1: High standards? 

Sure. But the team has been short a person for three weeks. Everyone is working extra hours to get the work out the door. The stress level is high.

The hiring manager finally finds a technically outstanding candidate. Not only can they do the job, but they can start right away. But the potential new hire doesn’t seem to fit the company’s values. The candidate lacks the emotional intelligence to work well with our team and our clients.

Should we pass on the candidate?

“Absolutely,” answers renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer in his terrific book Setting the Table. “I’m not impressed by a candidate’s technical prowess if the meaningful emotional skills aren’t already in place. . . There are a lot of jobs to fill in the restaurant business, and it can be frustrating, especially in a tight labor market, to impose our own stringent limitations on whom we can and can’t hire.” 

In Danny’s experience, the overwhelmingly strong candidate is easy to spot. Same with an underwhelmingly weak candidate. 

“It’s the “whelming” candidate you must avoid at all costs because that’s the one who can and will do your organization the most long-lasting harm. Overwhelmers earn you raves. Underwhelmers either leave on their own or are terminated. Whelmers, sadly, are like a stubborn stain you can’t get out of the carpet. They infuse an organization and its staff with mediocrity; they’re comfortable, and so they never leave; and, frustratingly, they never do anything that rises to the level of getting them promoted or sinks to the level of getting them fired. 

“And because you either can’t or don’t fire them, you and they conspire to send a dangerous message to your staff and guests that “average” is acceptable,” Danny observes.

2: The answer? Don’t settle. At all 18 of Danny’s restaurants, they are steadfast in their efforts to hire only “51 percenters” – associates who are not only technically savvy but also possess the emotional skills to treat clients with the highest level of care. 

Check. But how do we make sure we are hiring 51 percenters? And, as our organization grows, how do we pass this philosophy down to others? How do we make the subjective objective and the implicit explicit? 

Danny has three specific suggestions to teach others how to listen to their gut feelings. He asks his managers “whose intuition and judgment we trust, or they wouldn’t be managers” to consider three hypothetical situations when they are hiring.

3: Situation 1: “Think of someone you know well (a spouse, best friend, parent, sibling) who has an uncanny gift for judging character,” writes Danny. “Imagine that you have invited the prospective employee to your home for dinner with your judge of character. The three of you discuss many things over a two-hour dinner. When the prospect leaves and the door closes behind him or her, what will be the first thing your character judge says? ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ Or, ‘Hire that person immediately!'” 

Because for judges of character, there is no such thing as the color gray. 

Situation 2: “Imagine your keenest rival in business—if you’re the Yankees, say, then it’s the Red Sox. Then imagine that the day you make a job offer to a prospect, he or she calls you back and says, “Thanks, but I just got a great offer from the Red Sox, and I’m taking the job with them.” Is your immediate reaction ‘Crap, we blew it!’ Or, ‘Whew, we’ve dodged a bullet!'” 

Situation 3: Imagine a “core group of customers or other people whose opinions carry special weight for them. In our industry, such a person could be a restaurant critic,” Danny writes. “So, imagine that this person with an especially weighty opinion drops in unannounced to dine, and there is only one table left in the restaurant—a table that will be served by the person you are considering hiring. Is your reaction’ Great!’—or is it ‘Oh, no!'”?

In all three scenarios, if we feel optimistic about the prospect? We are on the right track. If not? It’s time to move on. 

The final critical factor Danny instructs managers to consider? “Do they believe the candidate can become one of the top three performers on our team in his or her job category?  

“If people cannot ever develop into one of our top three cooks, servers, managers, or maître d’s, why would we hire them? How will they help us improve and become champions?”

High standards, indeed.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Reflect on a time when our organization “settled” for hiring someone who didn’t have a true passion for excellence. What were the repercussions? 

Action: Journal about the situation above. What are the “lessons learned” I can apply in my life going forward.

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