I was in New York City last week speaking to a group at Google’s HQ in Chelsea.
During a walk through the city, I passed a corner bookstore that said they proudly had over “18 miles of books” inside. The store called The Strand, is a New York landmark that’s been around for almost 90 years!
Independent bookstores are considered a dying breed to many and I was curious how such a store could survive the onslaught of the e-commerce giants like Amazon and others. But during my quick bit of research, I came across an interesting article about The Strand which tells us a lot about why they continue to thrive, and how you can learn from their success. In a recent New York Times article titled Want to Work in 18 Miles of Books? First, the Quiz, the article tells us about a quiz that The Strand gives to all potential hires.
What exactly do they quiz potential employees on? Any guesses?
Well, they quiz them on their literary knowledge. Including their knowledge of literary classics, and how much they know about the current world of books. For example, the test is updated every three years, and a recent version contained a question about Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.
Contrast that to Barnes & Noble where no tests exist and prior knowledge about books isn’t a requirement. In fact, they don’t even ask. Now here’s the most important of this for all of us. They don’t just quiz people when they’re applying for a customer service position or running the information kiosk. They quiz EVERYONE from entry-level cashiers to the guy or gal sweeping the floors. In a nutshell, they’ve baked their corporate culture and their corporate values right into their hiring process.
Now one of the most common things I’ve heard is that “our business is different,” or “that won’t work in our industry.” It would be very easy to say all this stuff about corporate values doesn’t matter. I mean, look at it this way. They’re a physical bookstore in 2016! It would be easier for them to say, “let’s do whatever we can to ensure Amazon doesn’t send us the way of the dinosaurs.” But instead, here’s a company that’s doubled down and said, “We don’t just have a lot of books, but we’re incredibly knowledgeable about them too – maybe even the best. Let’s prove it.”
I’m always surprised (but maybe I shouldn’t be) when the claims of a company are so completely out of what with the product, service, or experience they deliver.
Their competitors are looking at the potential employee and checking off boxes like, “were the typos on his resume?” or, “did he smell bad?” Meanwhile, The Strand is saying things like, “tell us which of these three books John Irving wrote?” and “what exactly were Dicken’s Expectations?” Who do you think is going to acquire better talent? Who do you think will develop a greater bond with their customer?
This test reminds me a lot of the famous Walter White exercise found HERE. If the people that are doing most of the talking to your customers and clients can’t describe them easier than they can describe Raymond (even though everybody loves him), or Kramer, or Walter White, then you’ve got some additional training to do.
Your key challenge for this week is to think about and answer the following questions as they relate to your sales, marketing, and customer facing people.
1) How well do they know your corporate values and what’s most important to your customers? You should be able to shake any of your people awake at 3:00 am, and ask them to recite your corporate values, and have them be able to do it immediately without missing a word.
2) How well are they living up to those values in action?
3) When was the last time you gave them a pop quiz?
Maybe today’s the day.