Wendy Collie on hiring and empowering teams at Starbucks and New Seasons Market.
Wendy Collie is a changemaking C-Level Executive known for amplifying the positive impact of individuals and teams. Wendy spent 17 years at Starbucks as the brand was quickly developing, eventually serving as Senior Vice President and General Manager. Wendy went on to lead New Seasons Market through significant growth as CEO and President. She is currently the Co-CEO of Evergreens, a fast-growing healthy quick service restaurant concept. Wendy shares how she hires authentic leaders and empowers high-performing teams to maximize growth in mission-centric companies.
Listen to the podcast
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDE
● Taking Starbucks from relative obscurity to global ubiquity (2:31)
● Hiring with the customer in mind (5:33)
● Putting a purposeful philosophy into practice (7:47)
● The importance of servant leadership (9:08)
● Lessons from Howard Schultz and other influential leaders at Starbucks (10:16)
● One key quality Wendy values in leadership (13:07)
● How she and the Starbucks team scaled hiring as growth exploded (14:33)
● 5 principles of servant leadership at New Seasons (21:50)
● Her experience driving growth in a triple bottom line culture (22:43)
● Why hiring the “whole” person is key to her approach (26:05)
● How a change to orientation gave hires a thorough understanding of the brand (31:52)
● Why the sequence of getting to know a candidate matters (33:28)
● How storytelling benefits the interview process (37:52)
● How she set expectations and assessed existing teams for their ability to scale (38:51)
● How New Seasons’ status helped facilitate hiring (43:07)
● Wendy’s favorite interview questions… (49:23)
● …and red flags (50:42)
● How COVID 19 shaped her approach to building teams at Evergreens (55:48)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – HOW I HIRE PODCAST WITH Wendy Collie
Roy Notowitz: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best hiring advice and insights. I’m your host, Roy Notowitz, Founder of an executive recruiting and talent consulting firm called Noto Group. My team and I have spent the last decade helping to build iconic consumer brands, one hire at a time. Visit us at NotoGroup.com to learn more.
My guest today is Wendy Collie, a C-level Executive with over 30 years of retail experience. As a leader who’s passionate about purpose and mission, she’s built high performing teams, both domestically and internationally. Wendy is currently the Co-CEO of Evergreens, a fast growing Seattle-based healthy restaurant concept. Before joining Evergreens, Wendy was the President and CEO of New Seasons Market, a Pacific Northwest, sustainably-focused, organic grocer. Wendy honed her leadership experience during her notable 17 years at Starbucks, where she ultimately served as Senior Vice President and General Manager. Wendy joins me on the podcast to share how her experience at growth-oriented and mission driven brands has influenced her hiring philosophy.
Wendy, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. I remember the first time we met and I was really struck by your leadership and you know, obviously we’ve had the opportunity to work together on at least four key hires for your teams and each and every time we’ve worked together, it’s just been a pleasure. So I’ve been wanting to have you on the podcast to share your leadership wisdom around hiring and thanks for, for being here today.
Wendy Collie: [00:01:49] Yeah, you bet. I’m thrilled to be here, Roy, and I remember the first time we worked together and how impressed I was by your ability to really make me and my team better at hiring incredible talent in our organization. So thank you for everything you’ve done for us.
Roy Notowitz: [00:02:05] Yeah, it was, it was an incredible team. I want to dive right into some questions here. I’ve got a lot of questions for you, and I know that your time at Starbucks was really huge and you were there at a time when the brand grew from relative obscurity to complete ubiquity on a global scale. I’m interested in how that experience forged your philosophy and influenced your approach to recruiting and hiring.
Wendy Collie: [00:02:31] You know, it’s interesting, my very first job at Starbucks was a District Manager in Los Angeles, California. And this is going way back when Starbucks only had 108 stores total…
Roy Notowitz: [00:02:44] Wow.
Wendy Collie: [00:02:44] … in the company, I know, crazy. Nobody believes that! There were only seven Starbucks stores in the state of California and sales were soft. People didn’t really understand the beverages. They thought the black coffee was too strong. They didn’t know what a latte was. They used to call it a “lat,” you know, all kinds of crazy stuff.
And you know, the hypothesis at that time was we can’t sell hot coffee in a hot weather market. That was the hypothesis for the company.
Roy Notowitz: [00:03:12] Wow.
Wendy Collie: [00:03:12] And there were a lot of reasons for the slow start, but it wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t the locations. What I quickly understood was one part of the opportunity was the employees, or “partners” as we used to call them at Starbucks. Starbucks called employees partners because everybody earns stock options, or “bean stock” as they call it. And we had people who were coffee gurus. They liked their jobs, they loved the product, but they weren’t quite the right fit for the company for a variety of reasons. And we needed more than coffee gurus, right?
We needed more than baristas who showed up on time and steamed milk at the right temperature. We needed passionate people who could create this unique experience that connected customers in a way that was very different than they had ever experienced before. Right? People that were part of a community.
We used to call it the “third place,” you know, not home, not work, but it’s, it’s a place where you have this sense of belonging and a place that was a respite and a place that people had a moment for themselves at a sip at a time. And that was the moment. That was the moment when I realized the importance of recruiting and hiring because people are really the face of the brand and the brand experience.
And it has to emanate from them. It has to be authentic. It has to be real. It has to be something that you almost can’t describe, but yet it’s tangible for people. Right? And so during my tenure at Starbucks, we built this incredibly robust people process that became the engine for recruiting and hiring and training and developing the most incredible baristas and managers and leaders in the nation, and then globally.
And it was a moment that I realized if you want to build a strong culture and a strong brand, you have to put people first. So helping people realize their potential in whatever way was right for them was the best way to do that. And it was that moment as a District Manager that I realized that.
Roy Notowitz: [00:05:20] Wow.
Wendy Collie: [00:05:21] You know, you have to hire people with shared purpose and shared values and then teach them, teach them how to show up.
Roy Notowitz: [00:05:27] It seems like that would have been a unique approach at the time. Were there any other models out there?
Wendy Collie: [00:05:33] You know, I think there were some good service models out there around some retail models, you know, that put service first, if you will. And there were some restaurants, obviously, that were known as being sort of high-end experiences.
But I, I think the thing that made Starbucks so unique is while we, we said all the things that everybody else said, you know, “You need to put the customer first. You need to do what’s right. You need to make decisions that make people feel good.” We magnified that. We magnified that purpose in such a powerful way and we, we really took that purpose and looked at it as like, how do you bring the whole self to work? How do you bring the whole person to the job? So it’s not just about doing your job and leaving and treating people nice.
It’s that you’re, you’re like the CEO of your store and you are there because you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you bring people into that experience, right? So your values, your curiosity, your limitations, your vulnerabilities, your humility, your drive, all of that.
Roy Notowitz: [00:06:44] That’s cool, yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:06:46] I think that’s where we took a model that was… on paper, it makes a lot of sense as a business leader to say, yeah, I want to, I want people to show up on time. I want them to be happy. I want them to provide good service. I want customers to feel like they’re heard and seen, but when you magnify it, you have to really put a spotlight and say, in order to be better, you have to do better. And to do better, you have to know better. You know, it’s like people wear different hats in their lives, right?
We all wear different hats. I’m a mother, I’m an aunt. I’m a business leader. I’m a wife, I’m a friend. But if I’m wearing one hat at my work and I show up as my whole self, because this is who I am, what happens is just this incredibly powerful experience. That’s what I think Starbucks did differently.
Roy Notowitz: [00:07:35] I’m curious, so how did you sort of harness that philosophy or bring that into practice so that people that you were hiring could be fully who they are at work?
Wendy Collie: [00:07:47] Yeah. I think part of how we really hired for the whole person is the interview process itself. Right? So, so Starbucks in particular. When you think about how many people we needed to hire, right? In the early days, we were hiring for people to come in and be in an environment where they felt the values of their own lives matched the values and the mission of a company. And so you interview for that, right? You interview for the basics. I mean, this sounds ridiculous, but like, “Do you like coffee?”
Roy Notowitz: [00:08:23] Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:08:24] “Do you like people?” It’s amazing when you take the time to just get to know someone in an authentic way about what motivates them, what inspires them. You ask them questions about things that mattered to them. You know, who are people that had an impact on their lives? What are jobs that they love? Jobs that they didn’t love?
What you start to understand is who they are as a person. And when you start to see that someone can bring their own personal motivations to work in addition to then wanting to build skills and do well and serve others, you start to be able to create an environment where authentic leadership becomes an important part of the equation.
And I think that, for Starbucks, you know, we really, it was my first sort of exposure to what’s called servant leadership. This idea that if you hire people who truly believe that their success is based on the success of the people around them, and there is a common denominator of helping each other succeed and being at your best, what you get from that is an incredibly powerful team.
Roy Notowitz: [00:09:36] Right.
Wendy Collie: [00:09:36] Right? And so that whole self comes through because everybody brings their strengths to the table and everybody offsets each other’s opportunities, if you will. Right? We’re not perfect. So we just have to be able to be transparent in what we’re good at and what we’re not good at so that the team around you, together, is much more powerful than you as an individual.
Roy Notowitz: [00:09:59] You’ve told me some great stories about driving around with Howard Schultz and other leaders at Starbucks who were influential. I’m curious which aspects of this strategy came from Howard himself, and how did the philosophy evolve as the company was growing?
Wendy Collie: [00:10:16] First of all, I feel so fortunate, right? To have been able to spend time with Howard Schultz in the early days.
Roy Notowitz: [00:10:21] That must have been cool.
Wendy Collie: [00:10:23] Yeah, it was really cool. I remember a time where we were driving around to stores and he had to stop to call his kids to say goodnight before they went to bed, right? But that’s the perfect example, was here I was in my car with the founder of a company that at the time, no one knew what Starbucks was going to be globally, but it was a pretty interesting company. And this incredible leader is asking me all kinds of questions about people and product and locations and customer service and business. And then he has to stop to be able to say goodnight to his kids, which is an incredible, authentic moment.
Roy Notowitz: [00:10:57] Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:10:57] Right? That taught me, in my mid twenties, it was okay for me to be able to wear multiple hats. Right? But, but what I really learned from Howard Schultz was that the importance of having a strong company mission and value, not just something on paper, but something that is truly a DNA of a company, right? And that grows organically through the people in the company, having a strong company, mission and value, and then hiring people who aligned to that is one of the most important things you can do because —
Roy Notowitz: [00:11:33] Probably the most, right? If you want to be a good company.
Wendy Collie: [00:11:36] Absolutely. Because people want to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves, that’s what inspires us. Right? That was my first real understanding of how powerful his vision was. And that you have to take that, and even if you’re all aligned to the company mission and values, you then surround yourself with people that have that common theme, but they have different backgrounds and experiences and expertise, and then learn from each other.
Roy Notowitz: [00:12:05] It becomes more than a job at this point.
Wendy Collie: [00:12:07] It was more than a job. And the other part of the equation for Starbucks was another Howard, Howard Behar. He was the operations and people side of the business. And, you know, the combination of the two of them was so… it was such a unique and wonderful spark that brought Starbucks together because Howard Behar, his perspective was, we’re not in the coffee business, we’re in the people business serving coffee.
He always put people first, you know, that you hired people who believed in servant leadership believed in lifting others made you more successful, who shared values and passions, but believe their success lied in each other because it’s not about any one accomplishment, right? So between those two, I mean, I felt like I was the luckiest person ever in my mid twenties to be exposed to this kind of thinking, which was completely revolutionary for me.
Roy Notowitz: [00:13:02] Yeah, I saw how that thinking and authenticity carried through when you were leading New Seasons.
Wendy Collie: [00:13:07] Yeah. I mean, it’s funny, you know, I talked about you have to be able to wear all your hats everywhere you go. You can never get away from yourself. Right? And so many people wear one hat, which means they limit themselves. And this whole idea of authentic leadership, you know, you can read about it in a book. You can hear about it when someone talks about it, but until you experience it and you see it and you understand what it looks like, then it clicks that people who are authentic leaders bring something very special to the table and they hire people that have potential. I always believed you could teach people anything if they were authentic and they had passion and they were self-motivated and brought their full self to work.
Roy Notowitz: [00:13:50] I’m interested, you know, you led multiple business units for Starbucks, both company owned and operated joint ventures internationally and licensed stores. You know, at one point, I remember you telling me you were opening three stores a day at Starbucks. That’s insane.
Wendy Collie: [00:14:07] Yeah isn’t that crazy?
Roy Notowitz: [00:14:08] Yeah, I mean that’s a lot.
Wendy Collie: [00:14:09] Worldwide, but yeah, it was three stores a day.
Roy Notowitz: [00:14:11] How did you manage the complexity and keep up with the volume of hiring while also maintaining the quality so that when you walk in that experience, you know, of those seven stores in California were translated in the same way, you know, at your thirty….thousandth store or however many?
Wendy Collie: [00:14:33] Yeah. Oh my God. I know. It’s crazy. So let me backtrack for just a second. Years before we were opening three stores a day, and that was worldwide, right? You know, years before that we had, you know, probably four or five hundred locations in the company. And I was the Director of Operations for the LA area. And I was sitting in a meeting and I remember it so distinctively because there was about 25 of us in this meeting.
And we were all the operators of the business and Howard Schultz came in the room and he pulled a chair right in the middle of all of us. And he said, “We’re going to have 2,000 stores by the year 2000.” And we only had four or five hundred stores at the time. And I mean, you could have heard a pin drop, right? Because it was daunting.
I mean, literally the first thing I thought was, how in the world are we going to hire enough people to be 2,000 stores when I can barely keep up right now with the hiring in LA. Right? And then years later, when I was the Regional Vice President for the Pacific Northwest and our global expansion started to happen and we were on this crazy growth curve, all of a sudden it was announced, we’re going to build our five-year growth plan. And we realized we were going to be at a point very quickly, where we were going to be opening three stores in one day worldwide every day. Like… which is just crazy. Right?
So it’s exciting. It’s terrifying because you know, when you’re in the people business serving coffee, like, how many people can you hire to do that? And so, we needed to put systems and processes in place that gave us the roads and the speed to be able to do that, but had the curbs, right? To make sure that we were consistent and that we were really amplifying the culture and the brand and being true to our mission and values.
You know, Howard was a very visionary founder and a very powerful speaker, but it wasn’t up to him. He couldn’t hire all those people. So it was up to all of us. And so we had to build this engine. We had to live the brand. We had to build this robust leadership development program.
And so what we did was, we started to put processes in place that started way back when we were going to do 2,000 stores by the year 2000. Right? So it started as understanding to hire faster and better, we need to have processes and a common understanding of how to hire. So, you know, building core competencies from barista to senior vice president, you know, building behavioral interviewing decks. Teaching people, taking the time to teach and coach and help people understand how to hire, not just hiring someone that looked and sounded like you or someone that was available because you were desperate, but really, really hiring for the longterm.
And so, in those systems, there were a few non-negotiables that really helped us with growth. And I just want to mention a few. So first, you know, this whole idea of aligning around how you hire is really important and I can’t stress enough how much time that that takes. And most companies don’t take the time they put together an interview packet. They give you a list of questions. It’s a yea or nay, and you move forward. But really aligning about why recruiting and hiring matters, what it means long-term to be able to hire people for future leadership positions in the company, knowing that it may take them years to grow into them and hiring people for today, but, but really establishing the interview process, the performance expectations and how you promote. It’s a, it’s a symbiotic system, right? That has to work together. So that’s, that’s one of the first things.
I think the second thing is building these long roads with curbs. So what I mean by that is you have to build a road that allows people to go at the speed and the distance that they need to go, but the curbs are there to help with setting expectations and magnifying those expectations, and really making sure that the human resources side of a business is providing strong leadership to people when they hire to make sure that you are hiring for the future development of the company and growth of the company.
It’s so vital to — if you’re hiring for the here and now, you will never get to the future, right? I mean, you know, that whole idea of promotion from within is critical, but you have to have the patience and vision to see that. I think the, the other piece is you have to make developing talent, hiring and developing talent, a part of key leadership competencies. It’s gotta be a part of performance expectations. You know, I see it even today, every company I’ve worked with. You can have great people that do wonderful work, but if they don’t hire well, they are limited. Right? And if that’s not part of the performance expectations that everybody has to hire and train and develop people, you don’t get that engine working for you in a way that’s important.
And then hiring has to be on brand. So what I mean by that is when you’re in the interview process, how a candidate experiences the company is just as important to their brand experience as you interviewing the candidate. And so, you know, like we used to do coffee tastings, like the first thing we did at every interview was a coffee tasting. Are they interested? Are they curious? Are they excited? Did they ask questions? You know, you learn a lot by doing that…
Roy Notowitz: [00:20:10] That’s interesting.
Wendy Collie: [00:20:11] Doing a variety of interviews with a variety of people so that you can see how they show up in different circumstances. That’s important. So that’s a piece of that 360 degree view that gives you some of the consistency and ensures the quality of hiring.
And then lastly, it’s let the culture do the work. If you are intentional with your culture, and let’s remember, culture exists in any company, whether it’s intentional or not. Right?
Roy Notowitz: [00:20:37] Yeah. Absolutely.
Wendy Collie: [00:20:38] So, so as a company, if you are intentional with what kind of culture you want and how that shows up and represents your company and brand, then the culture will do the work for you. If your culture is strong enough, it identifies the mismatch quickly and it expels it out and let that mistake happen and move on, but also let the culture do the work because it perpetuates the ability for each individual to make sure that they are hiring to advance the culture. Not just maintain the culture.
Roy Notowitz: [00:21:13] How did you do that in an inclusive way? How did you get everyone on the same page, around what culture meant and how to assess it, but also leave room for diversity of experience and approach?
Wendy Collie: [00:21:25] When I think about how do you intentionally establish a productive, inspiring, authentic culture in companies? And I experienced it at Starbucks as well as I was able to bring that experience to New Seasons, and at Starbucks, a piece of how we did that was we didn’t just put our mission and values on a piece of paper, we really lived them.
So an example of culture is at one point we had established part of our servant leadership philosophy was how we treated each other. There were five principles, you know, are you welcoming? Are you helping people to be successful? And there were five different principles inside of the culture of how we behaved and how we showed up with one another. And what we did was we created a whole recognition system around that. So if you saw someone that was really role modeling or creating an environment that was really advancing the culture, you could give them this little spot award that like wrote down what value you saw them emulate.
What it looked like, why it was important and how much you appreciated it. And people would collect these cards and put them up on, you know, bulletin boards and things, because they were so proud of the fact that they were representing who we stood for. So at Starbucks, I was able to help create the culture, but at New Seasons, I walked into a very, very strong culture. It was a triple bottom line culture. It was a deeply rooted culture that looked at how to make a difference in communities and with farmers and makers and social equity. And so walking into that situation, I didn’t want to change the culture.
I just wanted to help shape it for the future so it could be productive for the growth, right? That we were looking at as a company. And so part of what we did was bring people together to say what’s the best part of our culture that we want to protect, nurture, grow? And are we sharing that with people actively? Is it something that we’re talking about in the hiring process, the training process, performance measures? What are the things that aren’t serving us anymore? And how do we shed some of the pieces that maybe aren’t serving us and bring in new aspects of culture that can be more powerful? So one of the examples was we talked about, as a natural organic grocery company, everything healthy grows.
Roy Notowitz: [00:23:53] Right.
Wendy Collie: [00:23:53] Right? It was a mantra that we created that talked about our role as a watershed culture that provided jobs to people and sustenance and sustainability was to make sure that we were doing the things that would advance that purpose together as an organization. And so, again, it’s an example of creating a strong culture of service and mission and values. It doesn’t happen by words on a piece of paper, you have to live it. You have to breathe it. You have to bring it alive by bringing people together that talk about it. Storytell. Recognize it. Adapt to what the needs are currently in someone’s personal or professional environment.
Roy Notowitz: [00:24:38] Right. You were brought in with the mandate to grow the company. How did you balance culture with the vision that you had of growing while also bringing people along with you?
Wendy Collie: [00:24:50] I think people innately are afraid of change if they don’t have a vision of what they’re moving towards, right? If you can’t articulate to an organization where you’re going with clarity, people will stay where they are. It’s more comfortable. And then they will hire teams that allow them to stay where they are. And I think our job as leaders is to not to create change for the sake of change, not to grow for the sake of growth, but to see where a company can really make an impact and bring people into that conversation and then understand what the skills and what the experiences are that you can bring to the table through individuals, because that collective force of each individual bringing something different to the table will actually help the organization get there in a much more successful way. And change isn’t always bad, but change can be scary if people can’t see where they’re going.
Roy Notowitz: [00:25:53] That ties back to what you were saying before about hiring the whole person. Can you expand on why that’s such an important cornerstone of your hiring philosophy?
Wendy Collie: [00:26:05] Yeah, I think sometimes the shortfall in hiring is that people are hiring for a skill or an expertise, and they are looking for an individual to come in and do their work and go home. And I think when you look at people as who they are as a person, and you develop them both personally and professionally, you see them as their entire human being. Howard Behar used to call it the “human becomings” instead of “human beings” is that people are always evolving and their lives are always changing.
I think right now with the pandemic, we’re seeing that, right? We’re seeing that, you know, people are, are having to deal with challenges and unprecedented, you know, barriers and they’re breaking through them because we’re more empathetic, you know, we’re, we’re more authentic as leaders understanding that some people are doing their work in a small room, you know, with kids screaming in the background, right?
That’s the whole person. It’s understanding who the whole self is. And what I would say is it’s really thinking about, if you’re wearing all of your hats at the same time, and you are hiring to understand that a person wants to be seen and heard and valued for who they are, right? First. Who they are first and what their desires are and their goals and their inspirations.
And then they’re being recognized or coached on what skills they bring to the table. You get… you get more from that individual from a loyalty standpoint, a commitment standpoint, a resiliency standpoint, the pros there are that I think it helps individuals and teams feel like their worth is so much more than just their skill, right?
Roy Notowitz: [00:28:01] Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:28:02] The hard part of hiring for the whole self is you have to be vulnerable. You have to be authentic. You have to look at your performance expectations and bring into that. Some of the emotional aspect of it as well. Right? Which can be hard for people, but you, you also have to differentiate between performance opportunities and just being human. And that’s hard for people too, right? Because that’s not something that we’re taught typically as leaders.
Roy Notowitz: [00:28:30] I think that’s how you’ve built such strong trust in your leadership teams. You know, seeing the whole person. You saw that in each hire you made, but then each leader that you hired also saw that in each other probably. Right? And that allowed them to be more authentic and more connected to each other, perhaps.
Wendy Collie: [00:28:49] I mean, I think trust is such, it’s such an underpinning of everything that we’re talking about. Right? And, you know, I remember when I was at New Seasons and I first came on board and I was the only non-grocery… really the only non-grocery person in the company. And I mean, I had some experience because of my licensed stores at Starbucks, but I’d never run a grocery store. And there was a lot of skepticism that if you weren’t from the grocery industry and you didn’t understand grocery, you wouldn’t be successful.
And I very quickly realized that the grocery expertise in the company was outstanding. I mean, it was incredible. What we really needed was some variety of experience and leadership in how to grow a business that was not necessarily industry specific. And so, you know, hiring for, again, I’m going to go back to the culture, the mission and the values, but not necessarily with grocery experience was very unnerving for people.
Roy Notowitz: [00:29:53] Yeah. I remember that. Beyond the conventional grocery stores, there weren’t a lot of grocery places that were doing innovative things, right? Or that had the sense of values or community that New Seasons had. You were forging new ground. So it wasn’t like you could go look for that somewhere else in the grocery world.
Wendy Collie: [00:30:10] Exactly, exactly. And so, you know, taking the time to think about what’s already so strong in the company, what’s already the greatest strength in the company. And then how do I compliment that? What do we need to be able to double or triple the size of the company? And then I hired for that.
Roy Notowitz: [00:30:29] That took guts.
Wendy Collie: [00:30:30] Yeah, it did! And I’ll tell you, I got a lot of pushback. I got a lot of pushback, but again, because we were so clear on our mission and values, I was hiring for people who mirrored the mission and values of, you know, creating good for generations to come, right? And people who believed in triple bottom line companies and believed that, you know, we needed to treat our employees with passion with compassion, with authenticity and help them to succeed both in their personal and professional lives.
So everything lined up, they just maybe didn’t know how to stock a shelf, you know, or run a cheese department. And once I hired as the whole person, somebody who could bring the people, the process, the business, the environmental, and the strategic piece, it all started to come together in a way that I think elevated the company and also advanced what we stood for in a much more amplified way, which was really exciting.
Roy Notowitz: [00:31:37] So they were able to bring their functional expertise and their overall leadership, which was better than what, maybe, you could have gotten from within the industry. But on their onboarding, I think they spent a lot of time in the stores, right? In different departments for the first month or two.
Wendy Collie: [00:31:52] They did. Yeah. So one of the recognitions was that I was bringing people in that were great leaders and successful business people, but they had never worked in grocery. And so, first of all, when I was hired, I worked in the stores for three months.
Roy Notowitz: [00:32:07] That’s so cool.
Wendy Collie: [00:32:07] I literally worked in every department, every store to learn the business and what I realized was the value of how that complimented my experience was something that I wanted to replicate. And so we made that part of the hiring process, you know, once you were hired, the orientation, everybody went through the same orientation. It didn’t matter what level you were. And that was something we did at Starbucks too.
And then you worked in the store so that you understood how the bread and butter of the engine worked. Right? You had to know how the grocery store worked in order to then provide leadership for people to be successful running a grocery store. I think it built credibility for each leader, but I also think, you know, going back to, how do you hire and how do you develop leaders?
It helped each individual hired in the company to see how the stores operated so that they could hire in a way for someone to move like in any position in the company and still understand what we did as a business. Right?
Roy Notowitz: [00:33:13] That’s so cool. Wendy, one of the things that I remember about you and working with you is that you have a sequence in how you get to know candidates, and I think that’d be great for you to share with this audience. I’m interested if you could elaborate on that.
Wendy Collie: [00:33:28] Yeah, absolutely. I do think sequence is a great word, Roy, when you talk about a hiring process, because I do think that there is a limitation, if it’s kind of a “one and done” interview, or if you make it too rigid because you, again, you can’t see the whole person that you’re hiring.
And so there’s a couple of things. Number one is: I think it’s important to do multiple interviews just to see how people show up. Right? So people show up differently in the morning, in the afternoon, at dinners with different people. And I think it’s important because, A, when you interview a candidate and you have a variety of people interviewing in a variety of circumstances, you start to get an understanding of what makes them tick.
So it’s not just being in a conference room, asking questions, right? It’s being in a conference room and getting to know them. You know, again, if you’re hiring them in a, in a leadership position at a grocery store, it’s interviewing them, walking the floor of the grocery store, right? Walking, talking, what do you see? What do you think? How do they show up when they meet people? It’s getting together with potentially the team of colleagues that they might work with and having dinner. Are they comfortable? Are they on? Are they relaxed?
You start to get a real sense of the authentic person instead of the person who’s showing up with a pressed, you know, shirt and a piece of paper with questions on it. So I think that that’s a really important way to be able to, to understand their approach, style, and vulnerability. And by the way, it gives the candidate an opportunity to interview you. And I think that’s just as important.
Roy Notowitz: [00:35:10] I remember on several occasions where, you know, you might’ve been interviewing a finalist and inevitably there were remaining questions or areas you weren’t able to explore or concerns, you know, quite honestly, like for example, not having the grocery experience.
And I remember specifically you going through this process of thinking about what you didn’t know yet that you still wanted to know and helping you come up with questions to get deeper into some of those areas so that you felt comfortable with the areas that you weren’t as sure about, or at least being able to make the decision moving forward.
Wendy Collie: [00:35:47] Yeah, absolutely. You know, I am a very transparent, authentic leader. And so, you know, as I was interviewing candidates, one of the things I would always try to do is create a relaxed, open exchange between myself and that candidate so that I could create a safe environment. Right? Which I think is really important through the process of checking in. How are they doing? What are they seeing? What are they thinking? But for myself, it also allows me the opportunity to circle back if I need to, to ask direct questions. And I will be honest with you, you know, I’ve had a few times where I’ve had to be brutally honest and transparent about a concern that was raised during the interview process or a blind spot that I’m sensing.
And in that conversation, you know, coming back around at the end of an interview process and being able to have an open dialogue, it tells me, A, is this a person who can hear difficult feedback or questions and be able to engage in a really productive conversation? B, did they feel it or see it? Right? So are they self-aware? And, C, it’s, am I self-aware? I might have totally missed something. And so it really gives me a chance to, to demonstrate my own vulnerability and humility to say, if I missed something or I misinterpreted, you know, tell me, and, and it sets the tone for how the, the honest, trusting relationship will be built if they’re brought on board.
Roy Notowitz: [00:37:25] Yeah. I mean, I always was amazed at how you got people to open up and just reveal more of themselves. You know, it’s almost like if they couldn’t be that way, they would know that they were not doing well in the interview. Right? If they couldn’t reciprocate that openness.
Wendy Collie: [00:37:42] Exactly. And I think to have someone reveal more of themselves, you have to be willing to reveal yourself.
Roy Notowitz: [00:37:48] Yeah. That’s huge. That’s a great insight. Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:37:52] Which goes back to, you have to be present. If you’re not present in the room, if you’re not present in the conversation and you’re not present in building the relationship, you’re going to miss an opportunity to connect with someone. And, and I do think another way of kind of creating the environment for people to reveal themselves is through storytelling. It’s intimidating to just be barraged with question after question after question, you know, I know it intimidates me, but through storytelling and being able to share your own stories or them share their stories, you can learn a lot about a person. You can learn a lot about a company. It reveals the underpinning of what they value and what you value.
Roy Notowitz: [00:38:36] So, coming into New Seasons as the CEO, which was owned by a PE firm that was really interested in scaling the business, how did you approach building a team that was geared towards driving growth and change?
Wendy Collie: [00:38:51] Yeah. You know, it was interesting because coming into this particular role, it was a regional company that was deeply rooted in Portland, Oregon, and very well known for the culture of New Seasons, right? The grassroots culture, the community culture, the triple bottom line culture. And so, you know, again, I think change can be really frightening if people don’t have a clear picture about where they’re going.
So there’s a couple of things that I did. Number one was because the objective was to come in to grow the company, the first thing I had to do was assess the team and assess the talent and assess the gaps. And that can be hard because when you’re looking at people who have been with the company since its founding, there is value to what they have done to build this organization. And the question is, are they able to take it to the next level? What do they need to be able to grow and adapt and change to be able to grow the company? So assessing each individual and the teams was really, really important to the overall approach.
Roy Notowitz: [00:40:04] How did you determine if somebody, whether internal or a candidate from the outside, could handle the pace and intensity?
Wendy Collie: [00:40:13] Yeah. I mean, some of it, you got to state it overtly. This is what it’s going to look like for the next year or two. And I think there’s two things. One is when you’re bringing someone in from outside the company to be able to handle the pace, intensity, the change, perhaps some of the roadblocks, it’s really interviewing past experiences where they have had an opportunity to live in that space before and how they survived it. Right? The best way to know if someone can do it, is to hear a story about where they’ve either experienced it or learned from it and what their fortitude is to get back in it.
And so, I was brutally honest about what I thought the next 12 to 24 months was going to look like for the company and the heavy lifting that was going to be done. The rewards that could happen. The passion that I saw and the roadblocks that I saw. And to be honest with you, some people gave me very canned answers and very mechanical answers. They were not the ones that I hired, right?
It may not be a one-to-one ratio of experience, but there has to be enough there that, you know someone understands when they’re in the middle of a cluster or they’re in the middle of one of the most challenging situations they’ve been in that they show in those moments that they use their resources, they ask for help, they understood what they did right, what they did wrong. They learn, they grow, they don’t wallow. Right? They move forward and they see those challenges energetically and move through them versus they talk about the chaos as if it still exists and they blame someone else. That’s a clear indication.
Roy Notowitz: [00:41:53] Right. That’s really interesting. I’m glad you called that out.
Wendy Collie: [00:41:57] Look, we all hit the wall at times. We all hit roadblocks. We all have unexpected challenges that may or may not allow us to be successful in whatever goal that we set, but how you approach that in terms of what you’ve learned, how you moved through it, who helped you, how you grew from it.
That is such an important leadership characteristic. And so I, I really vet that out with people because if you haven’t experienced, it doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it just means you may not understand what it’s going to take, right? To lead people through it. If you have been through it, and it was a negative experience or it’s left a scar, or it’s left you in a place of feeling angry or undervalued that tells you a lot about someone’s resiliency. So you learn a lot asking those questions.
Roy Notowitz: [00:42:50] So, at New Seasons, we talked about that there’s a strong culture of service and a connection, you know, to the mission through community. In what ways were you able to leverage the good company status of New Seasons for recruiting, you know, at all levels?
Wendy Collie: [00:43:07] It was actually huge, you know, especially right now in this very tumultuous time that we’re in, it is so relevant today that people want to work for companies that do good in the world and they are trying to do right and they walk their talk. So for New Seasons, the fact that we wanted to hire people who believed in our mission and values: to do good for generations, to be the friendliest store in town, to really help our employees be successful in their personal and professional lives.
Like all of those things, the fact that we would speak to who we were as a company in the interview process. “This is who we are. This is what we stand for. And if you want to be a part of this, you know, either apply if you were recruiting or why do you want to be a part of it if you’re being hired?” And the fact that we had specific, tangible results that we could speak to. We were a B Corp, the first grocery store in the world to be B Corp certified. We were able to talk about, you know, that we testified at the Senate for increasing minimum wage. We were able to speak about our sustainability efforts and how important that is to the company that each of us plays a role.
That, that aspect of being able to speak to the company DNA and culture, you attracted people who already shared those values. And it created a pool for us of candidates that was far bigger than I had ever experienced. Right? In, in my career, I remember when we were opening a store and it was our first time that we put the culture and the mission and values of the company first in our recruiting effort. And then we talked about the jobs and what I remember is we had a line of people that was out our building and around the block. And the thing that was the coolest part of it was it was because we were an inclusive company because we stood for equity, we stood for embracing people for who they are as individuals. All ages, all colors, all backgrounds, all socioeconomic standing. The diversity that we were able to hire that was then representative of our communities was… it was, it was remarkable. It was inspirational.
Roy Notowitz: [00:45:42] That’s amazing. I remember so many experiences just going into the store, you know, bringing the friendliest store in town brand promise to life. It was almost like the employees saw you as their friend or as their family, you know, just were super friendly, always, you know, and who knows what was going on in their own personal lives or outside of work? But there, it always seemed like people really loved working there and, and it showed every single time. It still does to this day.
Wendy Collie: [00:46:09] Yeah. Well, one of our values was taking care of each other. And why that’s important is if you take care of each other and people feel good and they feel supported and they feel like they’re part of something bigger, it is easier for you to then share that with others, right? And be friendlier and kind and do the right thing. And I think, you know, the brand promise of the friendliest store in town wasn’t just a phrase on a wall in the company. It was truly something we talked about all the time in terms of storytelling. So what did it look like? We didn’t actually say, “Oh, this was the friendliest store in town in action.”
But you know, your storytelling of people doing good deeds, people, making decisions that were right for the customer, like you, and knowing that you wouldn’t get in trouble, knowing that you would be rewarded for that. Right?
Roy Notowitz: [00:47:01] Yeah, empowering them.
Wendy Collie: [00:47:03] You know, one of the things that I loved, I didn’t create it, it was part of the company already, is this get out of jail free card that the company had, that people were supposed to carry on our wallets. And the idea, the idea of that was you make a decision as an employee, as a staff member, you make the decision that you think is right for the customer. And use good judgment. And if somebody questions you on that, you pulled out this card that was signed by me as the CEO, you pulled out this car that said, you know, “To the supervisor, “literally was like, “Ask yourself these questions, you know, did they do the right thing? What can they learn from the experience? Was the customer happy?”
And the reason why I bring that up is because I used to even show that get out of jail free card in interviews, because I think it’s a sign of empowerment and trust in the company. And again, if that’s what someone values and that’s something that helps them be better at what they do, that elevates their excitement to come work for the company.
You know, I would also say that being a B Corp, you know, helped us to refine our hiring practices, making sure that we were hiring, you know, for inclusion, diversity, that our pay was above average, that our promotion rate, that we were developing people and we had a high level of internal promotions. Our turnover rate was lower because we wanted to create an environment where somebody could bag groceries for their whole life, if they wanted to. And have benefits and not feel like they weren’t being taken care of. So we felt so privileged to be part of the B Corp community and working with you and Noto Group was, you know, yeah, it was great.
Roy Notowitz: [00:48:42] It was great. It was great. And you were one of our first B Corp clients too, I think. Since then, obviously being a B Corp perpetuates the community of other purpose and mission driven leaders coming inbound because they have awareness that you work with those types of companies or those types of values are part of the clients that we serve. So it’s been really interesting. Anyway, Wendy, do you have a favorite question in your arsenal of interview questions?
Wendy Collie: [00:49:08] Yeah, I do. I actually, I go between two. So one of them is what life experience most defined or shaped who you are today?
Roy Notowitz: [00:49:19] Wow.
Wendy Collie: [00:49:19] Yeah. And the other one is what is something you like to do to relax and reduce stress? And the reason why I like both of those questions is it really tells you the honesty and realness of who someone is. Right? So you’re either going to get a very kind of prescribed, curated answer. Or you’re going to get the real deal. And in most cases, either one of those questions are answered with something that is really truthful about a life experience or how they blow off steam tells you that they’re vulnerable and that they’ve got humility, right? This is who I am. This is what I learned. This is how I got here. Or this is what I do to help myself.
Roy Notowitz: [00:50:12] Crucible moments is what I like to call it.
Wendy Collie: [00:50:15] They are definitely crucible moments. Perfect way to put it. And you can’t get to that crucible moment if you don’t ask the question and you can just, you can tell when you’re getting the veneer versus when you’re really getting into the truth.
Roy Notowitz: [00:50:27] Really interesting. And then is there anything a candidate can say in the interview process that sparks sort of a judgemental hot button? That sort of turns you off?
Wendy Collie: [00:50:37] Yes. [laughs]
Roy Notowitz: [00:50:38] I’m going to start asking that question of every guest now by the way.
Wendy Collie: [00:50:42] Oh, it’s a good one. It’s funny, you’ve got your favorite question you can ask. You’ve got your toughest question that you can ask in an interview to really kind of test the water, but both of those can really get to those crucible moments. Your question about what can someone do to spark a judgemental hot button or turn me off, that that is such a, that is such a real, like, that is a “me” question, right?
So for me, there are a couple of things, actually, that that can turn me off pretty quickly. The first is if somebody has to be the smartest person in the room.
Roy Notowitz: [00:51:14] Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:51:14] And every example they give is tied to their ego and being the smartest person in the room. And that there’s no room for anybody else. That is a quick [snaps] turn for me. And the other one is blame.
Roy Notowitz: [00:51:28] Yeah.
Wendy Collie: [00:51:29] I just have no patience for finger pointing and blame. And so when you’re asking people questions and they’re telling you stories about their experience, there’s many times that I hear someone start to move towards, “It’s someone else’s fault.” Right? And they can’t let go of it. And that that’s kind of a turnoff for me because regardless if it’s someone else’s fault or not, it’s about the learning of the experience and everybody learns. So there’s no blame. But those are probably the two things. And I hate brown-nosing. [Laughs]
Roy Notowitz: [00:52:03] Yeah, I mean, when you talk about being the smartest person in the room, sometimes to me, that shows up in an interview, as you ask a question and they have to have an answer for everything where sometimes, you know, it’s okay to just say, you know, like, “That’s not an area where I feel like I have a strength.” Or, “I didn’t really have that kind of experience.” Or you know, those types of things, sort of clue you into that a little bit sometimes as well.
Wendy Collie: [00:52:30] Yeah, I think that’s a really good point, Roy, are there times where someone doesn’t have an answer or a quick answer? And I think the other time where you can tell if someone is trying to be the smartest person in the room is as they’re giving examples of their experience, they’re telling you why they think they were right in that circumstance. Right? It becomes more of righteousness and being correct or perfect versus allowing for the gray that exists in the work that we do.
Roy Notowitz: [00:53:03] Right. And getting back to your question around, what’s influenced how they show up as a leader. I think that is really interesting because, you know, I always look for people who are students of leadership.
Wendy Collie: [00:53:15] Yes.
Roy Notowitz: [00:53:16] And who have a deeper sort of response to those types of questions, because they’ve thought about it already. Maybe they have a development plan or they’ve worked with a coach or, you know, they can really tap into that experience or maybe they’ve read a lot, you know, and other people it’s more surface level and they haven’t really thought about it. And so it’s hard for them to come up with an answer to that question.
Wendy Collie: [00:53:37] Yeah. I love that you called it the students of leadership, because I think that when you ask someone what professional or life experience most defined or shaped who you are today? There are significant life experiences, right? That happen. And there are significant moments that happen. And they’re, they’re very different because a significant moment is I quickly realized I did something wrong and I corrected it and I moved forward. Whereas a significant life experience is really about something that might have been unexpected or it might have happened in a different way than you planned.
There’s a teaching moment in there. There’s a learning moment and there’s a gift that’s given to you no matter how good or bad that particular — it could be the best experience you’ve ever had that shaped you, or it could be the worst. I mean, my worst experience was, I always say, when I screw up, I screw up publicly and I made a huge mistake at Starbucks that had to be reported to Wall Street.
And I mean, literally like I was, I was a Director and I made this huge mistake and I had to go to the CEO and tell him. And I think about how that shaped me, where I was terrified because I was a perfectionist. And what I had to learn was I can’t be a perfectionist. I can only do the best that I can do and learn in that moment and make different decisions based on what I know.
And I went in and talked to him. He was amazing. I mean, I almost… I was sweating profusely. It was terrible. But what I remember was the kindness that he showed back to me at the time in asking me those questions, “Wendy, what did you learn from this? How did it happen? What will you do differently?” You know? And he taught me that mistakes aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you if you make them into something more powerful.
Roy Notowitz: [00:55:29] That’s awesome. So you were brought into your current role as Co-CEO at Evergreens right when the COVID-19 lockdown went into full effect. So I wanted to just ask what it’s been like for you, and if you have any advice for others leading through this really difficult time.
Wendy Collie: [00:55:48] Yeah, I’ll tell you, first of all, I have so much empathy right now for all the businesses that are suffering and trying to pivot their employees and their businesses to survive the pandemic right now, including ourselves.
You know, it was a really interesting experience for me because I joined the company in late January. I trained, you know, I already spoke about how I have a philosophy of you got to train in the stores before you do the work. So I was training in the stores, learning how to operate the stores for three weeks. And then I came out of training and two weeks later we shut down for COVID.
Roy Notowitz: [00:56:25] Yeah, wow.
Wendy Collie: [00:56:26] Yeah, it was crazy. And I think the hardest thing Roy was, I didn’t know the people yet. I didn’t know people, so I didn’t know personalities. I didn’t know the history. I just, you know, we suddenly were thrown into the deep end of this crisis and we were unable to stay open in the first shutdown. And so we had to close our stores and we had to lay off almost all of our staff, which was brutal.
Roy Notowitz: [00:56:54] So coming in, not even knowing these people personally, and then having to do…
Wendy Collie: [00:56:58] Yeah, massive layoffs and do it in a way that treated people with the respect and dignity and support that they deserved. So, you know, we were able to do it and then the biggest learning for me was we shut down for almost three months and when we started to reopen — the company’s a pretty young company, small company — we decided to rethink how we rehired people into the company based on updated competencies and performance expectations. And what we did was we had to rework them not only to operate the business today, but knowing that for the next year to two years, we were going to be in this very challenging situation of, you know, change management and agility and shut downs and operational procedures changing.
And so we needed skills and leadership to support that. And so how you show up matters. And so we had to build our rehire process to bring in the best of our talent, to be able to help us do that and to be part of the, you know, team, to give us input constantly. We’re changing, like, it feels like every two weeks we’re changing something. So we didn’t just hire for what we had. Like, let’s say we opened a store. We didn’t just hire that team back. We actually hired for what we needed.
Roy Notowitz: [00:58:19] So, did you have the data on the people who were there to be able to make those decisions? Or did you have to then go out and just re-interview them?
Wendy Collie: [00:58:25] We had to re-interview them. Yeah. The company is so young. We didn’t have that kind of database, which is a really important part for any company to have. Right? Is we did that at Starbucks, where we had very clear data on how people performed, what their potential was, succession planning and what their interests were, but we didn’t have that at this company.
So we. We literally had to interview every person coming back in and, and for the first time in the company’s history, multiple people interviewed a candidate. It wasn’t just one person. So, you know, it was a really difficult time. I think what I’ve learned is we knew who we were hiring back would have the skillset, but we hired for agility change management, solution-oriented problem solvers. You know, we really had to amplify some of those skills and it’s, it’s really been great. And then we also updated our hourly hiring cause not everybody came back. Right? It’s been really interesting.
Roy Notowitz: [00:59:23] Since you started working there, and since I started going there, it’s become one of our favorite places. We go there actually at least twice a week now.
Wendy Collie: [00:59:33] That’s awesome.
Roy Notowitz: [00:59:34] So, what do you have in store for the future? What additional things would you like to accomplish?
Wendy Collie: [00:59:41] Yeah, you know, I, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into it and I feel, first of all, so fortunate to be working right now with Evergreens in this current interim CEO role. As I think about these really transformational times that we’re in and, you know, how companies show up and how leaders show up matters more than it ever has in the past. Right? And being an authentic leader is more important than it ever has been in the past. And what I really feel compelled right now to do is to try and contribute in a much broader way to help companies, weather these difficult times, but more importantly, how to be a part of the transformational times and succeed and excel.
And so I’m interested in, you know, a couple of different areas. One is to continue to consult and provide both experience and feedback and leadership to either individuals, senior individuals or teams to help them realize their goals. I love mobilizing teams. I love helping everything we’ve talked about today. How do you develop mission and values? How do you hire to that? How do you grow that in a company? How do you create these crucible moments for companies to achieve?
So that’s important to me and then also being on boards. I know there’s a lot of companies that are looking to evolve their boards to be much more progressive, much more holistic, more triple bottom line focused. And I really want to be a part of that.
Roy Notowitz: [01:01:26] Your superpower is really amplifying the positive impact of individuals and teams, and I think any company that is purpose or mission driven would benefit greatly from having you either as a consultant or board member or a friend. [Laughs] I really appreciate you taking the time to be here on the podcast and share your hiring wisdom. I mean, I’ve always valued our partnership and you are a true partner and I’ve just always loved working with you and appreciate everything that you stand for.
Wendy Collie: [01:02:00] Oh, thank you so much. That means a lot to me, Roy, and back atcha, for sure. Yeah, I am so thrilled you asked me to do this. Thank you so much.
Roy Notowitz: [01:02:09] Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit HowIHire.com for more resources, transcripts, and information about this episode. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates and featured career content. I’d also like to hear directly from you, you can share your thoughts and ideas via LinkedIn, or leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com. This podcast was produced by Anna McClain. To find out more about her great work visit AOMcClain.com.