Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show veterans are well acquainted with Brian Warrener. The associate professor at the Providence, Rhode Island campus of The School of Hospitality at Johnson & Wales University has worked in just about every position within the industry. Brian has earned the respect of NCB Show attendees, and for good reason. In 2014 he presented a session focused on hiring a great staff.
“In my opinion, great employees are the key to your success,” a says Brian.
In order to put together an excellent staff, you have to understand the problems associated with hiring in our industry. First up, turnover. The turnover rate in the hospitality industry is ridiculously high. Essentially, it’s at 100 percent. This is due to many factors: people giving up on the industry, the nature of the jobs within hospitality, workers being transient and temporary and even poor management. Another problem is that the hiring and training processes are time consuming and expensive. While you may think poaching another business’ employees will save money on training, it will cost you in payroll as you’ll most likely be luring them with the promise of more money. The major problem, however, is what type of candidates are out there. While you’re searching for the great you’ll most often encounter the mediocre…or worse.
“The first question I will ask is do you even know what you are looking for?”
Brian knows that you probably have an abstract, nebulous idea of the type of employees you want for your business. After all, you know that having the best products, service and atmosphere doesn’t mean much without a staff made up of rock stars. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to identify and quantify technical skills. The difficult characteristics to gauge during the hiring process are soft skills as they relate to personality. You know what you want for the front of the house: people who are talkative, friendly, smiley and like people. But how do you quantify and define soft skills?
Part of the solution in Brian’s opinion is the science of emotional intelligence. This is the ability to understand and control your emotions and the emotions of others. It’s also a scientifically proven way to quantify soft skills and determine who will be able to deal with customers. Brian suggests adding emotional intelligence to your interview process rather than just using a behavioral interview style. You’ve likely encountered behavioral interviews (and possibly used them yourself): What type of tree would you be? Would you rather be a bird, a cat or a marine animal? While these may provide some interesting answers, interviewing for emotional intelligence allows you to analyze a candidate’s competency across five characteristics: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills and empathy. The two most important of those traits for success in a high-customer contact position are social skills and empathy, according to Brian.
Self-awareness, in terms of our industry, means that a person knows what they aren’t good at and at what things they excel. Ask candidates how their coworkers and supervisors would describe them. Have them tell you about a time that they made a big mistake and how they handled it. Inquire about their greatest strength and greatest weakness. What you’re looking for is honesty, confidence and not arrogance and an outgoing rather than timid personality.
Self-regulation is the ability to control impulses and moods. Basically, does a person remain cool under pressure? To help you gauge someone’s self-regulation, ask them to tell you about a time they got angry with a coworker and how they handled it. If they claim they’ve never gotten angry with a coworker, they’re lying, plain and simple. Also, ask how they deal with difficult customers. How do they handle stress? How do you handle uncertainty in work and life? According to a study from the University of Houston, flexibility is the number one desired characteristic for success in our industry. Flexibility is how well a person deals with uncertainty). Look for adaptability when interviewing candidates.
We all understand motivation: the drive to succeed and be self-satisfied. The unicorn when quantifying motivation is the worker who believes a job worth doing is worth doing well. While you’re looking for the unicorn, keep in mind that you’ll mostly find people motivated by money. Ask potential staff members what they consider to be a successful night behind the bar. Inquire about their career goals. Ask how they overcome obstacles. These questions are intended to expose optimism, commitment and initiative. Brian suggests remaining open for an abstract feeling: Does this candidate almost seem offended that you’re questioning their motivation.
As stated earlier, social skills are at the top of Brian’s emotional intelligence list. This, of course, is the ability to manage long-term, short-term, supervisor-and-subordinate, coworker and customer relationships. People with a strong grasp on social skills are persuasive, cooperative, collaborative and communicate well. These workers make good trainers because they not are not just willing to train others, they want to train others for the good of the team. During interviews, ask candidates to tell you about how they think a new manager can gain respect. Ask if they’ve ever had to influence a person, including a coworker. How do they handle it when a coworker asks them for help? You want workers who have strong influence, communication skills, conflict management skills, leadership skills and a preference for working as part of a team.
The second most valued emotional intelligence competency, as Brian sees it, is empathy. In fact, he considers this the most important competency for customer service providers. Empathy is the ability to identify and understand the emotions of others and treat them accordingly. Now, this trait can be difficult to interview for but Brian does have a question you can ask to ferret this out: Describe a time when understanding someone’s perspective helped you to better understand their behavior. Stated plainly, you’re trying to find out if the candidate cares.
You need a strategy that provides you with a fighting chance to identify potential excellence. Brian Warrener’s application of emotional intelligence to the industry can help you develop that strategy. Ask the right questions, obtain the right information and put together the best staff possible.