Apart From the Crowd

lemon-3303842_640Amid a crowd, she stood apart. Without making a sound, she spoke volumes. I’d never seen her before but knew I would like her.

Last week I traveled to Austin for a couple of meetings. In the conference room of the hotel where I stayed, a soon-to-open local business was conducting interviews. Given the number of applicants waiting their turn in the hallway, this must be a great place to work.

I approached the elevator after checking in and scanned the candidates as it made its way to the first floor. Most were engrossed in their phones – their attention focused on the familiar world offered by the tiny screen. Others fidgeted with resumes and squirmed in their seats attempting to get comfortable.

And then one young lady caught my eye. She sat upright in her seat, her eyes trained straight ahead. If she had a phone with her, it was put away. Her face held a mixture of emotions. I thought I detected confidence and anticipation – and just a hint of a smile.

Do you remember your first interview – the excitement you felt, the desire to join your skills and abilities with those of others in pursuit of a common cause? If we could bottle the nervous energy that accompanies the typical job interview, we could power a small city. Those who harness the energy and channel it properly often ace the interview and find themselves ushered into a new phase of their career.

Did you know that new employees tend to outperform their peers by a factor of ten over their first 90 days? As time goes by though, the new hire’s energy wanes. The new wears off and they let their guard down. By the time that eager new employee reaches their six-month anniversary, their performance is indistinguishable from their more tenured peers.

I think that’s a shame. Time and experience should be an asset, not a liability. Performance should improve with time, not worsen. Imagine combining the focus and determination of a new hire with the know-how and wisdom of a veteran. Now imagine a team full of these people. Oh, the wonders they could accomplish.

The real challenge of business isn’t coming up with new products. It isn’t driving efficiency or improving customer service. No, the real challenge is keeping employees fired up and engaged. It’s figuring out how to retain the attitude of the new hire – and infecting others with it. Solve that equation and the other issues will fix themselves.

Upstairs, I unpacked, changed clothes, and took care of a few emails. About an hour after I arrived I headed out for dinner. As a left, I saw the stand-out candidate rise and enter the conference room. Her name had been called and it was time for her interview. I never saw her again, but the fire in her eyes has stayed with me. I hope it stays with her too.