#10: Lessons on Building a Team: Be Surgical in a Sea of Spray and Pray

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Welcome to the People-First Culture podcast with me, Michel Falcon, where I share lessons I’ve learned and those of others on how to build a more purposeful business and career. Hey, everyone. It is Michel Falcon, coming to you with episode number 10 of the People-First Culture podcast. I’m really excited for this episode. I’ll describe what I’m going to be talking about on another solo episode in a moment. But for now, I wanted to ask you to subscribe to the podcast or share it with somebody who you believe might find value in anything regarding company culture, customer experience, employee engagement, and career growth. Because ultimately, that is what this podcast is about.

I am excited for this episode because one of the most joys I get out of my career is building teams. And not just any team, a high performing team. I exhaust a lot of effort and energy ensuring that my ability to grow high performing teams is up to date. So I look for education from wherever I can find it. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time focused on studying professional sports teams and how they build their teams. I’ve had a lot of conversations with individuals in the sports realm and how they’re building their teams, auditing them, continuously growing them and many other things and trying to apply those lessons within the restaurant industry.

But whether it’s salads and bowls that you sell like I do, or accounting services or real estate, all the lessons are very applicable because ultimately, a team is a team regardless of industry and there are many commonalities that can be shared. This episode is reserved for how to build a high performing team and doing it, I don’t want to say the right way, because who am I to say that this is the right way to do it? This is just one person’s opinion. One thing that I am very adamant on is that you have to be surgical when it comes to building your team and ensuring that the team that you have operating within your company is the same team that you need next year and the year after that.

And there’s many things that you can do to preemptively prepare yourself for the years to come. Perhaps you’re like me and you expect your company to grow. If that’s the case, well that makes it more challenging, at least in my opinion, because you’re going to have to forecast how much labor you need for the coming years. And it’s not as easy as saying, “I need 10 people.” Well, you need 10 people who are better than the 10 people you might have right now, because you need to constantly be raising the bar. And any individual that you bring into your organization, you have to ask yourself, is this person going to raise the average talent level on your team? Or are they going to bring it down? There are five things that I am very focused on right now. Some of which I’ve already accomplished, others that’s always a work in progress.

And the first thing that I have done in building my newest company, Brasa Peruvian Kitchen, which has humble beginnings. We’re off to a great start. By mid October, we’ll be at three locations. That will be three locations in three months, which has actually taken me by surprise how quickly we’ve been able to do that. But I’ll tell you why we’ve been able to achieve this so far. It’s because of our team. I have two individuals on my team right now that I greatly trust and they’ve really exceeded my expectations. And I’ve been very fortunate to find these two people because we are building the company based on individuals like this. But the first thing that I’m recommending is you have to build a job description that repels people. Think of the traditional job description. It’s something that is likely very boring to read. There’s a boiler plate template that you will go online and find an example and just rip it off and then just change it as you need it. I know this to be true because this is what I used to do earlier in my career.

You need to be very creative with the job description. Now there’s no one size fits all because each company has a different company culture. So the way that the job description reads needs to match how your company behaves in the workplace. Now, when I say build a job description that repels, you need to communicate very clearly how your business operates. So that if somebody that reads it that would be a misfit in your business, this should scream at them, do not apply here because you’re not going to like working here. For example, in our job description, we include our culture deck, which many companies have learned from Netflix. They were one of the first, if not the first company to popularize the company culture deck. But within that deck that we hyperlink within our job description, it is very clear that the company that we are building is quite aggressive in nature in terms of how we plan to grow.

What is our expectations in regards to performance from our team members. This is not a place where you can kind of slack off and drag your feet. You will be removed from the company really quickly if that is the case. So our job description reads this way. When you read the job description, you can tell that the organization’s a bit intense. We value working hard and diligently. So that is one of the things that you need to look at is one, when was the last time your job description was updated? I think this is a living document that needs to be updated quarterly. Now, things don’t necessarily have to change, but at least look under the hood every three months and find items that are still relevant. Keep them. If they’re not relevant, remove them. If there needs to be another coat of paint on it, do so, but your job description is like an invitation to a wedding. Or you have to treat it that way, because this is something that is potentially going to invite team members to your organization.

Not enough companies focus on the job description. Now, medium to large sized companies have people departments and HR departments, whatever they’re calling them, within their organization. I personally like the people department to be able to manage these things. But let’s say you are a small business owner, or you are a leader within a department of a much bigger company. These are things that are often overlooked. It’s a resource. Think of the effort that you went into designing the invitations to your wedding or your special event. And this is top of mind for me, because my fiance and I are actually doing that right now for our upcoming wedding in 2022. You probably took a lot of time to design this invitation and really communicate how or what type of experience your guests are going to enjoy coming to the wedding. You got to do the same thing with the job description, right? So ask yourself, when’s the last time it was updated? If you think to yourself, well, it’s been at least six months, a year or two years. Well, there is a massive opportunity right there to start.

The second thing is create an interview process that’s different and inclusive. Now, the different part is completely up to you and the same question applies here. When was the last time you updated your interview process? When is the last time you updated the questions that you asked during the interview process? If it’s 3, 6, 12, 24 months, it’s got to be closer toward three months. Again, I recommend auditing this part of the process every three months. You don’t have to overhaul it, but constantly make refinements. And this is much easier than waiting two years and having to do an overhaul of the whole process. That’s much more difficult. Instead, set a notification or a calendar invite to yourself every three months and say, on this day, I’m going to look under the hood of our interview process and refine what is working, what is not working. But make it different. Make it fun. But make it a proper representation of how your company actually operates.

At Brasa Peruvian Kitchen, my newest brand, I am hosting the first interviews. And I intend on doing this for a very long time until it is too big for just me to manage. But from there once I’ve decided that, yes, this is the type of individual that I want working within the company because they fit within our values and they see what we see, at that point comes the inclusive part. So I hand them off to an individual named Marielle and Marielle does the assessment and we will make a decision after two interviews. Now, our industry is fast casual restaurants. We have to make a decision quite quickly because we often have to hire people at scale. Maybe you’re in a similar industry, maybe you’re not. Maybe you want to extend that and include three people. By all means, do as you wish.

I do not like the long interview process anymore. I like something that is very focused and we can make decisions quite quickly. But making decisions quite quickly is kind of an outcome of the type of candidates that you get. Now, if your job description repels people, the opportunity that you have is that the caliber of the candidates that actually make it to the interview process might be potential high performers. That is what I experienced when starting this new brand. I was quite surprised of how many people that we made offers to in comparison to how many applicants we received. We didn’t receive that many applicants in an industry that typically we’ll get a hundred applicants for each role. We only got about a dozen. So what that tells me is that the job description actually worked to repel people where they’re like, “No, I don’t want to work for this company. They sound too serious for me.” Perhaps this is what they were thinking.

But then once we did receive these applicants, they were of a higher caliber. So we were actually able to hire people at a greater percentage. If you were to calculate a percentage of how many people applied and how many people that you actually made offers to. So the first one is build a job description that repels. The second, create an interview process that’s different and inclusive. Spend a lot of time on this one because let me put it this way. My fiance and I are due to get married next year. After at that time it would be six years of being together. We kind of were feeling each other out for the first little while. We didn’t immediately say “Yes, we are going to be partners and date right away.” We went on a couple of dates first. We asked each other some questions to make sure that we had similar likes and we had similar hobbies and so forth. So think of it that way and perhaps your approach to interviewing will be different.

The third lesson on building a high performing team is wait and rely. If you cannot find the people that you need to elevate the average talent level at your organization, wait, don’t just make a hire. Now I know that’s easy for me to say, because I don’t know your business and you may be growing so fast that you need these bodies. But trust me, that’s a short-term decision that’s going to give you a considerable amount of pain soon. And we know this to be true. Imagine hosting a house party where you’re like, my quota’s a hundred people for one reason or another. And you’re only able to find 70 people that you truly enjoy spending time with. You invite 30 other people to join the party. That party’s not going to be a good one, right? Think of that when it comes to building your team.

Now, when I say rely, wait and rely, go back to your team and say team, I know we need three other people, but I can’t find three people that are going to fit within our team. I could hire three people, but that’s going to bring our average talent level down. You might not enjoy working with these individuals so I need to be patient on this. And I apologize for the pain that this might cause in the short term, but please pull up your socks. I would recommend pay overtime hours if you have to. Now I know you might be thinking well, what happens to my labor budget? My response to you would be, well, what’s going to happen to your culture if you just invite anybody because you have to.

So wait and rely on your team members. And I think if you position, I don’t think I know this to be true. If you communicate why you weren’t able to hire those three individuals the way that I described to you, your team will understand. And quite frankly, I’ve seen it where they will appreciate and show gratitude that you just aren’t happy anybody. Now, if this problem persists after three to six months, well then we have to look at this differently and say, okay, maybe the way that we’re attracting candidates isn’t working. What can we do to attract higher quality candidates or even more candidates to be able to join our team members? But start with the first step of communicating to the team. Wait and rely.

The fourth, go through every single one of your team members. Now, if you’re an organization of a thousand people, this can’t just be the responsibility of one person. But let’s say you have 10 direct reports or five whatever the case might be. There’s a simple thing that you can ask yourself. Are they a hell yes, or a hell no? There’s nothing in between. If you look and study at some of the highest performing teams, whether that’s in business, sports or art, each individual is a hell yes. The hell nos how to get out of your company. Now I’m not going to suggest that you listen to this podcast, go back to your business and say, hell yes or hell no for everybody and then you remove the hell nos from your company. You just can’t do that. But one of two things needs to happen. You need to host a conversation with individuals that aren’t hell yeses and do one of two things. Remove them from the business, or you need to provide them a path to be able to turn them around.

Now, if you do provide that path for them, perhaps it’s some sort of learning path and they don’t adhere to it. You don’t see improvements. At that point, you have to make a decision and it’s likely that you have to remove them from your company. I think it’s wrong for a company just to abruptly fire team members who are underperforming without coaching, because that’s your fault. You hired them. It’s your responsibility as a leader to turn them around because that’s on your resume. What I would love to see resumes evolve to is, how many people have you grown and how many people have you had to fire? If you had to fire more people than you’ve grown, that’s on you, right? That is, you’re not performing well. But that could be another podcast for another time. But for now, hell yes or hell no. The hell yeses are the ones that should get promoted. The ones that should get raises and some recognition. The hell nos are the ones that need a learning path and then they need to be removed if they do not turn it around.

And number five, everyone must reapply every three months, including the CEO. Now I don’t literally mean to reapply and go through the interview process. But meritocracy is a thing for a reason. Just because you did well in Q2 of 2021 doesn’t mean you’re still relevant in Q3 of 2021. What you did in Q4 of 2021 is irrelevant for Q3 of 2022. If you have that mentality of constantly wanting to improve and iterate on your last performance, but let it be clear that everyone in the organization, including the CEO, must reapply, figuratively speaking, every three months, watch what happens.

But this isn’t cut out for everyone. There are individuals that will be in your hell no bucket that just coast. And there is employment for those individuals. I just hope it’s not at your company because I know it’s not going to be at my company. Because if you have ambitious plans for your company going from X to Y in Z amount of years, well guess what? You’re going to need as many hell yeses as possible. And if somebody coasts for a couple quarters, well, your company can’t wait for them. They’ll almost be ostracized from the company.

So the five things that I have learned in building a team, the overarching message is you have to be surgical in a sea of spray and pray. Build a job description that repels is number one. Create an interview process that’s different and inclusive is number two. Number three is wait and rely on your high-performers. Hell yes or hell no for number four. And the last one is everyone must reapply every three months, including and especially the CEO of the company.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Michel Falcon. Thank you for listening to episode number 10 of the People-First Culture podcast. I am starting to speak again, that is in public speaking. So if your company is looking for a virtual or an in-person keynote speaker, reach out to me directly. Michelfalcon.com is the website. I am Michel Falcon everywhere online. On all social media platforms. Subscribe to this podcast, or do me a favor and share this episode with someone that you believe would enjoy listening to this message. Thank you all so much for your attention. I’m always very flattered that anybody cares to listen to anything I have to say. Thank you so much and I’ll see you in episode 11. If you made it this far, thank you. Please consider leaving a rating and review for my podcast.


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