How to Hire 'Eagles'

April 25, 2002

Dave Ostrander operated Big Dave's Pizza for nearly 30 years before becoming a consultant to the pizza industry. He lives in Oscoda, Mich., and works with independent and chain operators all over the U.S.

I know how you hire. We've all done it. It's called the coroner's test. Any warm body will do in a pinch. Place a mirror under their nostrils, and if it fogs up, hire 'em!

Dave Ostrander

Warm bodies are destined to fail and do more crew harm than good. We all have scores of excess W-2 forms to prove it. It takes its toll on the crew emotionally and on your checkbook financially.

The old phrase, "Eagles never flock together, you discover them one at a time," couldn't be more to the point. Eagles are a rare bird, and in our case, we need to be able to identify an "Eagle" when we see one.

What characteristics are important to you in a new hire? I look for a pleasing personality and good communication skills. They must love people -- not merely like them -- be able to handle high levels of stress with a smile and be honest, period. They must be able to make decisions quickly. They need to be groomed in appearance, not sloppy. They also need to have a genetic trait called hustle.

I'm always on the look out for Eagles/Winners. I bump into them all the time. They are the service providers who always have a warm word, a smile, deliver extraordinary service and care if I am a happy camper. When I receive great service, I usually recognize it with a tip and a business card with a memo written on the back. It goes something like this:

"You've made my day with your great service and attitude. If you ever decide to change careers, please call me. Thanks again, Big Dave."

Sooner or later every Eagle becomes unhappy. At that point your phone will ring. (P.S. - If you're an operator, tip them with a gift certificate. This is an excellent way to garner a new customer. I've given these jewels away on the road hundreds of miles away from home. And, surprisingly, many have made it back to my restaurant.)

How to Clone a Winner

Remember when your mom said, "Birds of a feather flock together," and "You're judged by the company you keep?" Mom was right, as usual, so use those ideas in your business by encouraging your best employees to recommend new hires. Here's a neat way I also rewarded them when they brought in good employees.

(* One note of caution: Don't allow just any employee to recommend a new hire. To be sure I trusted my employees to find Eagles, each of them had to work six months before they were allowed to recommend a friend for hire. They first had to prove themselves an Eagle.)

Since we always try to have more than enough Eagles, you want to get into a position to hire just for bench strength. I've never had too many Winners, and filling your ranks with them also keeps other crewmembers hungry for hours. It also allows you to be flexible in scheduling for things like after-school sports, band, cheerleading, vacation, and all the unexpected events that pop up.

About hiring relatives of Eagles/Winners: I've found that quite often family members -- and especially siblings -- working the same shift don't work as a team. They generally bring their family dynamics, problems and pecking order with them to the restaurant.

When a prospect would come to my shop and fill out an application, I'd hold a conference with the applicant's friend, my employee. I'd probe deeply into the make-up of the applicant to know everything possible about him or her prior to the interview. Strengths, weaknesses, bad habits, family history and length of friendship are discussed before I schedule an interview.

Just prior to the interview, I'd ask my trusted Eagle employee this question: "If I decide to hire your friend based on your recommendation, will you agree to sponsor him or her?" If the answer was "no," then I'd not schedule an interview.

If the answer was "yes," we'd shake hands and enter into an informal contract. The sponsor agreed to mentor the new hire, answer questions, teach unwritten rules and help that person succeed.

At the end of the new hire's 10-week probationary period, the sponsor got a crisp $100 bill.

But just to make things exciting and keep the sponsor focused, the sponsor agreed that if the new hire didn't make it for any reason in that 10 weeks, he or she paid me $50.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? I assure you it works great. No more half-hearted endorsements because Eagles only sponsor Eagles.

They will coach them day and night -- even on their days off! This is a very inexpensive way to weed out questionable applicants in whom you are about to invest lots of money to train.

By the way, let the whole crew know you keep a $100 bill in your wallet. The sponsors have a way of locating you the minute the probation is over. Pay them off in public to give everyone a vested interest in the success of a new hire.

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