Hiring the Unhireable

There’s a bakery in South Yonkers, NY called Greyston Bakery. I got pretty excited when I learned that the brownies they make (17 tons of them a day) are sold at Whole Foods and are key ingredients in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. But my excitement grew when I learned about their open hiring policy. “Anyone that comes to the front door of our bakery is given the chance to work, no questions asked.”

Just got out of prison? Come on in. Had a history of drug use and/or homelessness? No problem, you’re welcome to work at Greyston. You may have seen the video.Before you think that they extend this hand to a couple folks in hopes of a PR win, you should know that they’ve been doing it for 30 years and in 2012, they hired 181 residents from their less-than-prosperous community.I was very excitedly telling my colleague, Jim (who owns a business), about Greyston’s policy and about some of their employees’ awesome success stories. Unfortunately, he quickly came up with a list of reasons why this wouldn’t work in the real world. He said, “There’s a difference between a bakery and a [company that would hire a] computer programmer!”I know that part of his thought was that it’s easier to train someone to be a baker than a programmer (or other “knowledge-based” worker), or that the attention to detail needed to be a programmer was much more than that of a baker or something like that. There are several schools, like Launch Academy, that can train people to be programmers in 12 weeks. And I really doubt that a brownie company would last more than a couple weeks if their failure rate (or even their “minor oops” rate) was anywhere near the rate of software failures. So, I actually think that for all intents and purposes, hiring a “line worker” is just as important and difficult a task as hiring a “knowledge worker”.I suggested to him that when building personal friendships or romantic relationships, we don’t generally do our “due diligence”, so why do we feel that we must do so when hiring? He said, “Well going on a coffee date is a lot different than hiring someone. It’s pretty hard to fire someone.” But we don’t just go on coffee dates. We enter serious relationships and often get married – simply based on a feeling – even if all of their “attributes” may not match our preconceived list of must-haves. We go on feeling! Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. But that doesn’t matter!The average entrepreneur starts 5 companies before “succeeding”, despite several failed attempts at starting companies. People get remarried all the time, even in spite of very painful divorces. We are constantly going with a gut feel, “ignoring” the past, and hoping for a better future. Why can we not apply that hope to hiring? Operating from a place of constantly trying to prevent something “bad” from happening is not a way to prosper.Back to romantic relationships. When we pick mates, we don’t call their references. And if we did, chances are good that the last person they dated wouldn’t give a glowing review. And as for it being hard to fire someone – as someone who’s fired people and who went through a mostly amicable divorce, I can tell you that firing people is far easier than getting divorced!If you are thinking that I’m crazy for making that comparison between business relationships and romantic mates, consider the fact that we very frequently use euphemisms like “partner” instead of “vendor” or “client”. We proudly speak of “building relationships” with our clients.Yet, most companies don’t think of their relationship with their employees as a true relationship. We use language like “rock star” and “ninja” to describe our most effective employees. But those are words that describe transactional relationships, not lasting ones. Even when we “wine and dine” a potential candidate, we are basically doing that to bribe them. The awesomeness of a steak, scotch and cigar does nothing to imply the quality of a potential working relationship.If you’ve made it this far, you probably think that I’m going to preach to you and tell you should an open hiring policy or that you should just trust your gut or that you shouldn’t call people’s references. Well, maybe just a little bit.But really, want I wanted to share with you is that maybe, just maybe, you should stop believing your thoughts. They’re just thoughts! (That was the one trick I was referring to.) In so much of what we do in business, we tend to collect information so that we can later justify, through a story, why something succeeded or failed. We convince ourselves that our thoughts are correct. And I’m not suggesting they’re wrong. But knowing that success is about so much more than the sum of your seemingly correct thoughts is true power.People are complex beings. You may fall deeply in love with your girlfriend and think she’s the most amazing person ever, despite the fact that her last boyfriend thought she was insane and couldn’t stand being around her. Similarly, employees may have not performed well at a prior job because it was autocratic or boring or unethical or their skills were of little use there. Or maybe they were just having personal problems at the time. Stop gathering information! Maybe if we didn’t believe our own thoughts so much, and stopped trying to predict everything based on “information” that you don’t really have anyway, we’d find what we’re actually looking for.Sir Richard Branson said that one of his biggest assets is being able to very quickly sense whether he should enter into a business relationship with someone and if that relationship will last. And Greyston doesn’t even concern themselves with knowing. They simply trust that doing good will lead to being good.

If you’d like to be able to discover where trust comes from and how to trust yourself, in business and in life, I invite you to a discussion. Or just email me -

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