Stop Looking for Rockstars

(Why a Piece of Garbage Tells a Story)

Full disclosure: I generally try to stay out of the way when it comes to hiring, because I’m not that good at interviewing people. I consider myself a good judge of character, but for the nuts-and-bolts of an interview process, I tend to step aside. 

Our leadership team understands our core values and the requirements of the job, so I trust them to assess our candidates and their skillsets.

But here’s the thing. When I’m talking to other business owners I get asked… 

How do I find that rockstar employee…?

At Creative Roots we take a slightly different approach: we commit to ‘growing’ rockstar employees. And our recruiting and hiring practices are the beginning of that process.

Here’s what I mean…

Who wants a glass of water?

One of the things we do as a hiring team is assess whether or not we’re getting a team player. A first impression can tell us a great deal…so how do we set the stage?

We put a jug of water on the table, and a bunch of glasses. A candidate who offers to get everyone else a glass of water before pouring one for themselves…? Well, that tells me they’re looking out for everyone else at the table. 

It also tells me they’re going to figure out ways to elevate the team with the resources they have onsite.

It tells me that if a client comes to them with a challenge, or a co-worker hits a roadblock, they’ll be actively seeking ways to uphold our core values:

  • Prove You Care
  • Give Great Service 
  • Work Together 

Those are great qualities in an employee, no matter the industry.

You gonna pick that up?

My other ‘test’ – one that dates back to my time as the lone man on a 5:00am clean-up crew for a parking lot at a busy shopping mall – is leaving a piece of garbage on the walkway into our office. Littering is a pet peeve of mine…

Want to know whether or not you’re hiring someone with a conscience, someone who sees the small details on a jobsite? Someone who’s ready to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work? If they bring the piece of trash into the office looking for a garbage bin, you’re on to something.

Over our 25-plus years in business we’ve occasionally hired people who barely knew how to jam a shovel into the ground or lift turf. We’ve never cared all that much, because we can teach those hands-on skills. But when you meet someone who is looking for opportunities to improve their environment and look out for others…you’ve found your potential rockstar.

The numbers don’t lie, so don’t conceal them.

I talk about employee education all the time, and it’s not just onsite skills that I’m talking about. 

Once you’ve got an employee who understands and shares your core values and demonstrates a willingness to learn, it’s time to set them up for success. Yes, that’s your job as the owner or manager to set your employees up for success.

Think beyond the tools of the trade. Think about the tools of the ‘game of business’. If you want rockstar employees who are going to help your business succeed, teach them what success looks like on a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet.

Truth be told, I talk about ‘business skills’ with my team far more than job skills. Since we’re all “in business” together we need to speak the same language about our business…onsite and offsite.

Our company is run using the Open Book Management system. We have a set schedule of “huddles” – staff and owner meetings that have targeted topics, including some that cover our finances. 

Here’s what happens when your team understands the language and game of your business: they start looking out for your bottom line. Why? Because now they can see the numbers, they are part of the planning and discussions. They understand how each business decision impacts the health of the company.

Here’s a small but very real example: a few years back we were having a really strong quarter. I was at a builder’s supply getting some lumber and spotted a display of shiny new wheelbarrows. The ones we had were trashed – one had even been run over with a skid-steer and strapped back together. They looked like hell.

I got on the phone to one of my site managers and told him I was going to splurge on five new wheelbarrows at $225 a piece. Great “boss” move, right? 


“What the heck for?” he asked me. “The ones we have still work…”

He had a point. And he was thinking of our bottom line, because he’d seen the equipment expenses on our financial scoreboard in the office. Money spent there meant less profit…and with a gainsharing program, that decision hit our employees in the wallet. He got it. 

That’s a rockstar employee.

There are other times I’ve learned to follow my team rather than lead them…you can read about it here.

Bottom line: stop looking for the ‘rockstars’…define what one looks like to your organization and then grow them, instead. I can tell you how to do it – I’ve got the tools and resources you need to build a team of rockstars.