If They will Bite, They will Bite as a Pup

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“If they will Bite, they will Bite as a Pup”

This was what I remember Darrell Royal, great coach of the Texas Longhorns (hurts to type that, I went to school at the University of Arkansas!) said when he was asked if freshman should play varsity football.  He said, “if they will bite, they will bite as a pup.”

He was saying, we will find out if they can play, and if they can we will play them.  If not, well then we know.

How do we translate this to the business world? Find out quickly who has what skills, knows how to think, who is collaborative, and who wants to work.  This is fairly easy to do once you hire them, but I have found you can do this to a large degree beforeyou hire them.

I have found out, the hard way, in my early years as a manager and then a leader, that some people are better at getting jobs than actually doing the job.  Some are professional interviewers and some are not.  I have hired the best people on paper who interviewed great, looked the part, and had great references (they usually are right?) but they simply did not know how to do the work, were bad collaborators, or would not work hard.  

On the flip side, there have been people that did not have the best resume, were a little rough in the interview but had great results and they turned out to be corporate rock stars.

Hire the Best Doers, not Presenters

I was asked to develop a new capability years ago called Category Management.  We spend months with a great consulting group, The Partnering Group, and we spent months figuring out the best plan for us.  When we got to the organizational design phase and job descriptions, we realized we needed some outside help to supplement some of our best talent.

When we got to the interview phase, I was stunned by how many of the applicants gave very similar examples on best practice category management.  They all used some well documented industry solutions and could talk in depth about their role in the work or how they used it. I knew the people who lead all this work and it was not these applicants. They were not lying,  but I did not think they knew all they were talking about. 

I came to a conclusion that people had developed great skills at presenting category management, but maybe not doingcategory management.

Change Your Interview Process

So, I changed the interview process.  Instead of meeting people in a nice, corporate interview room, we would meet in front of a Wal-Mart supercenter.  I would take them in and get a quick cup of coffee and get started. 

The first step would be a visit to the pet food department.  We would walk into the department and I would ask, “from a category management perspective, what do you see?”  In less than 2 minutes, I knew if this person had actually done category management or has been presenting someone else’s work.  

The people who had done it would look around for a minute and then start breaking down how the department was laid out.  It might be to maximize margins, increase basket transactions size, leverage brand names, or it might have impulse items to incent trial of the product. They had no research, no data, or any history with the category, but they could start to develop some hypotheses based on their knowledge.

The people who only knew how to present the work would flop, immediately.  They would say obvious things like:

“The dog food is on the left and the cat food is on the right.”  

“The really heavy bags are at the bottom of the display.”  

“They carry several brands.”  

These were all “what’s” no “whys.”  Their interview stopped right then.

I took the real category management thinkers to several other departments and did the same thing.  When it was clear they had the skills, I could move on to other questions about customers, collaboration with others, responsiveness, work ethic and other topics.  These people would make it to the next round of interviews where we could spend more time on fit with our culture, not having the job skill.

I think Darrell Royal was right:“if they will bite, they will bite as a pup.