Employees can make or break a business. Finding and retaining superstars who excel can be extremely challenging; like finding a lost diamond on a beach without the use of a metal detector. This is a difficult task for any business, but especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs who have so much at stake with any one of their few employees who make up their limited workforce. Therefore, many small businesses end up turning down an eccentric applicant who may seem to otherwise fit the bill, but doesn’t look the part of the job they are hiring for. But should these applicants be passed up merely because they may not fully conform to the boring culture we have established in our businesses? What if there was a way to leverage eccentric employees for a competitive advantage?
Every employer can create a competitive advantage with eccentric employees by taking one of three approaches.
One of the best ways to create a competitive advantage with eccentric employees is to create employee rockstars. These eccentric employees are those with outrageous personalities and/or a bold sense of style. They often do not fit well with employers who place a higher value on those who conform. But these employees offer a unique competitive advantage to employers. They often desire attention, and attention in business is a good thing.
When I was in my mid 20’s I used to frequent a local microbrewery. While this pub had great drinks and fantastic food, its greatest asset was its employees. The employees were rockstars. Literally. It seemed that over half of their servers were in local bands and they all dressed the part. But they didn’t just dress the part, they had even bigger personalities. They knew tons of people and attracted their own fans to the pub. They would even join in on jam sessions (while working) on open mic nights. This arrangement worked well for both the employee and for the businesses as the employees experienced larger tips from their fans while the employees were essentially drawing business in for pub – just by being themselves.
Another example of an employee rockstar is a cashier at my local grocery store. There is a young man who has a twelve inch handlebar mustache. The interesting thing here is that the store usually hires individuals who conform to a standard conservative appearance, so this cashier really sticks out. But my kids love it. They always looks for this cashier and even comment when we see him walking into the store on the other side of the parking lot or pass him in an isle. While I can get groceries just about anywhere, it is much more exciting to get it from a cashier with a twelve inch handlebar mustache.
Another way to leverage a competitive advantage from eccentric employees is to develop a “brand” of employees. Branded employees are a certain type of eccentric personality that gains a positive reflection for the employer. Successful businesses have been using this approach for years, but the opportunity is often not fully utilized.
For example, a Geek Squad employee at Best Buy will often fit the mold of an eccentric personality who has conformed into a branded employee. These employees are dressed in black and white but their personalities are often extremely colorful. In fact, I know of one such employee who recently had Miley Cirus’s famous shaved-on-one-side pixie haircut.
The Creative Employee
The final way to leverage a competitive advantage from eccentric employees is to allow them to be creative. Employees often have the best ideas and solutions as they are the ones in the trenches. And they often know how to make a boring job more exciting for their customers.
For example, flight attendants must often go through a pre-flight routine that explains what to do in the event of an emergency. This routine is required by FAA regulations. It is boring. The passengers seem to ignore it and the flight attendants often go through the motions with no emotion whatsoever. But once in a while, an airline will allow a creative employee to provide their own rendition of the required elements. And this creativity is often a huge success and talked about by the passengers. This type of creativity generates excitement for a brand or company and is not something that can develop when employees are required to conform.
Other companies, such as Starbucks, have even taken steps to retain and support their employees. For example, Starbucks recently announced their Starbucks college tuition reimbursement program which will offer US employees without an undergraduate degree up to two years worth of college tuition reimbursement.
What competitive advantages have you seen from eccentric employees?