How to Create a Hiring System that Works

Image: Shahril KHMD / Shutterstock

We need to have a talk. Look around and you’ll see a labor market that’s shrinking right before your eyes. So, what are you doing about it?

Are you doing the same things are far as placing job ads and interviewing? Are you paying what everyone else in your market pays? Are you doing what you’ve always done? Well, that’s the problem.

The labor pool today is a new game and you can’t win with the way you once played it. To quote a line from the classic song from REO Speedwagon, “If you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.”

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Let’s break down a modern hiring system for restaurants and bars that works.

Your Core Values are Your Compass

Study any successful brand and becomes crystal clear that having a solid set of core values is their compass for everything! Knowing who you are is imperative if you want to build a solid brand. Core values are a beacon, a magnet to attract guests.

Birds of a feather do flock together, whether we believe it or not. Just scroll through posts on Facebook and you’ll see that people in group photos tend to look like one another. We can’t help it—we’re herd animals at heart. We’re attracted to people who share the image we have of ourselves.

Like it or not, knowing your core values is a non-negotiable if you want to create a hiring system that works. If you were dropped off in the middle of the jungle without a map and compass, your chances of making it back to civilization without a navigation system would be pretty slim. When you’re interviewing people, you want your core values on the table as a talking point.

We focus way too much on skills and not enough on personality. You can train skills (if they’re coachable), you can’t modify personality. Okay, you could, it’s just illegal to use shock therapy on your staff. So, you need to focus on hiring people who have the core values as you and your bar or restaurant.

Oh, and for the love of all that is sacred, please select core values that you can actually emulate. The restaurant and bar world is full of hypocritical managers who say one thing and do another. Don’t be that person—be the example.

Check this out: Putting the Cult in Brand Culture

When you’re interviewing, you’ll want to have a deep discussion about what each core values means to you and your brand. Then you’ll want to ask the potential new team member what their definition is of the core value you’re discussing.

When doing this, read body language. Do they look nervous about certain words? Do they pause and look away? Do they move their body position in their chair? Little non-verbal clues can say much more than their verbal counterparts. Learn to identify the slightest differences between a person’s word and what their body says.

Model Your Best Team Members

Whenever scientists run an experiment, they always start with a control group as a baseline of what they expect. Within your team right now, you have a few A-level players working. These people are your control group.

Now, it’s easy for us to focus on hard skillsets, like how proficient someone is at their job. While that’s great, it’s not going to build you a high-performance team. You need to recruit and hire people who have better soft skills than hard skills.

Hard skills like job proficiency can be taught and refined with time (and practice). Soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, time management, stress management, work ethics, self-confidence, adaptability, tenacity, and resilience. Those are the skills that separate the great from the outstanding.

Look closer at the people on your team who have the balance of hard and soft skills. Those are the superstars who elevate the team! Those are the people who place others before themselves. Those are the people who will build your brand to legendary status.

When you’re interviewing, you need to ask questions that dig deeper into the discovery of those soft skills. Here are some examples:

  • Explain to your 95-year-old grandmother what you do for a living.
  • How would you deal with a teammate who wasn’t doing their share of work?
  • You know your manager is 100 percent wrong about something. What do you do?
  • What do you expect from a manager?
  • How do you go about rearranging your schedule if something unplanned occurs?
  • Describe a time when you had to solve a problem in a crisis.
  • In what ways have you encouraged your work team to be more creative and innovative?
  • What are the key ingredients to building good relationships with others?
  • Which one better describes you? “Done is better than perfect.” Or, “Everything has to look perfect.”
  • What would you do if you discovered a manager was breaking company rules?
  • How would you deal with a customer who you felt was becoming unreasonable?
  • Which one of these is the most important aspect for you at work? Career development, perks and benefits, pay, or nice coworkers?
  • What do you hope to achieve during your first six months here?
  • How do you set long-term goals for your team? How do you evaluate performances?
  • Your team lead tells you’ve done a poor job. How do you respond?
  • How do you deal with differences of opinion in the restaurant?
  • What are your techniques for handling stress?
  • Do you like the responsibility of decision making or would you prefer to leave it to someone else?
  • What do you do to increase your confidence in situations where it’s lacking?
  • What would make you quit a job in the first month?
  • Give an example of a work situation where you felt that it was best not to be honest.
  • How do you weigh the pros and cons before making a decision?

Get down to the person behind the resume or application. That piece of paper just tells you about where they’ve worked—it doesn’t tell you shit about how they work or how they work with others.

Check this out: Stop Whining About Hiring

The dynamics of the team must always be a consideration when adding a new person to the staff. You must think of new hires like a recipe: Some ingredients work with each other and some will fight each other. High-performance team development is part science and part intuition.

Back it Up with a Behavioral Assessment

The best way to ensure your new hires are a good team fit is to confirm your initial impressions with some scientific data. That means using a behavioral assessment. There are quite a few options available on the market that you can use.

DiSC®️, ProScan®️, and the Predictive Index®️ are among those that I recommend most highly for the hospitality industry. They’re all very similar in that they measure the four cornerstone behavioral traits that every human on the planet has. We just have them in different combinations, which makes us all unique.

Books have been written about these traits, so here is the CliffsNotes version:

  • Dominance. The take-charge trait. Those with High D are driven and relentless individuals. They don’t do well with small talk. They’re focused and persistent in achieving their goals. If you need someone to get a project rolling, use a High Dominance person.
  • Extroversion. The people trait. Those with High E are very social and natural communicators. They get energy from people and need that connection to thrive. They’re natural coaches, teachers, and salespeople. They’re great at getting the team motivated. They also tend to overlook the details. If you need to sell the team on a project, get a High Extrovert.
  • Pace. The patience or rate-of-motion trait. Those with High P are consistent and persistent. They like routine and a harmonious work environment. These people are the protectors of the team and are great at keeping the team together. If you need someone to maintain the standards and routines, use a High Pace person to get the job done.
  • Conformity. The systems-and-rules trait. Those with High C are rules and data driven. They see the world as black and white—rules were made to be followed if you’re a High C. They need information and are passionate about the details. If you need someone to cross the Ts and dot the Is then, use a High Conformity person to follow through and make sure the little things don’t get overlooked.

Now, that’s a high-level overview and you shouldn’t get too strict about labeling people as this or that. While behavior does predict performance, you must also consider personal experience that could alter beliefs and actions. We’re all wired in a way that, once understood, can help us develop our natural strengths to maximize results and efficiency.

Check this out: The Traits of an Outstanding Team

Building a high-performance team takes time. That time can be shortened by using behavioral tools to see what makes people tick.

Make Recruiting a Must

It would be a safe bet that your hiring system is more of a reactionary one. The worst thing you can do in a tight labor market is sit back and wait for people to come to you. That’s a recipe to get the same quality of people you’re currently getting, which most likely isn’t very good.

Don’t be passive here. There’s A-grade talent out there right now in your market actively looking for new opportunities because their currently employer doesn’t appreciate them. That’s bad for them and great for you! However, you must be on the lookout for them all the time.

Posting job ads when you need someone is a stupid business move. From this day forward, you always want to be hiring. You should make room for A-level players who are a good behavioral and brand culture fit for your team. Every bar and restaurant has at least one employee who’s a below-average performer that’s kept around like dead wood. It’s time to do them and your brand a favor and let them go. You can’t make it to the next level if you still have one foot on the level below. Time to level up!

You must be recruiting actively each week. That means scheduling it on your calendar if you want to turn that “should” into a “must”! I know you mean well and that you’ll recruit “when you have some extra time.” In this industry there is no extra time—you get what you schedule to make happen. Want better talent? Schedule time to recruit and time to interview!

Check this out: What’s the Big Deal about Culture?

Use social media like LinkedIn to actively recruit as well. Do a title search for the job you’re looking to fill. Let’s say it’s a general manager. Type in “restaurant (or bar) general manager” in your area and see all the profiles that come up. Now, do some due diligence and check out profiles. If someone seems like a possibility, send them a message. Keep it simple and straightforward. Something like:

“Hi ______,

I saw your profile and you have a lot of experience that would be a great fit with my team. I’m not sure if you’re looking for a new opportunity, however, if you are I would love to have a 10-20 minute conversation to discuss possibilities. Message me back and let me know.”

See, simple. Now, this is purely a numbers game. You’ll need to send out at least 25-40 messages to get about a 10 percent response rate. That might seem low but you’ve already vetted part of their resume through this process. Besides, you build a high-performance team one player at a time. Focus each step of your hiring cycle into getting one person who has the talent and personality to work with your current team, and who aligns with your core values. Repeat until you have the A team you desire! 

Commit to Training

The last part of this system is the most neglected: training. Ninety-five percent of bars and restaurants only train when they hire a new person. In an uber-competitive market like ours, you can’t afford to not be training yourself and your team constantly.

Wait? Did I say "yourself"? Yes.

You need to be committed to becoming a better leader if you want quality, A-level talent to follow you. That’s the thing about A-level players—they want to play with other A-level players! Mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocrity.

Training doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be consistent. With the accessibility of the Internet you have more information available to you than ever before. Damn, I remember when I was in grade school, I had to go to the library to find information for reports! Today, you can Google that shit up in less than a minute. We have too much information and not enough follow-through acting on it.

Check this out: How Fear Holds You Back from Dominating Your Market

Download and share blog posts. Share podcast episodes with your team. Watch a YouTube video during the next team meeting. There’s no excuse to not be constantly training yourself and your team. Okay, there’s one excuse—you’re addicted to mediocrity! Don’t be that person. Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t play small in the world.

Your bar or restaurant reflects your standards for yourself and who you allow to be on your team. Poor team selection is the number one root cause of drama and poor performance. Who you allow to be on your team is a big choice. It’s your duty as a leader to hire right to protect your brand.

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