Take care of the weeds by watering the flowers

I’m not a people manager in my current role, but I have done my share of interviewing, hiring, and managing. I am always interested in learning different ways to think about the process. I came across five absolute gems on hiring and retaining great employees from a recent Tim Ferriss interview with Danny Meyer, the founder of Shake Shack. There are probably many more to glean from it, but here are my favorties.

Water the flowers

Pretty simple but often forgotten: spend more energy on your flowers than your weeds.

I learned […] that our employees are like sunflowers. They will turn wherever the sun is. And if I’m spending all of my attention on the weeds, I’m actually pulling the gravitational force that way. And my grandmother’s lesson was right. If I water the flowers and spend more time with the people who maybe I’ve taken for granted because they’re doing such a great job, they actually crowd out the weeds and the weeds take care of themselves.

Treat your employees like volunteers

Sure, work is work, but we all need to feel like we’re working for a higher purpose, whether that’s the mission of the company or the pride of being great at something.

[…] if you’re working for me, it means you’re probably good enough to have gotten another 25 job offers at least.And so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re volunteering to share your gifts with us. I better give you a higher purpose and reason for wanting to be here. And that’s when it became clear to me that our first stakeholder had to be our own employees. And by the way, I look at this, Tim, like it’s a virtuous cycle. It’s not a totem pole where the employee’s on the top and the investor’s on the very bottom. It’s a virtuous cycle where one input leads to something even better. So if you want to have really happy customers, they shouldn’t be the input. You should have really happy employees, which I think then leads to a greater chance you’re going to have really happy customers.

Understanding motivations

Here are some questions to ask prospective employees that can illuminate what motivates them, which is key to the higher purpose point above. I love these questions (and they could be used on a potential employer as well if you are the one being interviewed).

“On a scale of 1 – 10, tell me, how lucky are you?”

“What is the single biggest misconception people have about you?”

“Name something that happened to you before the age of 12 that has changed your life forever.”

Spend time on those that will

Danny uses a pretty simple model for performance that runs along two axes, spending time on those that are stars (i.e. those who can and will) and those that could be (i.e. those that can’t but will).

You’ve seen these axes many times with a Y-axis and an X-axis. And in one of the quadrants, there’s the word, “Can.” Let’s say the upper left-hand, it says, “Can.” And then, in the upper right, it says, “Can’t.” And then, in the bottom left, it says, “Will.” And in the bottom right, it says, “Won’t.” So you basically have someone’s technical abilities, the can and can’t, and then you have somebody’s emotional willingness or aptitude, and that’s will and won’t.

If you have someone who can’t but will, I’m going to coach them, and I don’t mind saying this, but the wick on my candle is pretty long for someone who will. Because if you can teach them how to do the thing and they’re willing to do it and they’ve got the right approach, the right hospitality attitude, once they learn how to do it, you’re going to have a loyal employee for life because you stuck with them.

No shortcuts

A work ethic isn’t necessarily expressed in making huge strides every day or working overtime constantly, but instead in the attention to detail and care taken in getting the smallest things right.

Well, I basically define it as, you’ve now learned how to do the job, but only you can determine if it matters to you to do it as well as it can be done. And you can see it in people. There’s so many ways we can all take shortcuts. The obvious things are, did you show up? Did you show up on time? Did you show up shaven, if that’s what your job is in the dining room, let’s say? Did you press your shirt, or just take it easy and get that extra third use out of your shirt where you don’t really care what it looks like?

It doesn’t matter whether you had a bad night or not […] It doesn’t matter whether you woke up on the wrong side of the bed or not […] Your job is to make the rest of your team better

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