On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with guest Marc Bodner, CEO of L&R Distributors, on the topic of landing superstar employees.

YS: How does a company go about landing a superstar employee?

MB: It’s all about referability. Are you referable? Step one, from my perspective, has always been looking at yourself first. Are you a referable person? Are you a referable company? If the answer to that question is “maybe,” or certainly if it’s “no.” the likelihood of you attracting talent is very small. And if you do attract them, the likelihood of retaining them is very small.

So, the first thing we get to work on is whether we’re referrable. And the best way to be referable is through behavior, through culture, through principles, and through leadership. In today’s world of social media, with platforms like LinkedIn, it’s all out there. Your company’s culture and whether or not your referrable will have a direct tie-in correlation to whether you can attract the right talent for your business.

YS:  When a new applicant is brought to you, what are you looking for?

MB: When we do have the opportunity to meet with a particular candidate, I don’t like calling it an interview. I like calling it a conversation. I will usually open with that, just to take the edge off. “We’re having a conversation. I’m going to get to ask you some questions. It’s a two-way street. We have to be attractive to you, and you have to be attractive to us.”

You have a conversation with this person, coming at them with great questions, but also allowing them to ask questions. I will generally look to hire for talent. And it may not be specific talent to the job we’re looking for. It may just be that the person has a lot of talent.

One of the reasons why I tend to use the style is that I love to see how prepared they come. What kind of questions will they have? I’ve found that there’s a direct correlation to their talent, mindset, and culture in how they prepared for the interview. If you want to hit it out of the park on an interview, walk in and ask the following question: “I was doing research on your company and I noticed a couple of things about your business. I have a couple of ideas that I think could really help. Would you be interested in hearing what those ideas are?”

What you’ve actually done is flip the interview. You became the interviewer, and the company became the interviewee. Because now you’re getting to speak about something that they’re interested in. Some of the best hires that I’ve made, I don’t know if they were necessarily the most talented people or had the most experience, but they had the best questions.

YS: Is there any type of guide map for the number of times you should be meeting with someone?

MB: There are two aspects to consider. There are the number of times and the specific people. For an important hire, in a leadership or manager role, we never leave it to one person. It’s a multiple person process. Sometimes we’ll double-team – not to overburden the person – I don’t want to have to put them through 5-7 interviews, but I may want 5-7 people to meet them. Generally, I certainly want our HR team involved. And I certainly want someone with expertise in that particular area. For example, if it’s a sales role, we need someone from the sales team. Depending on how important the role is, I may interview as well. So, it can sometimes be 3-5 different conversations with people. And everyone has their own style of interviewing. We’ve worked with consulting firms and the best methods to interview, and everyone will do what works for them. But it will go through a pretty rigorous process in terms of the number of people.

Regarding length of time, my preference is to be short and sweet. Forty-five minutes to an hour is more than enough time, unless there’s some competency test that has to be given for required skill sets. But generally, I would keep it on the relatively short side.

YS: What is your approach for someone who’s very qualified and talented, but they show up and don’t know a think about your business?

MB: That’s a zero. You can teach plenty of things, but you can’t teach curiosity. They can be great accountants, but you can’t learn the culture of a business, you can’t learn how to interact, unless you have a curious mindset. That’s how I believe our culture is built. There are two sides to trust. There’s the competency side. “I trust this person can get this done.” And then, there’s the honesty side. And when someone walks into an interview knowing nothing about your business, but they’re really competent at that job, they have only one side. It’s kind of like the NFL Draft. Many times,  you’ll see a team pick a player for a position that they’re pretty deep in. So, why are they picking that player? Because they’re the best player available. So, sometimes you’re hiring for talent, but you’re not necessarily always hiring for skill set.

YS: Can you talk about the importance of EQ vs. IQ?

MB: Things have changed. I was at an executive conference for CEOs recently. One of these experts got up there and spoke about “reverse mentorship.” What he meant by that was us as leaders, we came up in a different time. We came up in a different world where we put our time in, we started at the bottom, and scraped away to the top. And that doesn’t work so much anymore. That’s an EQ that we have to have as leaders. This concept of reverse mentorship is taking it to another level, where the Gen-Z or millennial that you’re bringing in should be mentoring you on how to work well with them.

Now, I looked at this gentleman as if he had three heads. However, for us to be emotionally intelligent leaders today, we should understand that we are hiring a different generation and the things that are important to them. We never considered the work-life balance concept or the hybrid workplace that we use today. Whether we like it or not, it’s here. And as leaders, we have to adapt to that. And we must have a very high emotional intelligence to work with people coming into the workforce today.

YS: What is your perspective of hiring from within your team?

MB: There is nothing more satisfying or gratifying than being able to hire from within, to promote from within. There is nothing better. When you’ve helped someone develop great talent within your company, I think it’s your obligation as a leader, as a business, to show your employees a career path. It’s then their choice whether to do what it takes to go on that journey. There are people at L&R who started at entry level positions who are now in Director and VP level positions – myself included. I came from very humble beginnings. So, the people who choose to be great, we have an obligation to have a career path for them. And when we don’t have that career path, and unfortunately sometimes we don’t, when the time comes where that person needs to move on, I’m the first one congratulating them. I’m their biggest cheerleader. I say, “please have your new boss call me. Let me tell them how great you are and how lucky they are that they’re getting you.”

It’s not always easy, but retention sometimes means letting people go if you don’t have that career path for them.

YS: How does a company go about measuring performance and working with an employee who is underperforming?  

MB: A company needs 80% really good people and 20% great people. Not everyone is going to be great. But there’s a lot of work to get done, and it takes good people. “Good” means they’re on time and they do what they’re supposed to do. They’re competent in what they’re doing. So, when someone is not good, what does that mean? It means they’re not on time. It means that they can’t get done what needs to get done. Or we may have made a poor hiring decision. They may have made a poor decision and thought they were walking into something completely different

First and foremost, is to have real transparent conversations. I always believe in looking at yourself first. “Am I providing this person with the tools they need to be successful doing this job?” And if the answer to that question is “no,” then how do I expect them to perform well? “How can we provide them with those tools?” And if the output is still not there, then the person probably already knows before you say it. In all likelihood, the person is unhappy already.

Let’s call a person “Joe.” Imagine Joe wakes up in the morning and says to himself, “You know, I think I’m going to do a really bad job today. I want to really mess up. I want to get it all wrong.” That’s probably not what Joe actually does. Joe wakes up every morning wanting to do a great job. People want to feel successful. Then Joe comes into your office, and he’s failing. How does Joe feel? Does Joe feel successful? Probably not. If we can’t get Joe up to speed or Joe’s just not getting it, we owe him a very transparent conversation. “What can we do to help you get there? And if we can, let’s do it.” It doesn’t mean Joe’s going to be great. It doesn’t mean Joe’s going places in your business. But we owe it to Joe. Joe has a family to support, in all likelihood. Joe needs to be employed.

Now, if it doesn’t work out, then you owe it to Joe, because Joe deserves to be happy, and you owe it to the business, because the business deserves to be happy, to let Joe go. Rather than the flip side of that, complaining, “Joe screwed up again. Joe messed up again. I told you Joe was no good.” What is that doing? That’s what we call confirmation bias. I ‘ve got my opinion in my head of joe, and I can’t wait to find things to prove myself. That is so counterproductive. If I build on that bias, and I confirm it constantly, that makes me feel good for about 15 seconds. So, flip that on yourself. “What can we do better?” And sometimes what you can do better is letting Joe go.


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