Recipe for Hiring

Company is cooking up strategies to find better employees.

Kurt Linneman, executive chef and owner of Crocodile Cafe & Catering, tests a piece of brisket as Koren Griffin checks the meat. Linneman has developed hiring strategies. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

Crocodile Cafe & Catering's summer menu elicits moans of pleasure at Rockwell Automation near Norristown, especially the Jamaican jerked chicken, soaked for two days in a zesty marinade, Rockwell senior administrative assistant Marisa Pellechio said.

But the recipe that she finds most intriguing is the one that Crocodile owner and executive chef Kurt Linneman follows to create a workforce. His current complement of 20 mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings is "so respectful and knowledgeable and communicative," Pellechio raved.

Actually, Linneman's hiring strategy is for sale: a six-week coaching program, costing $5,000 to $7,000, to help small-business owners find better people for "increased profits, less drama, and more worry-free time off."

Have Perfect People L.L.C. was created in 2007. Its name suggests the kind of set-the-bar-high boss Linneman is.

He interviews applicants for his cafe and catering business - jobs generally paying $13 to $15 an hour - three times before deciding whether to hire them. He writes help-wanted ads in a blunt style, so there's no confusion about his expectations.

"I am looking for a low-maintenance, no-B.S. individual," an ad for a sous chef read. He measures employee performance with a behavior scorecard that identifies 35 "superstar" qualities, including honesty, courage, imagination, optimism, and persistence.

"The truth is, the odds are stacked against the small-business owner when it comes to hiring superstar employees," Linneman says on HavePerfectPeople.com. "70% of your labor pool is filled with losers, slackers and thieves. If you hire these problem employees, they will work against you and undermine your authority and destroy the morale in your small business."

The effort to help equip start-ups with the right workforce emerged as a side business from his own trials launching Crocodile in 1988.

Linneman saw opportunity in suburban office parks springing up along Route 202 and opened in the middle of one of them. With an undergraduate degree in marketing from Pennsylvania State University and a background in restaurant management, he started Crocodile as a cafe. But with a new house and a pregnant wife, he needed more income.

Offering free samples, he dropped in on companies and landed catering accounts with AT&T, Johnson Matthey, and Penn State Great Valley, among others. By 1995, Crocodile had 10 employees, six delivery vans, and about $800,000 in sales.

In 2000, Linneman bought out his partner, with plans to go beyond meeting the catering needs of office parks. He wanted to change how he approached hiring, "tired of the usual restaurant warm bodies, hangers-on, just-in-there-for-the-paycheck people." So he attended business seminars and yoga-teaching certification, and then implemented his Have Perfect People hiring checklist and performance-evaluation system at Crocodile.

The evaluation is unusual in that it's based more on behavior than on how the job is done. Rewards for high scorers include raises, sales commissions, and promotions.

Within two years, Crocodile's sales doubled, and are now $3 million a year, said Linneman, 57, who in 1999 added a master's degree in leadership development from Penn State. He has hawked Have Perfect People to businesses and chambers of commerce, though catering remains his priority because it's more profitable.

Among his first consulting clients was Tara Radzinski, CEO of Sustainable Solutions Corp. in Royersford.

Established in 2001 to advise companies on ways to save money through greener practices, Sustainable Solutions had four employees in 2007 and needed to scale up, Radzinski said, realizing that "the quality of our hires means everything when you're growing. In a small business, nobody can hide."

The behavior scorecard, she said, has not scared off employees. Rather, it has prompted valuable feedback between supervisors and staff and has created structure.

Not that Linneman's system is fail-proof. He fires one to two employees a year.

"Sometimes, they turn bad from circumstance or life," he said.


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull