don’t count them out. When its chairman and founder was asked
how they were able to pay the wages and benefits they do to even part-time workers, he said, “The reason we pay well and give benefits is not
because we are successful. We are successful because we pay good wages
and give benefits.”
So how does your organization stack up? Do your hiring managers
• The number-one, best source of proven, great employees? (No, it is
not employees who come from referrals.)
• The one key question to ask every time someone gives them a
• The biggest mistake most hiring managers make when it comes to
looking for their next new, great employee? (Clue: They are looking
in the wrong places.)
• How to better identify what they really want and need in their next
employee? (And this doesn’t mean creating yet another job
• How to get people to tell them the truth in the interviewing process?
• The number-one biggest mistake in interviewing? (No, it is not
talking too much, even though that is a major mistake.)
• The single most important interviewing question to ask every single
• How and why everything they do in the hiring process is a test, and
how to evaluate the results?