My wife, Justeen, and I moved to the country about a year ago after 12 years of living in the middle of Atlanta. I learn new things every day about how things work…in the country. And I can’t help myself but apply what I learn to my client work. Here’s a good one.
Did you ever notice when you drive by a cow, horse, or sheep pasture, chances are there’s a donkey in there? I never thought twice about it, even growing up in rural Ohio where cows are a-plenty. I figured that the herds’ owners just happen to own lots of cows or horses AND a donkey. Well, I learned recently that there’s a reason for that donkey. They’re actually standing guard over the livestock.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not as if the donkeys charge a coyote because they don’t like predators “messin’ with their cows”. It’s instinct. Pure instinct…and not just on the part of the donkeys.
When a predator is present, the herd or flock instinctively move behind the donkey such that the donkey is between the livestock and the predator. The donkeys are normally quite docile. They have great vision and hearing and are naturally inquisitive. But, when they detect intruders and investigate disturbances in the herd, the donkey’s natural instinct is to behave aggressively. They’ll bare their teeth, make “eee-Yaw” donkey noises, chase, bite and even kick the predators. You’d be amazed at how effective they are.
Driving back into Atlanta yesterday, it dawned on me that most successful businesses have their own version of guard donkeys. It might be the controller or operations director who passionately ask each employee to turn in his or her pencil nub before issuing a new one. Or, it might be the Clerk in a stock room that observes and reports another employee for stealing, loafing, or worse.
Their impact could be as small as protecting the company’s treasure trove of office supplies or as significant as avoiding litigation and rescuing the company when a whistle-blower isn’t afraid to step up and be vocal. The impact could also be the thousands of examples in the middle, where an employee takes action to ensure that a customer is treated fairly, securing that customer’s loyalty.
I’m not talking about ethics here; that’s another topic for a another time. I’m really not even talking about courage. I’m talking about instinct.
Companies need team members with a guard donkey instinct. (This is not to be confused an employee who is an “ass” – sorry I couldn’t resist) Who speaks up when things aren’t right? Who treats the company’s assets like his or her own? Who makes the connections between protecting customer satisfaction and protecting his or her own paychecks? When these team members face a threat to the company’s/customers’/co-workers’ well-being, they rise up and protect.
When hiring, you can benefit a great deal by looking for guard donkey traits in candidates. During the hiring process, here are some questions you might ask candidates to help you gauge the guard donkey instinct.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you or a co-worker witnessed someone stealing from the company? Tell me what happened. Obviously, if neither the applicant, nor the co-worker spoke up, you know you don’t have a candidate with a guard donkey instinct. Any answer apart from “no” tells you that some guard donkey instinct exists (no matter how trivial the theft).
- In your last job, describe a situation where you disagreed with your boss. How did you handle it? The answer to this question can help you to understand his or her frame of reference. Is he or she focused on what’s good for the customer, the company, their co-workers, or his- or herself? Guard donkeys care about all four. If the candidate’s first reaction is a situation about himself or herself, ask for another example. Is the second example about him or her, too? You get the idea. It won’t take many examples to understand this person’s core care-abouts.
- Give me an example of a situation when something wasn’t “fair” at work. How did you handle it? Fairness is a great topic, because most people spend a lifetime seeking it, and none will ever find it. Some guard donkeys speak up purely because “it’s not fair.” If guard donkey witnesses a customer or co-worker being treated poorly, the guard donkey will speak up to restore the fairness. If a guard donkey witnesses someone slacking on the job, he/she will speak up “because it’s not fair to the others that are putting forth 100% effort.” Ask for a couple of examples. If all “fairness” examples relate back to the candidate being wronged, you don’t have a guard donkey. If some of the examples demonstrate taking action to restore equity, that candidate possesses guard donkey instinct.
Knowing, before you hire, if a candidate has a guard donkey instinct means everything to how he or she will behave when he or she is a team member. While companies don’t need whole team of guard donkeys, the company depends on the donkey’s protection. When an incident occurs, some employees’ instincts are to quietly retreat and do nothing. Guard donkeys reveal themselves during these situations and protect your company’s culture, profits, assets, and reputation.
Who are your guard donkeys in your organization today?