It was 2005 and the project was near complete. As the hotel took shape, Steve was focused on more than just the building. He was focused on the staff. After all, this hotel would be different. Finally, after the Golden Nugget, the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Bellagio, this hotel would have his name on it.
Wynn Las Vegas
Of course Steve wouldn't be doing all the hiring. But he'd have to get things going. After all, the right hire reinforces the culture you want. The wrong hire kills it.
And culture eats everything for lunch.
So what did Steve do? How did he make sure his hires were the right ones, and what can we learn from it?
Hire People You Know
Now, don't get me wrong, he didn't hire family (though his wife – now ex – was on the board). But he'd worked in the industry long enough to know folks. Remember, this wasn't his first hotel. So he kept names of key folks from all his past resorts.
Let me ask you this question – do you do that? Do you keep a list of key folks you've encountered over time? Do you keep in touch with them?
You never know when you'll need them – but it's important that you keep an eye out for talent. High performers in one context could very well be high performers in another. So keep track of them.
Make a Personal Request
I know a lot of people that simply post a position and hope good folks will apply. I rather go looking for specific people I want and then ask them to apply. Even if – and especially if – they're busy working. Some really great people are already busy. Find them and hire them. But when you approach them, don't send them a link to a job site.
Invite them personally.
Steve, according to one of the early hires at the Wynn, personally hand-wrote an invitation to her to join him at the Wynn, working in the hotel's restaurant. I know, because I was there a few weeks after it's opening in 2005 and sat at her table. I then asked her about 40 questions related to how she ended up there. And that's when I heard about the hand-written note.
Personal requests go a long way.
Use Salary Strategically
Especially in today's tech world, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the cost of good talent. Our natural inclination is to look for inexpensive staff that are “finds”. Then we start playing this staff salary arbitrage, where we pay low and charge high. But today's acquisitions suggest that staff are assets themselves (worth about $1MM each). So think about salary strategically – even if it means paying a bit more for truly fantastic staff.
In talking to the staff at Wynn back in 2005, I discovered that some of the key hires were paid a premium to come over to Wynn. And that makes sense.
You want the right staff to set the tone. You want the right staff to manage the rest of the folks you hire. You want the right staff to drive the culture deep into the organization. And if you've been there, you know what I'm talking about.
In fact, I wasn't surprised to hear from one patron years later that they had received a personalized, hand-written note in their room upon their arrival. After all, if that employee came to the job that way, why wouldn't you expect to see it passed on?
4 Tips for Hiring New Employees
Steve Wynn, and Wynn Las Vegas, aren't the only places that need to hire great staff. You may be in the same situation, getting ready to launch your next project and looking for the right staff. So what can you do to make sure you're hiring the right staff? Here are five quick tips I often use.
You can't teach hunger, discipline & personality. You can teach skills. Don't get caught focusing on the wrong things.
Evaluate candidate's interactions with everyday people. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos checks to see how candidates treat the bus driver on the way to the interview. If they're rude, they don't get hired.
Verify, verify, verify. Don't get so excited about how you ‘clicked' without doing your checks. I once hired a guy who never went to the school he said, and barely worked at a place where he said he'd been for over a decade. All because I was so excited to hire him. My bad.
Test future hires. I send applicants work to do. Some hate it. Others love it. I'm looking for people willing to put in a little work to demonstrate their skills and experience.
So those are some of my tips. What are yours? Also, if you're up to it, share your worst hire stories. I'd love to hear them.