Sure-Fire Employment Test

Trying to evaluate a potential new hire? Here's a great test: Arrange for them to work for a day—a particularly slow day—at a place like Best Buy or a hotel check-in desk. Make sure that there are ropes set up to control long lines—you know, the kind that corral the crowd and make customers walk back and forth many times before making it to the counter. Remember: Be sure to choose a slow day.

Now, station yourself at a place where you can surreptitiously observe your prospective new hire. Watch him as he watches the occasional customer walk back and forth through the empty labyrinth, following the course of a long line even though there is no line and no other customers. What does your potential new employee do as he watches customers take these extra steps? Does he do nothing? Does he assume that "the powers that be" (I hate that term) have decided the ropes are necessary, even on slow days? Or, does your future star worker take the initiative to undo the ropes and let customers walk right in?

The formula is simple: If he does nothing, don't hire him. If he takes the initiative to change the configuration of the ropes, hire him.

The other day an America West airport gate agent—standing in front of an empty counter with no other customers in sight—saw me duck under the ropes, carrying a large portion of my family's luggage, to avoid walking the empty maze. She, in a very friendly way, said, "Cheater." I smiled, but thought to myself, "You should be ashamed of yourself. Do you consider yourself so unimportant or helpless that you can't imagine that it is within your power to walk ten feet and rearrange these ropes, making the customer's path more sensible? Do you think yourself to be so unaware and undiscerning that you won't be able to notice when, an hour from now, things get busy and you have to put the ropes back up to control a line?"

If a company was great at marketing, its employees would instinctively move the ropes.