Why Top Talent Can Be Found in the Most Unlikely Places


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I hire bartenders.

It’s not because I enjoy an occasional cocktail. It’s because companies, like the drinks, are often better if they’re shaken up. Bringing in someone with different experience and a solid work ethic — like a bartender — will agitate a business in a healthy way that, in the long run, delivers greater engagement, innovation, and competitiveness. When you unusually do business, you’ll find that talent and greatness can essentially be found anywhere. The first step is knowing where to look.

Related: 6 Steps for Hiring the Right People to Build Effective Teams

A first-hand lesson from the kitchen

When I was working as a busboy at 15, I was thrown into a trial by fire by my boss:

“Do you know how to cook?”

“I mean, I’ve seen the cooks do it.”

“Good. We have nobody to cook tonight, so you and I are in the kitchen.”

That night started my hands-on education about how hard everybody in the service industry works. Today, some tasks are easier thanks to tools like point-of-sale systems and better organization. But service workers still work hard. They’re still used to listening to the story of that one person who just got divorced while getting yelled at by 50 other people. They’re still handling the stress of drunk or belligerent people, not getting home to their families until 2 or 3 a.m. and other problems like customers not paying their bills.

I like to hire people that are hard workers, energetic about their job, compassionate and understanding. Having seen service people at work, bartenders fit that bill. I know that if they can deal with everything that’s thrown at them daily, they certainly can deal with working for me, where the worst thing that can happen is having to answer a call at 11:00 o’clock at night because I’m stuck in a Detroit airport needing a flight home.

How does this play out in real life? Take the case of the bartender from a restaurant I went to almost every day. She talked about her marketing experience and background as a veteran, and I could see she was a highly organized and driven individual. When a customer was a jerk to her, she put them in their place, and I thought, that’s the kind of person I want protecting me from people trying to call and break down my door. So, I teased her for almost a year about how I was going to hire her.

When my previous assistant moved to another city, my bartender friend took the job. She jumped in and didn’t ask questions. She got HR certified, passing an incredibly difficult test the first time she took it. Now, she runs my entire HR department and is closing on her first house, all because of a conversation that started two years ago as I watched her run back and forth during dinner.

Real people, real gains

A lot of businesses get complacent. They’re used to handling processes a certain way and are afraid to bring in new perspectives. They don’t think to reach across the line. So I wasn’t surprised about how people reacted when I brought in a bartender. They thought I was insane to let someone with zero experience in the industry be the gatekeeper for all seven of our companies.

But now they’ve seen the work ethic. They’ve changed how they post job listings: Instead of saying they want a salesperson to have marketing experience in human resource tech, they’ll put up a post that says they’re looking for a creative person who can bring new ideas from outside the HR tech world. They encourage everybody to apply because they understand they could find diamonds in the rough and that, when they see that talent, the added diversity of background and experiences builds a competitive edge that’s advantageous for company growth.

Many talented people haven’t been given the same chances and opportunities as others. Maybe they couldn’t afford to go to school or married and had young children. But they’re creative. They’re smart. They’re hard workers. When you think outside the box, take someone out of a tough situation and redirect their career path, they’re challenged in high-pressure environments they actually enjoy. The workers get benefits — real benefits like health insurance, not fake ones. They get to see their kids before they go to bed. They’re home in time for dinner. So it creates a reasonable sense of appreciation and loyalty.

Related: Which Is More Important, Work Ethic or Talent?

Staying on course while doing something different

Hiring is an example of when breaking the rules can be a fantastic idea. But not every out-of-the-box idea is worth pursuing. I get a lot of ideas from my team, but I also have hundreds of people who count on me to push the organization, achieve our goals and go to the place I told them we would. So, I have to continually remind them that if a concept doesn’t align with the company vision, the current state of the business, and where we’re headed, it will be an absolute no.

Businesses might not always start out as defined as leaders need them to be, and there are a lot of turns and stop signs on the journey to find their path. Some leaders see how long it takes. They see it’s hard. They think that they may change things if they take a sharp right turn. But most of the time, that’s where people fail because the turn they make isn’t researched.

So, believe in the vision. Get the right people. Then let them go do it.

Related: How to Be More Creative in Your Business

Don’t just step out of the box — destroy it

I’m not going to encourage leaders to fire their employees and hire bartenders, and bartenders aren’t going to change the velocity or vision of the organization. But what hiring bartenders does is bring in a unique perspective and hardworking attitude. Having others see how bartenders behave creates a different kind of buzz, motivation and respect that can propel a business to success.

So, however diverse experience gets through the door, be willing to step on the box. Crush it and rip the paper off. Having something new to build on might just provide the boost needed to take your business to the next level.


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