Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has a hiring rule. A question he asks before he hires anybody. The question? “Would I work under him?” If and only if his gut answer is a yes would he hire the person.
Zuckerberg has a fine tuned intuition. But what exactly is he checking for? What qualities does a person require to have so that your company would grow?
Warren Buffett’s (incomplete) hiring wisdom
Warren Buffett is asked for his advice on hiring great people. And he sums up the wisdom in a quick quote: “You look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it, it’s true. If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
Someone with low energy won’t be able to reach the finish line. Someone with low intelligence won’t be able to solve problems. And someone with low integrity will just doom your company. But there is an ingredient Buffett missed.
Dan Meyer intuitively knows the missing ingredient
Dan Meyer is one of the most successful restaurateurs the world has seen. His restaurant Union Square Cafe has been rated as the number one restaurant in New York City for a record 9 times! His various other restaurants have multiple Michelin stars. And his fast food chain Shake Shack was the fastest growing chain in America. Each outlet of Shake Shack on average does double the business than a McDonalds outlet does. But yet, people don’t visit his restaurants again and again for the food. They visit it repeatedly for the hospitality.
In 1999, when Meyer had just opened his third restaurant, Susan Salgado approached him. Salgado had fallen in love with the service in Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. She was a Phd student at NYU studying teamwork and culture. And she wanted Meyer’s permission to research how he had created the unique team and culture in his restaurants. Meyer agreed but on one condition: Salgado had to become an insider. Instead of merely interviewing his employees, Salgado had to become an employee herself. She was made a hostess for 6 months.
This was a huge blessing for the world. Because Salgado managed to deconstruct the magic. Whereas Meyer had just relied on his intuition to create greatness, Salgado helped him codify it so it could be scaled.
Meyer had opened his first restaurant when he was just 27 years old. But he had a lofty goal: he wanted it to be everyone’s favourite restaurant. Which meant that he would have to go beyond just serving great food. He had to make people feel amazing. Hospitality had to be top notch.
And Meyer intuitively realized how to deliver that. “Hospitality exists when you believe that the person on the other side of the transaction is on your side!”
But you could not build cut-copy-paste processes to deliver true hospitality. Because it feels fake. Ritz Carlton is repeatedly rated high on service they deliver because of their attention to detail. But most people feel tired of hearing “my pleasure” after every conversation with a staff member. The service is there but the soul can be missing.
The key to providing hospitality is by hiring great people. Salgado figured that Meyer didn’t hire people for their technical skills. He hired them for their emotional skills. For their attitude.
For Meyer it was simple. Only hire people who get their happiness from making other people happy.
It was upto Salgado to talk with all the employees and break down what this looked like. And she found that everyone Meyer hired had 5 soft skills.
- They had integrity.
- They were curious and intelligent.
- They had a strong work ethic.
- But beyond this, they showed kind optimism.
- And they were deeply empathetic.
Kindness and empathy delivered authentic hospitality consistently. The ability to connect with people emotionally is the key.
Emotional quotient is the missing ingredient
And these emotional skills are not really teachable. What does kind optimism and empathy signify? It makes a person fun to be around. And it makes a person helpful.
Herb Keller – the founder of Southwest Airlines had realized this years ago too. And that’s why Southwest hired for attitude and not for skills. Because technical work skills could be taught. But emotional skills and positive attitude could not be.
And Keller knew that Southwest was a no frills budget airline. Things would go wrong. It was up to the staff to fix things and keep people happy.
Consultant Mark Murphy tells us a story that Southwest used to check if their employees could keep things fun and lively. When pilots came for an interview, they would usually be dressed in formal suits. These pilots would be given an option to change into comfortable brown bermuda shorts. The pilots who refused would probably not be hired even if they were top gun pilots.
To check if a person has a helpful attitude, the key question Facebook asks during interviews is: can you tell me about four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?
Fun and helpful people are what makes for a good working environment. It makes people stick with you for longer. It makes clients happy. And it’s infectious. Happy people will make you happy. Helpful people will make you want to be helpful too.
But attitude can be faked too
It’s easy for people to fake being nice during an interview. How do you check if they are inherently nice?
- Check how they behave when they think they are not being assessed. Zappos used this very effectively. The taxi driver who would go to pick up a prospective employee would mark how the person behaved. Was he rude or was he friendly? Did he lift his own bags? Did he tip well? If a person didn’t treat the driver well, he would not be hired even if he were a superstar.
- Check what the person does when things go wrong. Walt Bettinger – the CEO of Charles Schwab would meet candidates in restaurants for breakfast. But he would go early and tip the servers to bring in the wrong order for the candidate. How people dealt with it gave him a good idea about their emotional attitude.
- Just spend more time with the people. It’s difficult for people to be fake for a very long time. Spend more time with them and the red flags will show up if any. Toyota would routinely ask candidates to spend the rest of the day on the assembly line helping out. This allowed multiple other people to interact with them and check if they were helpful.
- Intelligence and work ethic are the foundation of a good employee. But if he doesn’t have integrity, he will ruin you. And if he doesn’t have a positive emotional attitude, you won’t grow.
- Only work with people who get their happiness by making others happy. Check for helpfulness in people. Everything else can be taught.