Earlier this week, I was standing on the platform for the L in Chicago, headed back to Midway Airport to catch my flight home. My phone rings. Over the noise of the train, I discern it’s a reporter from USA Today and he’s calling to ask me about my thoughts on the Taco Bell “shell licking” debacle.*
*I’ve never typed this phrase before in my life — and for that I am glad.
My thoughts were this: that Taco Bell franchise didn’t have a social media problem. They had a brand practices (which comes down to hiring and HR) problem. Whomever was in charge of hiring at that location hired some kid who thought that licking a stack of taco shells and then posting said pic for all the social world to see would be a fucking hoot. They also created the work environment that allowed this to happen.
Some of the guys over at Mashable weren’t too fond of my take and were…dare I say puerile…about my perspective. But hey — they’re social media experts. Who am I to argue? We’ll get to that, though. *hold music*
But here’s the bullshit-free skinny: things like this happen in companies because of shitty leaders. Shitty leaders breed shitty managers who breed shitty employees and shitty employees do shit like licking taco shells and posting Lick Pics to Facebook.
So yes — this isn’t a dumb kid problem. It’s an HR problem and it starts at the top.
Everything begins at the top
Great companies are built by great leaders who understand a few things:
- The power inherent in teams
- The realization of goals is always a team effort
- Management is an active and collaborative venture, not a dictatorial ego trip.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running a fast food franchise or the next slick-ass Silicon Valley startup: leaders dictate the company’s direction. They are responsible for hiring people who support a company’s goals and complement the culture the company needs for goals to become realities.
Effective leaders understand that shitty employees are a THEM problem, not an employee problem. What made you hire that person to begin with?
Maybe you’re just a shitty leader who doesn’t realize that every hire is a reflection of your commitment to getting shit done. That type of trickle down is fatal and creates high turnover and company cultures that view the company within shift-defined blinders and the appearance of a paycheck from week to week. And it’s fine that you run a business where your employees aren’t in it for the career path. Hell, those types of jobs are fundamental survival tools and stepping stones for people of every race, culture, age, and socioeconomic status.
But you’re only hosing your company by not creating a culture that holds the people who make it run to a certain standard. Frankly, you’re not doing anything to make your business, any of your employees, or your community better places, either.
And that’s where training comes in.
Hiring and Training
If this country is in the skill chasm that the media would have us to believe, companies need to step up and adopt new hiring cultures. It’s no longer about placing an ad and seeing if someone fits a particular shift. It’s about understanding whether a prospective employee will do their best — for as long as they are with you — to make you and your company look like a motherfucking rock star. I don’t care if you’re hiring a cashier for a taco stand or a C++ developer for your startup.
Everyone moves on — especially in today’s work culture.
What are you going to do to (1) hire them for the right reasons, (2) build their skills while they help you build your company, and (3) make them feel appreciated during their tenure — however long or short?
What are you going to do?
The best in-restaurant service I’ve ever received is from a local taqueria in Boulder, Colorado called T|aco. In a town filled with college students who see waitstaff and bartending gigs as gold, this joint sells $2.50 tacos and I am treated like a queen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the manager thank his kitchen and waitstaff to their faces AND in front of customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a waiter or bartender say “thank you” and follow it up with a smile. I hosted an event there and totally (fucking) weeded them for their entire lunch hour.
A complaint from the staff? Not a one.
Great service for the entire group of 60 attendees? Absolutely — and joined by the manager, who was bringing out food, bussing tables, getting people their checks, and making drinks behind the bar.
Are these employees looking at their gig as a career? No. But did the manager there take the time to hire the right people and make sure that everyone in his (operative term: HIS) restaurant is being taken care of? Yes. Why is it different if it’s T|aco in Boulder or Taco Bell?
Hire the right people. Make them feel appreciated. Ask them how they want to excel and then train them to be better. And participate. Great leaders participate and never see themselves as “above” anything. Leading is dirty work. It’s not an excuse to never get dirty again.
This is the part, though, where we get to the argument that “kids do stupid things.”
Shitty leaders make excuses for themselves and others.
First, take a minute to read this post (Stop Making Excuses for People) from Francisco Dao over on Pando Daily from the weekend. Truer words have never been typed.
Now, I’ll share the “wisdom” that the folks over at Mashable had to share about my remarks in USA Today about Taco Bell’s predicament being a brand culture and inherently, a hiring problem. And first, I’m all about supporting anyone’s right to disagree with anything I say — but if you’re going to do it, put a coherent argument behind it instead of a for-the-sake-of-snark scrawl on a bathroom wall.
My contention in USA Today was this:
“It’s not a brand problem — it’s a brand practices problem,” says Erika Napoletano, a brand strategy consultant. “If you hire people who treat your brand as disposable, that’s the kind of PR you’ll get.”
And this was the response of the “social media experts” to my contention over in Mashable land (note: to avoid linking to the source, they craft witty letters that cleverly state the argument they want to attack):
My first response to this was, “Precious.” And I dismissed it. I really didn’t give a frog’s fine ass hair.
My second response is that this shitty attitude is the problem. The only person to blame for having shitty employees working for you is YOU. Why? Because you’re lazy and you’re thinking about dollars first and your brand second — which is backwards as hell. Stop blaming minimum wage. Stop blaming “dumb kids” (and please — give kids more credit as they’re smarter than we generally think). This is a shitty attitude about a bigger shitty attitude — the one that thinks employees are disposable and the next one is just a Pepsi-stained paper application away.
Companies are lazy and willing to accept lackluster performance from managers who then turn around and demand less (or little to none) from the people they hire. Their days become checklists of shit that has to get done from the moment they walk through the door until they walk back out it again. There’s no commitment, ownership, or responsibility.
THAT is a culture problem. And it doesn’t just happen in fast food restaurants where kids make minimum wage.
It happens in companies like Yahoo! where direction gets lost and uproar commences when someone has the balls to come in and fix it.
And here’s the thing: I know six-year-olds that know that licking a stack of taco shells is a task on the ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NO list.
Taco Bell hired someone who thought that would be okay. They also apparently have a policy that makes it OK for their employees to have their cell phones on them during their shifts. One plus one equals whatthefuck. It’s a problem that’s bigger than a Lick Pic and has to change at the top. Stop making excuses for why behavior like this persists.
So, while I could never argue with what two guys who are “social media experts” said about my remarks, I can (as Lindy West said so eloquently earlier this week) call you dicks for it.
Shitty employees are a function of something much bigger than the lame ass excuse that “kids do stupid shit.” It’s systemic. And while companies will never be able to completely eradicate the one-off errant Tweet and Lick Pic incidents, they can make a commitment to build cultures that:
- Begin with leaders
- Who create cultures that are respectful to both building a company and the people tasked with building it
- Hire managers who uphold those cultures
- Who hire employees whom they treat with respect, help excel, and appreciate for as long as they work for the company (and hopefully, beyond their last day of work).
So, if you’d like more branding advice from me, Super Smart Mashable Social Media Expert guys — fix your shitty attitude about what creates shitty employees. I want leaders — better leaders. And shareholders and consumers alike should demand it as well.
I want to see companies do better for their people — and that begins at the top.
I want companies to stop making excuses for shitty things that happen in their companies — because it’s likely a “people on the bus” problem. And sometimes, it’s a problem with the bus driver.
And I want to see our country’s workforce grow and thrive during one of it’s most challenging eras. We rarely discuss the challenges that face the non-tech workers in our society but they’re here, our neighbors, our friends, and they are needed.
If we can’t treat every type of worker better, from the kids who make our hamburgers to the CIO at a publicly held company, we’re fucked.