Our guest is Jim Roddy. Jim is a channel business advisor and the vice president of marketing for the RSPA, where he leads the association’s content efforts and provide business coaching to members.

Jim is also the author of the books “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” and “On The Edge with Jim Roddy.”

Join us as we explore behavior-based interviewing and the key personality traits a hiring manager should look for in new talent, the shortcomings of AI-led hiring, and the importance of internal culture.

Episode 44 of RETHINK Retail was recorded on November 1, 2019


Hosted by Julia Raymond
Researched, written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond:
Hello. Today’s episode of RETHINK Retail features my guest, Jim Roddy. Jim is the vice president of marketing for the Retail Solutions Provider Association. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the president of Business Solutions Magazine. Six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA chairman of the board and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs and MSPs.

Julia Raymond:
Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is the author of “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.” Jim, welcome to the show.

Jim Roddy:
Hey Julia. Thanks for having me. Good to talk with you.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah, it’s great to have you on. Your book title has really caught my attention. I wanted to start off with how did you write the book, get the idea for the book and take us through kind of that process.

Jim Roddy:
Sure. I’m happy to do it. The one thing is that title of it was meant to grab your attention. So I’m glad it’s working from that perspective.

Jim Roddy:
I was 32 years old and I was the operations manager at Jameson Publishing. Like you mentioned, we publish Business Solutions magazine, which is a magazine for retail, IT resellers and software developers. We also published a retail end user magazine as well. I was moving up in the organization. 32 years old, had just been named a operations manager. And then I was diagnosed with colon cancer. So again, I was only 32 years old and really a complete surprise. Every medical professional looked at my chart would look and do a double take and say, “You’re too young to have this.” And I’m like, “I know, but here I am.”

Julia Raymond:
Right.

Jim Roddy:
The fact that I had to step away from the business for the most part of nine months when I had my surgery and then going through chemotherapy and then just facing the reality of if things didn’t go well from a health standpoint, I would have to step away for an extended period of time, if not forever.

Jim Roddy:
It really made me realize that people do truly make or break the trajectory of your business. Up until that point it’s not like I didn’t take hiring seriously, but what I would say is it wasn’t as keen aware as, man, I really need to hire superstars, right? I really need to get the folks who are high initiative, high character. Not, well, I can fill in for some of their gaps and I have this employee can fill in for some of their gaps. You realize to have an organization it’s going to be head and shoulders above the competition. You need to have those high initiative, high character, self-starters. People who are going to adapt with changing times.

Jim Roddy:
I guess the last thing I’ll say on that is, that was 17 years ago that I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I’ve been cancer-free ever since then. So kudos to the nurses and the doctors and the surgeons who took care of me. I just kind of sat there. They did all the work on me. So the kudos and congratulations go to them.

Julia Raymond:
Well, that’s great you beat cancer. I’m super happy that you’re able to be on the podcast today. I mean, that’s a huge thing to go through. Was it because you stepped back from being so busy, so involved with work to all of a sudden you’re out for nine months, just thinking about relying on the people that were under you to kind of keep the ball rolling while you were out.

Jim Roddy:
I would say yes. The analogy that I use is for when you’re coaching athletics, okay? So the coach for, just say the NFL, stands on the sidelines. He can not put on a helmet and run into the game and do something for someone else. The coach, by having that restriction, really focuses on I’ve got to get the right people, I’ve got to train them, I’ve got to develop them. I really have to build up the best culture in order to have a chance to win because I can’t go in and manipulate it all myself.

Jim Roddy:
But oftentimes in the business world, what managers do is they’re like, get out of my way. I’m putting on the helmet, I’m going to go do this for you. So because we have that opportunity to do that… Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. So the fact that I was sidelined, I had to be that coach and I was not allowed to put on a helmet, that’s where it just made me a really keenly aware of you have to have folks who can really do the entire job, not just bits and pieces of it.

Jim Roddy:
If you want a special business, if you’re just having a lifestyle business and you want it to just kind of clunk along. At some point it’s going to be irrelevant, then you don’t really have to do that. But if you want to be growth oriented, you want to adapt with the times, that’s what you need to do.

Julia Raymond:
Definitely. I love the example of the coach. It reminds me of another example about just if you have people in a crew boat and two in the back aren’t rowing at all and then you have four in the middle looking at the scenery and two who are really trying their hardest at the front, it’s going to sink. So imagine if they were all rowing really hard and [crosstalk 00:05:15].

Jim Roddy:
Exactly.

Julia Raymond:
That’s great. I want to relate this back to retail a bit because there’s so many stats I could go over them, but there’s a lot out there right now that say, millennials still like going into stores. The younger generations are still shopping in-store alongside the older generations and brick-and-mortar is not dead. Yet, a lot of consumers report having bad experiences in retail or experiences that weren’t very memorable. I think that’s an issue on a lot of retailers minds right now.

Jim Roddy:
I agree. It really comes down to the people, like if you have, I would say shiny, happy people, but if you have associates in your store who genuinely care about their customers and care about each other, that is going to make a huge impact on somebody. They’re not going to remember the decor. They might not even remember the quality of the product that you have. So the associates are front and center and no matter what you say on your website or what mottos you hang up on the wall, the people are really representing your brand.

Julia Raymond:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) It’s more of how they make you feel rather than what they did.

Jim Roddy:
Exactly.

Julia Raymond:
That makes a lot of sense. Now, you’ve written that companies should be extremely selective, especially when they’re hiring recent graduates.

Julia Raymond:
So I wanted to know if you could expand on this, because hiring managers really in any field, what should they be asking the recent grads or people that don’t have a lot of experience?

Jim Roddy:
Sure. Well, let me take a step back for one second because when you’re hiring in retail, I don’t want to paint everybody with one broad brush, right? So if you’re hiring just seasonal help, your bar of terms of what you’re looking for, you’re probably looking just for some fundamentals and you don’t have to go as deep as some of the things we’ll talk about now.

Jim Roddy:
But if you’re talking about a manager, a store manager and assistant manager, really a hub position, that’s where you really have to crank up and look forward to make sure they have the right skills, the right personality and the character that goes along with it. Not one out of the three, not two out of the three. They have to have all three of those that you’re looking for. When I say character, I don’t just mean they’re honest, good. They check the character box.

Jim Roddy:
They have to show initiative, they have to have a strong work ethic. They have to be able to maintain emotional control, right? Because we know in a retail setting you have all sorts of spikes in terms of traffic. You get crabby customers, complaining customers, you have to make sure you stay in control. You have to have a service-oriented attitude. So those are some of, I guess, the fundamental things before we talk about hiring a recent graduate. You have to look for those big things again, especially from a manager standpoint.

Jim Roddy:
So I would say from a recent grad, what they’re going to give you oftentimes is only their labor because they don’t have a lot of experience that they’re bringing to the table. Oftentimes, they’re only going to be a short term hire for you. Even if you want them to stick around longer. People say it’s my first job because they’re planning on a second job, right? They don’t plan on staying there forever. I know you’re not going to be able to handcuff everybody to your organization, but you would like to have folks stay for some period of time. They build up some tenure, some familiarity, so they could really be a trusted associate when somebody walks in, they can actually help them as opposed to chronically saying, “I’m new here. I’m new here.”

Julia Raymond:
Right.

Jim Roddy:
The struggle with hiring recent graduates, if they’re coming, just say someone who’s right out of college, you just finished with college. So you know how college kids, they complain about, “Oh, my 8:00 AM class. That’s too early.” And you’re thinking, okay, if you’ve been to the working world any amount of time, 8:00 AM isn’t necessarily early. Having classes done at 2:30 isn’t necessarily late, right? So it’s a completely different schedule.

Jim Roddy:
Oftentimes to them, 20 credit hours is a lot of work. Okay? So if you’re going to take them into from that environment and suddenly throw them into the hectic retail environment, that’s a lot of long hours, unloading the truck, helping out people, making sure that there’s no shoplifters and stuff like that and just say, “Man, this is too hard.” Look for somebody with a track record of the things that I was talking about with those character traits. Sometimes that can be a recent college grad. There are folks who have worked their way through college or have done certain things, whether it’s extracurricular activities that have shown that they have a pattern of that kind of behavior, that kind of mindset.

Jim Roddy:
I’m a big fan of behavior-based interviewing instead of saying what would you do if you were ever in this situation because anybody can say anything, right? You ask them, tell me about the last time you engaged with an angry or frustrated customer. And they will have to give a specific example about what happened, what they did, how they felt. Then ask for another example. Ask them about an example of a time when they weren’t getting along with a coworker. Ask for an example of when they had to change personal plans in order to get the job done at work when they had to work some extra hours or put in some overtime or when they went above and beyond. If somebody doesn’t have a lot of examples of that in the first 20 years of their life, they’re probably not going to suddenly pick them up the first six months on the job with you.

Jim Roddy:
That’s what hiring is all about. Making bets and betting on the right person and it’s never going to be perfect. But by having that behavior based interview and aiming for somebody who has those right kind of traits that I talked about, that’s going to make a much higher percentage of successful hires, folks who would stick around, people were going to engage with your customers and you’re going to be smiling when you see them engage with your customers as opposed to wincing. Like, “Ooh, I can’t believe they’ve said that and did that.”

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. It’s kind of like a history is the best predictor of the future, right? So if you’re saying if they don’t have a lot of solid or strong answers for the behavioral based questions, they might not be the right fit to hit the ground running.

Jim Roddy:
Correct. You were taking a bigger risk if somebody has never done anything before for the… It would be the first time that they do it would be for you. That’s a big risk because they might not want to do it. Somebody might say, “I think I would really like to work with people in a retail environment.” But if they don’t have examples of working with people on a regular and liking it, they might not like working with them. Because there’s a sales component to it as well. Some people might be like, “I just don’t like making the first interaction, a conversation.”

Jim Roddy:
I remember specifically. I’ll give you an example. I’m down in the Pittsburgh area. I’m in Western Pennsylvania. There’s a player, he’s from here. His name’s James Connor. He’s a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m in the Pittsburgh area. James Conner just made the Steelers roster. He’s actually cancer survivor as well. So I went into this store and it’s all Pittsburgh sporting goods and I’m like, I think I want to get a James Conner jersey, which is no cheap date. I walk in there, I’m the only person in the store, the only customer. The two associates are standing there talking to each other back and forth. I can’t remember what they were talking about. I was in that store looking around for at least 10 minutes. Nobody ever came over and said, “Can I help you find something?” I roamed all around that place and walked out without one of them saying a word to me.

Jim Roddy:
So that gets back to they probably lost a sale there because I was walking around and thought, ‘Well, just an interesting way to treat people.’ Again, if you can look for people who have those traits of that they actually liked engaging with people, that’s going to get you a long ways there rather than just a cursory glance over their resume and “Oh, you can work the hours I’m looking for? Let’s bring you onboard.”

Julia Raymond:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) I’ve heard so many stories like that, which is just a little bit mind blowing. I’m sure everyone who’s listening has also had those experiences. It’s like, we’re almost in 2020, you know? You think that companies would take it more seriously. Hiring the right people, training them to provide the customer service that people will remember.

Jim Roddy:
Yes. The advice that I give in my presentations when I talk about hiring is step number one, raise the bar. Raise your expectations for the kind of person who you’re going to hire, the kind of person who’s going to work for your establishment. Oftentimes people say, “Well, it’s good enough. This is mostly how people are.”

Jim Roddy:
High character, high initiative, good personality, fun people to work with actually exist. You’re going to have to invest more time in your interview process, your application, your hiring process, but it is an investment in your future. You’re going to save time having to put out fires or people who just stopped showing up or people quit after a few weeks and people were just unreliable and unstable. Invest that time in your interview process, it’s going to pay dividends for you down the road.

Julia Raymond:
Well, that brings up an interesting point actually, because we’ve heard a little bit about different ways that artificial intelligence can be brought into the hiring process. But you’re saying that’s when you need them… Most human element is investing that time. So what are your thoughts on AI and its involvement in the process?

Jim Roddy:
Do you want my snarky answer first or do you want me to just jump right into the answer?

Julia Raymond:
Yeah, give me the snarky answer.

Jim Roddy:
My snarky answer would be… My initial reaction is it would be as effective as an AI led podcast host, right? Like you and I are having this discussion.

Julia Raymond:
I’m actually a robot, Jim.

Jim Roddy:
Can you imagine? Not computing. So AI, if used properly, will help augment your search, will help augment your data gathering efforts. But the best technology on the planet is the human brain, right? Nothing has come even close to what the human brain does. So if you’re going to use AI to augment your brain, your data collecting, your experience, your thought process, that’s great. More data to assist with your decision making process is better.

Jim Roddy:
What I always tell folks is picture this visual when you’re hiring somebody. Oftentimes you think, you’ve heard me say already, get more data, get more data. They think, oh, I’ve been getting half a bucket of data. I need to get a full bucket of data. I’m like, “No, get a wheelbarrow overflowing full with data. Pick that up, dump that on the table, sort through it. It’s going to be easy to make the decision there.”

Jim Roddy:
So again, if you do have AI augmenting and supplementing your data gathering, that’s great. But it’s not a substitute. I always say there’s no substitute for a competent person getting closer to a situation. Don’t say, “Oh, the machines spit this out. I guess this is what I have to do.” Again, if AI, when it has a longer track record of success, that’s when you’re going to be able to implement it from a best practice standpoint. But there’s still a lot of discovering and figuring out that’s going on right now. So don’t think, oh, the machine has to be smarter than me. There are methodologies that humans have that you should follow in order to get the right data that you need.

Julia Raymond:
That makes a lot of sense. You can’t discredit intuition. So I could totally see that.

Julia Raymond:
I wanted to actually ask a little bit about culture because of your expertise in this area and just the idea that there was a survey released, it was from Glassdoor from this year. It said 77% of adults across four countries, not just U.S., but U.S, UK, France, and Germany all said that they consider company culture before they even apply for a job. So what should retail leaders be doing? Is this HR marketing function even to have social media or are there enough campaigns that are out there?

Jim Roddy:
That’s a good question. I’d say it’s all of the above where the marketing, the social and the outreach is super important because you have to broadcast your culture. You have to make sure that what it’s broadcasting actually has something behind it. Because if it sounds so good and then folks get into your environment, they’re going to start talking about this isn’t all that it’s that it’s cracked up to be.

Jim Roddy:
So I would say start before you get the marketing and the outreach standpoint. Really start working on your organization culturally itself. Making sure that’s strong, making sure that your employees will be excited to go on social media themselves and share your story about what a great organization you are to work for. I mean that’s like the best and is really what it comes down to.

Jim Roddy:
A foundation to all this about having the right culture is… I’ll never forget. This is one of the first training courses that I attended and this is about engaging with customers. All caps written up on the whiteboard were “actually care,” right?

Jim Roddy:
So all the tactics in the world are just parlor tricks, smoke and mirrors. But if you actually care about the person that you’re serving, then everything will be able to grow from that. But if somebody rolls their eyes when a customer walks in, all those other things are just going to seem completely phony.

Jim Roddy:
What you have to do to build this culture with employees, there’s got to be more engagement with them directly, right? You have to not just say, “Hey, they’re going to come in and they’re going to be perfect when they come in.” Engage with them, listen to them, explain the philosophies of what’s going on. Don’t really treat them as labor. Treat them as somebody who can be an extension of your brand. Invest in their professional development, right? The high performing organizations, the high-performing retailers don’t just say, “Hey, we have good customer service. I guess we’re done here. Let’s move on to something else.” They have constant training in what they do.

Jim Roddy:
So this is an experience. This is like the first I lived through, and this is probably why I think I’m so committed to this. A job that I had my junior, senior year of high school and then going into my first couple of years of college, as I’m at Erie, Pennsylvania, I worked at the Erie Zoo. The joke back then was, “You work at the zoo. What do you shovel? Elephant poop?” It’s like, “No, there’s more to zoo than a bunch of people walking around with shovels.” So the culture there, and this is like the first real culture that I experienced.

Jim Roddy:
This is how one person, one leader can make a difference. Even when he was in meetings hiring essentially all high school kids and folks you know who just started college. So his take was I want to get reliable, friendly, dependable kids essentially to staff the gift shop, all the concession stands, things like that. He said the folks who I know are going to be reliable are involved in other extracurricular activities like a lot of times in athletics or other things like that because they are sticking to a schedule. They’re disciplined in that regard. So he would hire folks a lot of times in those, in that category. But it made his scheduling way difficult because folks would sometimes have practice or a camp or something like that. But he basically said, “I’d rather take the burden of adjusting my schedule than I would the burden of so-and-so just swore at a customer.” Like, Oh my gosh.

Jim Roddy:
So I got to experience him for the first couple of years. Then he moved up in the organization. Then someone else took his position of doing all the customer service hiring at the zoo. Customer relations is what it was. That hiring manager’s approach was, “Man, this scheduling thing seems hard. I’m just going to hire kids who have nothing better to do.”

Julia Raymond:
They’ll be available.

Jim Roddy:
They’re always available for work. Well, again, the first couple of years on the job, it was super enjoyable. Then some of these new folks started showing up, we’re in the middle of a big rush and they’re like, “I got to take a smoke break.” You’re like, “Wait a second, we have this thing to do.” And they’re like, “Nope, sorry I got to do this thing.” Then they would go on a 15 minute break, it turned into a 35 minute break. And this shows how old I am. We didn’t have cell phones or anything like that, so you just have to wait until they came back. So it was really evident to me, and again, I’m 19, 20 years old, it was the same place, it was the same facilities, it was the same job. But that philosophy of who you’re going to hire and the burden you’re going to take on as a manager and the culture that you want to build just made all the difference in the world.

Jim Roddy:
Again, customer complaints started going up as well. It wasn’t just like I had some personal burden for myself. This service levels went down. So, that gain, it has got burned in my brain early. It’s just the power of how one person can make the decision and the impact it could have on a culture.

Julia Raymond:
I love that example because the impact, it wasn’t just on you as an individual, but it was probably on all of the coworkers that you had originally as part of the group of more dedicated employees might we say. It’s like a trickle down effect just from the one person.

Jim Roddy:
Yes. I mean there’s the old cliche, the one bad apple spoils the bushel. That’s how it works from a culture standpoint. This is to go back to the things we said earlier about hiring high initiative, high character, hardworking people. You hire some folks who don’t fit that category and you tolerate their behavior, the good people aren’t going to put up with it and they’ll end up leaving. They’re going to be left with those other folks, so just be very…. Guard your culture.

Jim Roddy:
When I was doing hiring back at Jameson Publishing, when we got close to hiring somebody at the end of the interview process. I’d say, so we’ve been all friendly throughout this interview, but let me say this and I’m not going to wag my finger at you, but you can almost take it as it. Don’t screw up our culture. We really, really like what we have. Now, you can take that as a threat. You can take that as wow, they really defend what they’ve built here and they will defend it and I’m not going to have to put up with some low performers, some rude person, some jerk for very long because they really take it seriously.

Jim Roddy:
There’s a saying that one person with courage makes a majority. The retail manager can be that one person with courage and so they can really change the culture. It really, again, starts with the people who they hire, the people who they bring in to interact with their customers and the rest of their team.

Julia Raymond:
Yes. Jim, would you say it’s more top down or bottom up? I mean when we talk about this, it seems like you have to have these policies and standards kind of lived by the employees every day in and out. In retail specifically, there’s probably more standards that have to be followed than other industries. So how do you balance that when you’re in retail leadership?

Jim Roddy:
Yeah, no, that’s a good question. That is the balance that somebody has to strike as if you’re talking about a frontline retail manager. Do they understand the company’s philosophy and not just see it written on a document, not just receive it in an email or whenever they meet with their district manager. Do they really understand the philosophy behind it and what the executive leaders are hoping to accomplish? I know it’s easy to say, “Hey, make sure you focus on that and make sure you take the time to have those conversations.” But folks in the retail world are just so busy on a regular basis, they get caught up in the day to day.

Jim Roddy:
So that’s kind of to me where it all starts is, is everybody aligned philosophically? If you have that philosophical alignment, then you can build from there. That’s why I think it should be a constant, more of a round table discussion rather than, I’m just going to do what I’m told. But it should be asking questions to understand what the executive team is shooting for, what the founders are shooting for, and then really make sure you can translate that to your team. That’s a responsibility of a leader. It’s not just, I haven’t been told this yet. They have to be the ones who take the initiative to seek things out.

Julia Raymond:
It sounds like feedback loop from every level of the company.

Jim Roddy:
Exactly. As I said earlier, there’s no substitute for a competent person getting closer to a situation. That applies when you’re working with your customers. That applies when you’re managing your staff. That applies when you’re working with the executive team. That applies to the executive team throughout the entire organization as well.

Jim Roddy:
The closer they’re able to stay with each other philosophically and from a meaningful standpoint, not just, I stopped by the store to say hi. That’s really going to make a difference and that’s how you’re going to separate. In this world where folks are looking for a customized, tailored, heightened experience. That’s vitally important today.

Julia Raymond:
Certainly. I want to close out just by asking you from your standpoint. There’s a lot going on right now in retail and as it relates back to HR functions and just the culture, the changing of the retail culture today. What are you most excited about?

Jim Roddy:
A good question. What am I most excited about from a retail standpoint? I would say that the technology that is available today can provide the associate with any information that they might need at their fingertips. Instead of, I’m not sure I’m going to have to go ask somebody that they can go to that customer in the store and truly be a concierge, a trusted advisor, a guide for them as opposed to simply, I’ll get you what you need when you need it. I think that is super exciting.

Jim Roddy:
I think also the fact that we have the ability now to really give people what they want, when they want it, as opposed to, oh, you’re going to have to wait until we are able to provide it for you. Now, while that’s exciting can also be daunting because the expectations to the customers just keep increasing significantly every single time. So the more that we raise the bar, the more that they’re going to expect the next thing to happen.

Jim Roddy:
The third thing that I would say tying kind of those two things together is now these abilities are available in the SMB space. I mean, that’s where I spend most of my time working with the value added resellers and the software developers and vendors in SMB. Before they would just look up to the big companies who had this technology and be like, oh, that’d be great if I could have that. But now this technology is available on an SMB basis.

Jim Roddy:
So if you’re listening to this podcast and you only have one store or just a couple stores and you think, boy, I wish I could dream of being like these other folks. Reach out to a reseller, technology provider in your area. They could probably enlighten you in terms of what you can do from an online ordering standpoint, what you can do to have mobile POS inside of your four walls, what you can do to enable your team with handhelds. That I think is a significant difference and it’s going to help instead of the customer just staying at home searching on the internet, which a lot of folks are doing. They will see the uplift to going into the store and have folks who are trained and are ready to help them and can get them the answers, the products and services that they need when they want them.

Julia Raymond:
Sure. That’s something that’s such a good point because it’s so accessible is what I’m hearing from your standpoint that almost any size retailer could get some of these technology solutions to empower their associates today to reinvent the customer experience. But yet, the last few stores I’ve shopped at did not have that level of service or technology embedded just yet.

Jim Roddy:
Exactly. If you’re a smaller retailer listening to this, we talked about initiative. You have to take the initiative to ask if some of these things can be available and a lot of them are. Not that everything, again, not augmented reality is going to come into some small boutique shop that has only one location. But there are other things that you can do to enhance your business. It’s not necessarily outrageously expensive. Easy for me to spend somebody else’s money, but it’s not that you have to set up some massive infrastructure in order to make this happen.

Jim Roddy:
Lean on your local solution providers, lean on the regional solution providers and ask them what they’ve done for other retailers. Oftentimes they can do it for you. You might be surprised that you only have to pay a few dollars a month in order to get something that’s going to enhance the customer experience, increase your sales, help you expand your reach if you’re able to do things online.

Jim Roddy:
So what you know doesn’t mean that that’s all that’s available out there. There’s a lot of cool technologies available right now for the SMB space.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. I’m in violent agreement with that. I think we could all enjoy some updates and a lot of the stories we know and love to shop in currently. So thank you, Jim. Vice president of marketing for Retail Solutions Providers Association for joining the show today.

Jim Roddy:
Hey, thanks for having me Julia. Great talking with you.