What I learned having lunch with my 1st grader
My wife and I decided because Lucas worked so hard on his fall school play "The Garden Show" in which Lucas played the Alien Grandfather, we would take lunch to him school.  What we did not expect is that we would be having lunch with the whole class. OK so we knew that they would be there, however we did not know we would be recruited to help manage lunch time! Not by the staff, but by the children.

It was actually a wonderful experience and confirmed my beliefs about trust and learning, yes I was learning from a group of first graders.  They were so willing to trust my wife and I, no hidden agendas, just the honest truth in which they genuinely trusted us to take care of. By the end of lunch I was sharing my chips with the class, cleaning up spills and giving permission to go to the bathroom.  With no training or preparation we were performing this new amazing role of helping the most innocent with the simplest tasks that meant so much to them.

What I learned is trust is such a fragile thing, which should never be squandered or abused. Also in life we must slow down and take the time to do the small things for people and in our day to day lives.  We get so busy with the big things we forget that life is made up of many small precious moments.

 I believe the same is true in our companies today. Do we focus enough on the needs of the team? Unlike first graders, the people we work with won't be so honest. That's where as leaders we need to listen and genuinely care about the people who work for us and with us. We need to give trust like the kids gave my wife and I, since they gave it so freely we were then charged with honoring it. It was a great responsibility and something we both cherished.  I hope people feel that way about the companies they work for....unfortunately the data would tell us otherwise.

As William George Jordan states in the book The Power of Truth (Brentano's 1902) “Truth is the rock foundation of every great character” and I believe foundation of every great company. 

Those children will never know the impact they had on me and the lesson they taught me that day. I do and am so thankful to those first graders. 

We have a problem, make another checklist?

For the life of me I don’t know why we don't come up with a checklist to end world hungry, poverty or racism, because so many companies think that checklists and people checking them will fix all their problems. Now of course I'm being sarcastic, but the desire to throw in another list or audit to ensure results or a desired behavior is all too common. The logic is flawed: Checklists are only as effective as the people checking them. Checkers who are not aligned or connected to the values of the organization will net the same results as if the checklist did not exist. We have to accept that we can't manage people (although we can manage things) — we must lead them. But accepting that is often difficult because it requires hard work, self-management and a real investment of one’s time. So most, although not all, take the easy route and absolutely ensure they will achieve mediocrity.

Our love of the checklist runs deep. Just Google "checklist" and you will see how entrenched the flawed approach is. That said, I completely understand the need for checklists and audits and am not advocating for their demise. For example, I very much want my airline pilot to perform his pre-flight checklist, so checklists certainly have a place. My point is that a checklist or audit is a tool and cannot replace solid leadership, training and development, as well as sound hiring practices. The reality is that adding more checkers and auditors is expensive and creates a lack of trust between management and staff. In my experience the people who have the right tools are aligned and connected to the values and mission of the organization and don't rely on audits — they self-manage. We must always be careful of how small of a box we want to put people in, because once in they tend to perform within that box, never realizing their full potential. And worse, great people simply leave. 

A checkers checking checkers approach creates a costly work environment that does not promote creativity, trust or high-performance.

Hiring for alignment ... Why?

If you could make one single change in your business, hiring for alignment will make the biggest impact. Over my two decades of experience hiring front line, district, regional and senior executives, the alignment pieces have made the biggest impact. Having an aligned team with people who are connected to the mission and values of the organization can drive performance beyond your wildest expectations. You spend less time convincing people when they are aligned with your companies’ goals and objectives. As Jim Collins writes in “Good to Great”: “The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up: they will be self-motivated by inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.” Every time in my career I compromised on this practice, I lived to regret it. Great example: I had just taken over a very difficult group of stores and was in need of five district managers. Working with my HR manager I interviewed like a mad man, five to eight interviews a day.

We needed people (what got us here is a story for another day) to rebuild an entire region of 90+ stores.   

I consider hiring people one of my strengths and enjoy the challenge. It was a sunny day, and I was hopeful based on the lineup for the day that we would find some great people to join our team. All this was happening during the 4% unemployment days. The first interview was a home run and I knew we would make an offer … hooray! The second must had lied on his resume and was a short interview. The third, the most impressive resume of the day, quickly became the biggest disappointment to me ... very rigid, mechanical with limited interpersonal skills, clearly not aligned with our culture in the least … after all I was trying to change the face of retail, creating something that did not exist in retail America! This person was not going to work. My HR manager was shocked and encouraged me to consider looking beyond the interview, focusing more on the resume and skills the candidate brought to the table.   

After much prodding from my HR manager, we made an offer and this person joined the team but never really "joined the team." Bottom line, I compromised and had the words of one of my mentors, Max, ringing in my ears ... "There are only three guarantees in life: death and taxes and if you compromise your standards you will fail." Max could not have been more correct. Don't get me wrong, this person put points on the board and had an impact on the business but was never truly aligned with our mission and values. Because of this we eventually parted ways.   

Turnover is expensive, and change in leadership creates ripples that are lasting. So the resume is the ticket to the interview, but the questions around alignment and getting to know a person’s true being will yield the best results.

Always follow your instincts and never, ever compromise.

    Tim Winner has more than two decades of business and executive management experience, including working with start-up companies, holding  leadership roles in operations and HR, and serving as the chief operating officer in both for- profit and non-profit companies.

    View my profile on LinkedIn


    November 2013
    March 2012
    February 2012