Winning Workplaces

Mark Harbeke on Hiring for Fit

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 by Mark Harbeke

Last week I enjoyed a week off with my family in Canada, specifically Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  But before I had even left the states, I was reminded of an important lesson when it comes to hiring for fit as well as employee engagement and workplace team building.

My wife and I flew from LAX to Newark Liberty International Airport before connecting on a flight from there to Halifax.  Between our arrival and second departure gate was a small, ’50s-style diner.  Not having much time and knowing there’d be at least a snack on our second-leg flight, we sat down there to split a plate of fries.  We wanted to keep ourselves hydrated, so we each opted for free glasses of water instead of sodas (you’ll see why this is important in a second).

When we arrived the place was maybe a third full – not too busy for the one waiter to serve us, as I can say with authority from my high school days as a waiter.  Yet it was immediately apparent that he preferred to favor tables with more people who were ordering more items.  That’s understandable because, in theory, that’s where the bigger tips were.

What he shouldn’t have assumed, though, is that we would leave a proportionally smaller tip.  It so happened that we had bills and no change so, proportionally, had he done an even passable job, he would have gotten a very nice tip for his time involved.  But he initially ignored us, literally rolled his eyes when we asked for a plate of fries and two waters, didn’t check on us once he delivered our order, and, worst of all when it comes to waiting etiquette, took our check and tip before we had left!

On our way out, when my wife shared that his tip could have been a lot higher if he had treated us better, the waiter said lazily, “Well, you only ordered fries.”  Since when does amount spent dictate the service level received!?  (This is an equation that doesn’t factor into the business models of our Top Small Company Workplaces, BTW.)

If you run a company, especially in the hospitality industry, you might be thinking that this experience reflects more on the individual employee and doesn’t impact the business as much.  Not necessarily; on our return visit to the same airport en route from Halifax to Los Angeles, we noticed the same waiter in the same restaurant – steering clear of both and getting our food on elsewhere in the terminal.  A different customer-employee experience could have meant repeat business for that diner.

The takeaway?  When you have a more or less stable, captive audience such as in an airport or mall, people practices including hiring for fit and using employee development strategies to deliver excellent service can make a huge difference on your bottom line.

Related: In this webinar recording on our website, two of our award-winning small business CEOs share proven tips for creating a fantastic customer service culture.