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Creating Culture

Focus on hiring, onboarding, and training to create culture in your organization

A Cup of Common Wealth coffee shop in downtown Lexington, KY

Think about the last time you walked into a restaurant or a coffee shop and thought to yourself, ‘this place feels great.’

It wasn’t so much the design, the layout, or the product; rather, it was the energy, the people – the culture!

Culture is a funny thing. Every day we amble into different businesses and notice that one place has such a vibrant culture and another one doesn’t. We have convinced ourselves that a remarkable culture can’t be created. A business has it or doesn’t; it just happens naturally.

I’ve never believed this notion. It doesn’t accidentally happen. It’s intentional. You have to create an effervescent ethos. I believe this whole-heartedly. In fact, when I founded my first business (A Cup of Common Wealth), it was imperative that it was built on a mission. One key element of our mission statement is “Create culture.” This pillar is integral to the success of the coffee shop and the businesses that have stemmed off of it.

A celebrated culture doesn’t happen; it has to be created, maintained, and refined. If you don’t construct and sculpt your company customs someone or something else will. There is a myriad of ways to instill notable traditions, but it all centers around people. Always people.

While we focus on numerous factors to ensure a dynamic environment, one stands above all the rest. People. The recruitment, selection and training of people is pivotal to establishing a powerful culture. The people component is the most important – the richest.

We’ve all heard about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. This metaphor was originally coined by Jim Collins in “Good to Great.” It rings so deafeningly, because it is true. This is essential to the success of an organization; and to do this, an organization has to spend a lot of time on hiring, onboarding, and ongoing training. There isn’t any other way around it.

DETERMINING YOUR NEEDS

First, you have to determine what the right people on the bus means to your organization. What makes them right for your bus? For A Cup of Common Wealth, we take many things into consideration:

(1) is someone genuine;

(2) do they care about community building and are they community-oriented;

(3) do they demonstrate the ability to deliver a high level of customer service;

(4) are they loving and caring to others;

(5) are they natural helpers, supporters, and givers?

These are core values of any employee. For us, when we hire someone it means they are joining our family, so we take the hiring process very seriously. Core values are vital.

SELECTION

Now you are ready to work through your selection process. Selection is critical to the success of a business. For us, we put a lot of focus on the barista position of the coffee shop, since this is the front line of our operations. 

For any organization, it is crucial to determine the roles that have the most touch points with your customers, then ensure that the very best brand ambassadors work in those roles, by instituting a hiring practice that is consistent, is compatible with your organization’s values and principles, and ensures the hiring managers feel accountable to the success of the potential new employee.

For the barista position at the coffee shop, they have to go through a phone screen, a group interview, a panel interview, and a shop interview. Yes, there are that many steps, because it is that important.

Before the interviews, people have to apply. We have never had an application, so if someone is interested in working at the coffee shop they must submit a resume via email. When we receive these we ask them to also answer the following questions: why they are fun and why they want to work with us. We go through every resume and review everyone’s responses to the aforementioned questions. These answers give us plenty of insight into the candidates.

At this point, we have phone screens. Our phone screens are designed to quickly find out if people are still interested, because we only hire once every 12-18 months. We phone screen 50-100 applicants and then either move them on to a group interview or not. The phone screen usually brings us down to 20-30 candidates, who then enter the group interview stage of the process.

Group interviews are set up in a way where there will be two interviewers and 20-30 interviewees. During this interview, we look for authenticity, we review body language, we pay attention to how candidates perceive and listen to one another. We then take the number of candidates down to a handful – somewhere between three and five.

These candidates then move into the panel interview round, where there will be 3-4 interviewers and one interviewee. During the panel interview we review resumes, we review adaptability skills, consistency, and honesty. After panel interviews, we usually have whittled it down to our final one to two candidates.

These candidates reach the final interview – the shop interview. This interview tests customer service skills, we review adaptability and consistency again, and the interview allows us to see a candidate handle a difficult situation. By the end of the shop interview we may hire two people or no one, in which case we would start the process all over again.

We try to complete this within a week to be respectful of everyone’s time. In addition, every candidate must be interviewed by at least 5 people within the organization at different hierarchal levels and the candidate can have zero no’s. Any employee can stop someone from moving on in the process; no one employee holds a trump card. This builds accountability. Employees won’t say yes, unless they are absolutely sure they want someone to join our team.

ONBOARDING AND ADDITIONAL TRAINING

From there we move to onboarding, which includes 75-90 hours of training that covers customer service, company culture, our mission, register training, coffee bar training, and wraps up with three tests (a written, a hands on, and an evaluation shift).

From there, baristas can choose to continue learning through other optional training levels, management books, being a part of the interview process, and everything in between.

Our leadership team meets every six months to go over our strategic actions, we review plans from each department from the six months prior and goals for the next six months, which feeds into our year goals, our three year goals, our five year goals, and beyond.

In these meetings a good deal of brainstorming happens, a vast amount of education, and plenty of calibration occurs. We create culture by being a part of a team and hold each other accountable to the organization’s mission: our purpose as a company.

FINAL NOTE

Every business needs to ensure they are intentional with who they hire and how they train. There is no duty more important for the success of your culture then selecting the right people and then preparing them for their future in your organization. We take hiring and training very seriously and believe every business should as well – something we stress to any company we consult for. Each company needs to find their own way to recruit, select, and train. They need to ensure they commit to it and take it seriously. 

Hire intentionally and in ways that reinforce your organization’s core values. This may mean several interviews, with different interviewers, in an array of unalike interviews or it may mean an intense panel interview that lasts an entire day. Each organization is different, but each one needs to find a way to appreciate the seriousness of hiring to your organization’s mission and core principles.

Train deliberately. Once someone starts it doesn’t mean culture ends. It really is just the beginning. Onboarding helps an individual better understand an organization and what the people inside of it care about. Build up an employee’s toolkit, so they feel as if they have the resources they need to be successful in your organization or any organization they join in the future.

Invest in people. Develop people. Love people. It creates the most vivacious of cultures.

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