1: Today’s the day.

The new hire we are all excited about starts today. We’ve used our high standards to hire what renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer calls a “51 percenter” someone who has both the technical skills (49%) and the emotional skills (51%) to succeed in their new role.

Now what? How do we ensure we’ve hired the right person, and how do we best onboard them onto their new team?

2: Danny shares two suggestions in his excellent book Setting the Table. Suggestion one: Trailing. “For years, we’ve used a system called ‘trailing’ to test and hone a prospect’s technical skills—the 49 percent—and to begin to assess his or her emotional skills, the 51 percent.”

What is trailing?  

“It is a combination of training and auditioning; it’s rigorous and sometimes awkward,” Danny explains. “We generally keep people on probation until we’ve first observed their behavior within the real environment of the dining room or kitchen, and until we’ve assessed their overall fit with our team.”

At all eighteen of Danny’s New York City restaurants, managers share upfront with candidates they will be “trailed” by a current associate. The process benefits both the organization and the new hire. “We urge those who trail to ask themselves, Is this really the kind of place I’m going to want to spend one-third of my time? Is this place going to challenge me and make me feel fulfilled?”

The trailing process is straightforward. The frontline manager arranges shadowing in each job category. “Most prospective employees go through four, five, or six trails during meal periods and often trail with a different waiter or cook each time. For each trail after the first, there is a specific and increasingly advanced list of what needs to be learned and accomplished during that session,” Danny writes.

Danny sees the practice as a critical element of team-building: “Our training is designed not as a hazing, but as a healthy way to foster a stronger team,” he notes. “Trailers don’t advance to their second trail unless the first trainer recommends this to the manager; they don’t move on to their third unless the second trainer endorses it; and so on. After five or six trails, we end up with a well-trained candidate who has also been endorsed by as many as half a dozen team members.”

3: His next suggestion? As CEO, Danny stays involved and active with new hires. He meets with all new hires once every four weeks. Danny’s first job out of college was working for a presidential campaign managing volunteers. “I have continued to view people who work for me as volunteers. It isn’t that they’ve agreed to work without pay,” Danny writes. He tells them: “I’m aware that you’re all here, on the most basic level, to pay the rent.” He continues: “Just as you need a job, I need people to take orders accurately and to cook wonderful food.”  

Then he shares that he knows each of them could have found a job at any of 200 other very good restaurants for the same pay. “You could all be doing what you do anywhere else,” he says. “But you chose to be with us. You have volunteered to be on our team, and we owe it to you to provide you with much more than just a paycheck in return. We want you to feel certain you have made a wise choice in joining our company. It’s a chance to work at a company where respect and trust are mutual between management and workers, where you can enjoy working alongside and learning from excellent colleagues.”

But most importantly, according to Danny? “Where you can know that your contributions can make every day truly matter.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: How might my organization benefit from Danny’s concept of “trailing”?  

Action: Discuss “trailing” with my team before onboarding our next new hire.

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