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The Right Person in the Right Job

Small Business and EmployeesI’m a Starbucks® aficionado, which is a rather nice way of saying I’m a caffeine addict. But I’m picky about my caffeine fixes. Like many people, I have a particular drink that I order every day . . . and I know exactly how it should taste.

I frequent Starbucks coffeehouses all over the city of Jacksonville, and I’ve noticed a great variance in the quality of the drinks, which is always determined by the person manning the ginormous cappuccino machines . . . otherwise known as the “barista.” Being a barista is—no doubt—a rather difficult job. You’re working amidst temperamental machines that get very, very hot. People order drinks of so many variations, and they all want them “just right.” And during morning “rush hour,” everyone is in a hurry to get in and get out.

At this point, I know most of the people who work at the Starbucks I frequent most, and I know who is good at making drinks . . . and who needs a different job. I don’t mean another job outside of Starbucks necessarily: I mean that some people just aren’t suited to making drinks. The job of a barista requires a certain amount of artistry and precision. You have to watch temperatures and monitor the quality of each espresso shot. You have to be precise regarding the amount of foam in a drink and the number of add-ons, like syrup and whipped cream. It’s not exactly rocket science, but there is a combination of attention and flair that’s required.

Some baristas do this in spades. . . . A rare few do it with a big smile on their face while carrying on conversations with customers—a true talent. I will settle for a barista who never glances in my direction, but who has the knack for making a good drink. But unfortunately, there is often a barista behind the counter who does neither well.

Last Saturday, I went into a Starbucks, and there was one such unlucky barista manning the espresso machine. I thought, uh oh . . . but I went ahead and ordered. First drink came out . . . wrong size cup, too small. I let him know I ordered a tall and asked, “Can you just add some more milk to this?” He tossed the drink in the trash and started over.

Second drink came out . . . although the right size, there wasn’t enough milk in the new brew, and the shots were bitter. I didn’t want to complain, and thought about throwing it in the trash and making instant at home . . . but I decided to request just a little more milk. He took the drink, threw it in the trash, and started over.

Third drink came out . . . “Is it good?” he asked, hovering over me, no smile. To my chagrin, it wasn’t. I tried to pretend . . . “Yes, it’s fine.” . . . but he could tell I was faking it. He turned and asked his co-worker who was manning the cash register if he would make my drink . . . and walked away.

Granted, I felt sorry for him, but it was his issue, not mine. This guy is completely unsuited for his position. He seems like a very intelligent fellow, and I’m sure he’d be ideal in a different position . . . but at four and a half dollars a pop, the person who’s making your drink needs to get it right.

So then . . . the next guy comes up, quickly throws my drink together, and hands it to me with a smile. It was total perfection, just like that. I knew it would be—the second guy’s so good he could do the barista job in his sleep.

The reason I’m sharing this story is not to paint myself as a very picky customer—although that is often true!—but to talk about a situation that customers experience every day across the world: the wrong person in the wrong job.

When you’re running a small business and hiring a team of employees, you often wear the hat of an HR manager . . . and that job might be one of your most challenging. But finding the right person for the right position is of the utmost importance for the success of your business.

I realize that many businesses—like Starbucks—value the importance of cross-training . . . but while cross-training is valuable in an emergency, most people are not jacks-of-all-trades: they have particular talents and gifts. The memorable guy who makes small talk and remembers every customer’s name should ALWAYS be on your front line. He offers great value to your business if he is in the right spot. But in the wrong spot—such as sweating over the espresso machine or the books—he becomes a liability.

So when you have to make difficult employee decisions, remember that in the long run, you’re doing everyone—your employees and your customers—a favor. Everyone deserves to have a job that showcases their particular abilities, and sometimes you may find yourself in the position of shepherd . . . guiding people to their right spot.

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    1. I must confess, I visit Starbucks sometimes twice a day, and I can feel your pain when it comes to getting drink orders right. You are exactly right when it comes to matching people with the right job. It is even the same with independent contractors; good business is about relationships, and knowing who has the ability and talent to get the job done is the key to any business’ success.

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    2. Thank you for the valuable article, which is certainly evidence that you are in the right job as a writer. It is a discussion that most people would retell in the most boring of ways.

      The profit leaks associated with the wrong people in the wrong jobs/slots/roles is fascinating. When everyone is in the right slot, the business is in rhythm, and you and I tell everyone how great they are.

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    3. Thank you for the feedback. I really appreciate it. :) I agree about business being based upon relationships. Sometimes it takes time and perseverance, but when a business finds that rhythm, the magic happens.

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