My elder son is a musician, recently moved to New York City after completing his education at Musician Institute in Hollywood (that culminated in his debut CD, hearable here). He went job hunting while band-forming gets underway and got an interview as a sushi cook for a midtown restaurant (based on his having been a sushi chef for a year in Ithaca). After a successful interview, they told him to return the next day for a performance-based assessment of his skills.

The next day Justin returned in cooking gear with his sushi knife expecting to show his skills to the interviewer. Nope: baptism of fire: 2 hours of work during the lunch hour for real customers, under the direction of the head chef. Justin was taught 3 recipes and presentations, shown them modeled, and expected to deliver them in real time. He acknowledged that he barely passed the test – the NYC midtown expectations for precision, consistency, and aesthetics were higher than at his upstate restaurant. His worked was constructively but bluntly criticized all two hours.

At the end of 2 hours, his work was discussed by the cook and the interviewer. They gave him the job – hooray! – even though they reiterated that his work was not yet up to standard. However, since they found him so pleasant and amenable to feedback and learning, they said “we think you can come up to our standards soon if you work hard and continue learning.”

Is there any greater embarrassment in education – that we hire teachers without seeing them work for a few hours and without making clear that we have standards for performance that must be met to get hired and keep a job? (I wrote a chapter on this issue in a book on Excellence in Teaching for Solution Tree.) The older I get the more I am utterly convinced that better hiring is key to organizational excellence. It’s also the KEY point of leverage we have with schools of education.

Please post any interesting performance-based approaches to hiring in your school/district/college and/or horror stories about idiotic hiring policies.

UPDATE: Justin, on the job!

IMG_0601POSTSCRIPT: I received an email from a friend of mine who works in the healthcare field. I thought readers would be interested in her response:

Though I am out of your industry – my industry (healthcare) is certainly a consumer of the education system. Hiring right is about the most important thing we can do. Stakes are so high in healthcare. When we make mistakes- we can harm or kill people. The right people with the right training supported by our very best technology and work flow processes are our best defense.

Long ago, we recognized that our new graduate hires (specifically – nursing) had the expected technical skills but were really lacking in the critical thinking skills required to manage in this high risk environment.  We need healthcare workers that exhibit the perfect balance of independent critical thinking and the ever important ability to work effectively as part of a team. There’s no path to success for any healthcare worker if you can’t think, extrapolate your learning to other similar situations, and have skill at asking the right questions so the best answers have a chance to show up.
Your model has direct application here.

Several years ago, we closed a hospital and converted it into the country’s most comprehensive simulation hospital. It is equipped with expensive high fidelity mannequins that do everything from vomit, void, have heart attacks, express emotions, deliver babies, etc. EVERY one of newly hired nurses spends the first weeks of their employ working their full shift in the sim hospital. Here, they learn our clinical protocols, our equipment (and by the way, the sim ctr is equipped with the EXACT equip they’ll find when they arrive at the hospital to work on live patients). We have some of our very best clinicians in a control room concurrently feeding a scenario into the “patient” room. The students are videotaped. The instructor can continue to challenge the student (through the scenario) to strengthen their specific learning needs at the time. In this environment, our employees can fail faster knowing that their “errors” won’t harm a patient. Because we can simulate situations over and over, new hires can become proficient in a way that is not possible if you do something once a week on the job. It’s a work in progress, but we have cut weeks off of our orientation time of old where new hires would be assigned a preceptor on the nursing unit.  In addition to this efficiency, we can provide our patients a safer and more competent workforce.

We do the same thing with our medical students and residents.

Technical skills can be taught.  The all important emotional intelligence skills are needed. today and will be that much more needed in our healthcare of the future.