Hire Only the Very Best, and Don’t Settle for Less
Early on in my retail career I was a buyer for a major regional discount chain (one of those companies that got rolled up in that 80’s tidal wave called Wal-Mart). It was an incredible learning experience, one that I draw on every day as I work with clients.
As a buyer, I gained something of a reputation for being able to develop assistant buyers. I took an active interest in my assistants, who weren’t much younger than me, and just as eager to move their careers forward. I had trained under an exceptional buyer myself, and enjoyed passing all that I’d learned along.
In the process I learned a valuable lesson about developing talent, one that I find my clients all too often struggling with.
I remember one assistant buyer in particular, John. He had been hired with great expectations, but had been working with buyer who had little interest in him, and had settled into buying the same things from the same vendors year after year. Not surprisingly, John was languishing, and his attitude was suffering.
When he came to me, it was the first time my boss had given me explicit instructions – “We think this guy has a lot of potential, and we want you to bring it out of him.”
From the moment John and I sat down to talk, I knew this guy was a winner. He was eager and passionate and very excited to be out from under his previous buyer. He pledged that he would do whatever I asked to the very best of his ability.
He didn’t disappoint. Over the next six months we worked hand in hand, and he soaked everything up like a sponge. If management had worried about his attitude, their attitude toward him quickly changed. He was smart, talented and dedicated, and he quickly earned the opportunity to buy his own department.
After John was promoted, I was sent Terry. She had bounced around from one buyer to the next for a year and a half before she landed with me. Like John, management thought she had a lot of potential, but had grown concerned about her attitude.
As with John, I got a pretty good read on Terry from our first conversation. Like John, she was clearly very bright, but that’s where the similarity ended. She was cynical and suspicious. When I asked her to pledge to give me her best effort, she agreed, but without any sign of enthusiasm.
Over the next several months I tried my best to connect with her and help her turn her attitude around. Her work was spotty at best. In short order, it became clear that she lacked the commitment and dedication that was the threshold requirement of the job. In the end, I had to go to management, share my concerns and request an assistant who I could count on. Shortly after, Terry was let go.
From that experience, I first learned not to expend time and energy on employees who lack a seriousness of purpose, commitment to excellence and the determination to be the best they can be. The time and energy spent is simply time and energy wasted, and in any situation, time and energy are truly the scarce resource.
In time, however, I drew a second lesson from the experience, which is even more important. Hire only the very best, and don’t settle for less. With a team of people like John just about anything is possible, but as you add people like Terry to the mix the possibilities quickly slip away. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity.
I’ve had clients complain that it’s not easy to find people like John. They’re right, it’s not easy. Exceptional people are few and far between, but that’s not a reason to settle for less, that’s a reason to redouble your efforts to find the very best. The payoff from hiring only the very best comes when you find a passionate, serious, and committed person, and the impact that they have when you add them to your team.