Hiring Lessons from The Gambler

“If you’re going to play the game, boy you gotta learn to play it right,” sang Kenny Rogers in his song The Gambler. This song popped into my head as I ate lunch in a restaurant while observing two families with small children who had very different definitions of good behavior for their children.

In one family, the children sat still in their chairs, talked quietly with their parents, and ate their lunch without complaining or making a mess. In the other family, the children were running ran around the table, playing with each other, and eating their lunch in bits and pieces in between the playing.

As I reflected on the differences between the two families, I considered how we can have these same extremes in what behavior we expect from our employees and what our employees believe is expected of them.

Both families seemed happy with their children’s behavior; but observing the differences between the two families emphasized the importance of clearly communicating your expectations to your employees. As a small business owner, you have to clearly communicate your performance expectations to your team. This includes not only what is acceptable, but also what is not acceptable, because those behaviors reflect your company culture and present the face of your business to your customers.

Let’s revisit those two families. Many of us would love those quiet, well-behaved children who ate their meal without drama or complaint. However, I’m sure there are some of us who would also love the children who ate their meal while laughing, playing, and having fun. The children were not screaming, crying, or interfering with the wait staff.

In the first family, some might argue that the children were being taught manners and proper etiquette while others may feel the children were not able to explore their new surroundings, or that their natural curiosity was stifled. In the second family, some might argue that the children were simply enjoying fun in a new environment and using the resources in the restaurant in creative ways to entertain themselves, while others may feel that the children were running wild and not being taught how to be respectful or courteous of others in public places.

Imagine these children entering the workforce and bringing with them their understanding of good behavior in a restaurant. Now, they probably won’t run around the table and play games with your customers (although that would be funny to see), but they might treat your customers very differently from what you expect.

The Gambler goes on to say: “Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.” In your business, you also have to know what behavior to keep and what behavior to throw away. Remember, these behaviors make up your company culture. When you understand your culture and can define it in terms of expected behaviors, you experience the benefits of a cohesive team that works well together with a common understanding of expectations and goals.

Why is this important? Because as the song goes “‘Cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser….” That’s also true about the people who make up your business. Throughout my career, I’ve watched incredibly bright, talented people fail because they were in the wrong job or didn’t fit with the company culture. As a small business owner, you have to know what behaviors, personality traits, and technical skills will make someone a winner on your team. The person with the perfect resume could become your biggest loser.

How do you know that someone has the behaviors, personality traits, and technical skills you need? The song goes on to say: “Son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.” As a small business owner, your ability to read candidates during an interview is critical to making the right hiring decision.

So how do you read behaviors? Here are a few hints:

  • Ask Insightful Interview™ questions.

Interviews are the most common way small businesses read a candidate’s values. In some cases, it’s the only tool used to choose employees. A common interviewing mistake I see small businesses make is copying interview questions used by others and hoping to achieve the same results. We tend to stick with the easy questions that every candidate has researched the “correct” way to answer.

  • Understand the difference between a right and a wrong answer.

This means a consistent understanding of the definitions of the skills, knowledge, and behaviors of both successful and unsuccessful candidates. If you don’t understand the difference between success and failure, it will be hard for you to identify whether your potential candidates are right for your business.

  • Learn to read the nonverbal clues.

Like the old gambler, pay attention to eye contact, facial expressions, body language, energy level, emotions, and tone of voice. We often make hiring decisions based on skills listed on a resume or what we hear on the surface during an interview. Avoid a losing hand by seeking more in-depth information about the specific values and behavioral characteristics that make someone a successful employee in our business.

It takes some effort and practice, but in no time at all you can learn the old gambler’s secret of knowing what to throw away and what to keep.

Can you add to this list or share some insights about how you’ve used these in your business? Your insights may be just what someone else needs to move forward. After all, sharing is caring, and in our insightful community we care about helping you succeed.

And you’re welcome for putting this song into your head.