There’s a great documentary on education titled “Waiting for Superman” that describes a phenomenon called “The Dance of the Lemons.” It illustrates the sad fact that even horribly bad teachers are never fired, but are merely transferred to other school districts. The “Dance” involves frustrated principals and school administrators who, unable to terminate their worst educators, meet annually to trade them off onto other hapless schools. Consequently, really poor teachers — folks that are doing a disservice to our kids and should be seeking another profession — bounce from school to school, as other ineffective ones are moved-in to replace them. Thus the “Dance of the Lemons.”
What does this have to do with your store? Plenty. The vast majority of business owners tend to fall into the same trap when hiring. We all know the mediocre manager who has worked at nearly every dealership in town; he’s failed at store after store, yet always gets another management job down the street, where he continues to practice his mediocrity. Why?
One word: FEAR.
Owners and entrepreneurs tend to operate in a general state of terror most of the time. It’s the nature of running a business — or what author Jim Collins calls “Productive Paranoia.” Regardless, this fear drives us to focus on one trait more than any other when filling a leadership position; and that’s experience.
Yet experience simply means you’ve attempted something. It doesn’t mean you’re any good at it.
We’ll often ignore talent, ambition, drive — and the most important attribute of all, TEACHABILITY — when we look at candidates. Instead it’s all about the résumé: have they done the exact same job elsewhere? They must know what they’re doing and be really good at it, right?
More often than not, that perfectly-matched resume simply means they’ve tried and failed at the similar job — otherwise they’d still be there, and would have little interest in working for you.
Think of it this way: you’re opening a restaurant and need an executive chef. The local Red Lobster is very successful; you like their food, and you’ve got a resume from a cook who worked there. Do you assume that his skill is the reason for Red Lobster’s success? Do you assume he knows the finer points of gastronomy and what makes a spectacular menu? He knows how to cook the food he’s told to cook in the manner that Red Lobster dictates — using their recipes, systems, and processes. He might even be good at it, but he’s no Gordon Ramsay. He knows what it’s like to work at a restaurant, but not much else. In fact, he could actually be a horrible cook, which would explain why he’s done the same job at so many different eateries.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t need a cook that can follow a strict recipe, you need a chef. A professional that doesn’t just follow protocol, but creates the menu. Someone who not only knows what good food tastes like, but understands what actually makes food great. An expert who can craft a menu — learning your clientele and market — to ultimately make your restaurant successful. Most importantly, you need someone who will create the restaurant YOU want, not just attempt to duplicate Red Lobster.
It seems simple, yet here’s the trap: we need a high-level manager for a certain department, so the first question is, “Has he/she done the exact same job, in the same industry, in the same business?” If the answer is no, we often disqualify the candidate regardless of other attributes. Instead we’ll hire the same mediocre guy who has performed the same mediocre job down the street, getting mediocre results. This pattern is repeated, yet we expect different outcomes.
So what should you be looking for? As my buddy Dwain DeVille once recommended, “You want knowledge, but also drive and talent — someone who will rise to the challenge, yet do things YOUR way. A strong ‘Number-Two’ who strives to be a ‘Number-One’.” Dwain recommended the talented overachiever, one who works in a similar field but whose ambition is stymied by that Lemon holding the spot above him or her. They know enough and have focus. They can be trained on the rest, because most importantly, they are teachable.
There’s an auto row in my town with four stores; the current GM for the Nissan store used to be GM for the Honda store, and before that he was GM for the Toyota store, and before that, GM for the Mazda store. Imagine the closed-door discussions during his hiring: “Why, he was general manager at that super-successful Toyota Store!” They must’ve said, “He knows everybody! He knows the market! He knows the job! He’s turnkey, doesn’t need any training! He’s so EXPERIENCED!” They must have been ecstatic.
He’s a lemon. He’s done the job over and over again, and only knows how to do it one way. Following a good month, he takes the credit. After a bad month, he’ll blame the economy or the product. Like the Nissan store owners who hired him, he’ll continue to repeat the same behavior over and over again with the same results. He’s not teachable because “experienced” guys rarely are. So history repeats itself, and the next store will be just as excited to nab him before too long.
We’ve all repeated the “Dance of the Lemons” time and again, somehow anticipating different results. I’ve personally hired more well-connected, highly-recommended “experienced professionals” than I can count. They ignore advice, instruction and coaching, instead proceeding to do the same job in the same manner as before, hoping for different outcomes.
As Einstein famously opined, it sounds a lot like the definition of insanity to me.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 25 years in the powersports industry, currently serving as vice president of Eaglerider Motorcycle Sales. Although Chris is admittedly one of the aforementioned “experienced professionals,” he likes to think of himself as a chef, not simply a cook. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or clients. Chris lives in Los Angeles with his family. Visit www.chrisclovis.com for more information.