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Book Summary: The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus – How to Get Big Things Done in Your “Workshop” … All Year Long

He has 364 days to strategize and produce, and one day to execute. He depends on a hard-working team of employees whom he needs to convince to relocate to the North Pole. He must re-skill his people annually to build the gifts that are most in demand each year. Yet despite the challenges, Santa Claus loves what he does.

How does Santa pull it off? In this book summary, Eric Harvey offers actionable leadership advice delivered directly from the North Pole.

Book Summary: The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus - How to Get Big Things Done in Your “Workshop” … All Year Long

Content Summary

Genres
Recommendation
Take-Aways
Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Genres

Business Culture, Leadership, Management, Psychology, Self Help, Holiday, Christmas, Personal Development, Motivational Management and Leadership, Business Management, Leadership and Motivation

Recommendation

Eric Harvey, best-selling author of Walk the Talk and founder of the consultancy of the same name, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus offers Santa Claus as a metaphor of terrific leadership. He packs his slight book with insights about how to overcome challenges, and he clearly takes great joy in his metaphor. Santa’s number-one priority is his mission – “delivering high-quality toys to good little girls and boys” – and he makes sure his elves and reindeer understand how they connect to it. Santa shares other leadership tips, such as taking your time when hiring or promoting, listening to your employees, accepting change, confronting problems directly and fulfilling a mission that matters. This advice is all milk and cookies you’ve consumed a thousand times before, but you’ve never had it presented to you by Santa. Harvey’s extended Christmas construct makes his book fun and easy to read. getAbstract recommends this stocking stuffer to managers who’d like some basic but always handy personnel pointers – with a dash of holiday spirit.

Take-Aways

  • Despite the difficulties of being Santa Claus, he loves his job.
  • His mission to deliver toys to good boys and girls is his workshop’s number-one priority. All of the elves and reindeer know how they contribute to that mission.
  • Having a diverse workforce provides much-needed different perspectives.
  • When you’re hiring or promoting, take the time to find a good fit.
  • Make a plan, work through it and maximize your time, money and resources.
  • Listen to your employees. Let them make decisions that directly affect them.
  • Give recognition when it’s due. Be specific and personal with positive feedback.
  • Help employees succeed. Go beyond specific job training to include cross-training in other areas.
  • Confront performance problems or other problems directly. Don’t let them fester.
  • Every workforce has a range of “stars” – keep them from “falling,” encourage those in the “middle” and recognize and reward your “super stars.”

Summary

Being Santa

Santa Claus faces shifting demands, a challenging production schedule and a hostile work environment. He has to attract talented employees and convince them to relocate to the North Pole. He also must “retool his plant – and retrain his people” annually to build the gifts that are most in demand each year. Despite the challenges, Santa Claus loves what he does.

Build Your Foundation

It all starts with your foundation – your mission. Santa and his workforce are happy and productive because of their mission: “Making spirits bright by building and delivering high-quality toys to good little girls and boys.” North Pole staff members know that mission, and they understand how they contribute to it. Santa posts the mission statement on the workshop’s walls, discusses it in staff meetings and includes it in the elves’ and reindeer’s everyday activities. He knows that good leaders:

  • Stay physically and mentally accessible to their employees.
  • Listen to their employees’ concerns and are considerate about their needs.
  • Give their employees resources for success, including training, tools and feedback.
  • Keep their employees informed and “in the loop.”
  • Help their employees learn, grow and maintain work-life balance.
  • Respect their employees’ time, effort and individual talents.
  • Distribute workloads fairly and evenly.

Hiring

Make sure your employees know what’s important and how they contribute to your organization’s success. Know your values and make sure your employees know and share them. Focus on hiring. The more time you spend making sure you sign up the right people on the front end, the more time you’ll save by avoiding personnel issues and high turnover.

“If I’ve learned anything over the many years of wearing this red suit, it’s that leadership is not for the paranoid at heart. Like most managers, I operate in a fish bowl. I’m constantly being watched.”

Once when Santa hired a new reindeer he wasn’t sufficiently diligent about making sure the new reindeer was a good fit. He recalls, “You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the least famous reindeer of all: Misfit? He’s not here anymore.” When Santa hired Misfit, he didn’t perform a thorough background check or test the new reindeer’s commitment. Misfit showed up late, had a bad attitude and didn’t carry his share of the load. Left-side reindeers had to work harder to keep the sleigh from veering to the right side. His behavior even affected the elves. Everyone was miserable. So take it from Santa: Hiring is your most important responsibility.

Promotions

Handle promotions with care. If you know the famous song, you know Rudolph wasn’t always the leader of the sleigh. Donner was the first reindeer leader. He was strong and dependable, but being a steady puller and being lead reindeer take different skills. Donner wasn’t a leader. Santa considered Rudolph, who was not the strongest or fastest, but he had a “knack for getting things done.” Despite the other reindeer teasing him about his nose (they’re a tough bunch until you get to know them), Santa gave Rudolph his shot – and the rest is history.

Diversity

You want a diverse workforce. Most of Santa’s elves are similar. They’ve got the same pointed ears and wear the same green suits. When hiring, Santa sought more of the same, since his elfin workforce always functioned rather well. Then “North Pole politicians” made a new law requiring diversity, and Santa had to hire a variety of toy makers. He realized that having different kinds of elves brought new ideas and different perspectives to the workshop.

Everyday Skills

Being Santa Claus requires planning. He has 364 days to strategize and produce, and one day to execute. Planning means thinking about how to package toys, deliver them to the correct kids and immediately begin thinking about next year. Production and delivery are such massive tasks that the workshop breaks its goals down into smaller chunks and develops a written action plan.

“Involving workers in running the operation – and in making decisions that affect them – is a key strategy for leadership success.”

A few years ago, the elves worked on making “assembly required” toys and including easy, detailed instructions…except that they weren’t. Parents assembled the toys all wrong because they ignored the instructions. Even with well-thought-out plans, sometimes you have to make course corrections. So the elves went back to the drawing board. Now, Santa’s team constantly asks if each goal is still valid or if conditions have changed.

“Making sure that everyone knows what values are important…helping everyone turn those good beliefs into everyday behaviors is how leaders create a great place to work.”

To maximize your time, money, equipment and expertise, Santa says:

  • Make “to-do lists,” and do the most important tasks first.
  • Start and end meetings on time.
  • Save by buying in bulk and shopping for materials, supplies, equipment and services. A few pennies saved here and there add up.
  • “Measure twice, cut once.”
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle. Invest in extended warranties.
  • Allow employees with specific knowledge to make their own decisions.
  • Find the right fit: Match workers’ skills and interests with the right job.
  • Encourage professional development and ask employees to share their knowledge.

Feedback

Back when the workshop had fewer toys to build and fewer deliveries to make, Santa did a lot of the work himself. He treated the elves respectfully, but he made every production decision. A mechanical assembler that Santa had researched and purchased quit running. Production stopped. The elves were upset that Santa hadn’t asked for their input – they had expected a breakdown. Then the elves fixed the assembler and designed a better inspection process. Now, Santa asks for suggestions for improvement using elf feedback surveys and a “North Pole feedback hotline.”

“Nothing motivates employees more than knowing they’re making a difference. Find ways to make that happen in your workshop.”

Santa is the workshop’s public face, but his elves and reindeer make his output possible. He recognizes their hard work. To share contagious enthusiasm, follow Santa’s “recognition rules:” Make recognition timely, personal and specific. Give it sooner rather than later. Design it to fit employee preferences. Be specific with praise. Make recognition proportional to achievement. The workshop’s positive corporate culture helps it deal with challenges, such as a huge snowfall.

Teaching Success and Sharing Credit

Ian, the workshop’s “Elf In Charge Of Training” (EICOT), helped Santa understand how to teach success. When discussing the benefits of job training, Ian said that to have robust teams, a firm should never stop at just showing people how to “do their jobs.” It should also teach them how to be successful. A vast difference separates those two concepts. North Pole team members need technical skills, such as knowing how to make and package toys, taking off and landing the sleigh, and so on.

“If an action we’re considering doesn’t support our mission, either directly or indirectly, we don’t do it!”

But what could Santa do if the elves weren’t team players or had bad attitudes? One November, about a month before Christmas Eve, two elves had a big conflict with the reindeer. Santa asked them to come to his office for a “Santa intervention.” They discussed what happened and how it affected productivity. Santa reminded them how much they mattered to him and to the workshop’s mission. He taught them the CALM model of handling workplace disputes: Clarify the issue. Address the problem. Listen to the other side. Manage your way to resolution.

“Their feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment must come in different ways – from other sources. As the leader, I play a critical role in making that a reality.”

Leaders must be able to handle constant change. Remember those shiny red wagons? They were the workshop’s most popular toy. The elves loved making wagons and kids loved getting them, but then children lost interest. They wanted video games. Aware that the customer is in charge, Santa gave the elves support and training for a successful transition. He was patient as they learned the ropes. You can’t control change, but you can master your response to it.

“The Business of the Business”

Although Santa’s workshop employs a few business and finance elves, most of the other elves and the reindeer didn’t know anything about the business of the business. Santa decided to teach them. He instituted a basic financial literacy course and led cross-training so employees could learn each other’s jobs. He learned that, “The more employees understand about how the business works, the more likely they are to accept and support change.”

“It didn’t take long to discover that our ‘different’ toy makers came bearing gifts. They brought new skills, perspectives and ideas to the workshop.”

Santa used to take his staff for granted. One day, an elf asked him why elves and reindeer weren’t rewarded for good behavior like the boys and girls who received the toys. That showed Santa the importance of acknowledging great work.

Although he receives great perks – nice letters from children, milk and cookies, and so on – he learned that those add-ons don’t mean a thing without his team. To tell his helpers how much he appreciates them, he schedules individual meetings with every elf and reindeer. He takes a few elves with him on deliveries so they can experience the workshop’s success firsthand.

“Falling Stars” and “Super Stars”

Being a leader includes confronting performance problems, even at the North Pole. Igor, one of the original elves, came in late and took longer breaks. Santa sent out a companywide memo on the importance of arriving on time in the hope that Igor would read it and change his behavior, but he didn’t. Santa sought every excuse to avoid a confrontation. After another elf complained about Igor’s behavior, Santa summoned Igor to his workbench and “unloaded on him.” The conversation didn’t go well. Igor was upset Santa hadn’t talked to him earlier; Santa promised never to let issues slide in the future.

“Think the elves might resent this level of accountability? Well, they don’t. They actually support it. Some even demand it.”

Every workforce has stars. You might have “falling stars” like Igor and bright, ambitious “super stars.” Most employees fall in between. Your “middle stars” are your main workers and your company’s life force. They can become super stars or fall away. To keep your stars from falling:

  • Confront problems early.
  • Make sure they understand performance expectations.
  • Provide the training and resources they need.
  • Give them frequent, specific feedback.
  • Identify and eliminate obstacles.
  • “Teach them how to set, manage and achieve goals.”
  • Help them learn. Partner them with mentors.

“I’ve learned that recognizing employees – doing right by those who do right – is one of the best things I can do for my elves and reindeer – and for myself as well.”

Manage super stars by employing the following strategies:

  • Allow them to make decisions, solve problems, and develop strategies and procedures.
  • Avoid “micromanaging.”
  • Encourage them to teach or mentor.
  • Celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Provide highly specialized training and professional development.
  • Be interested in them, professionally and personally.
  • Make sure they aren’t doing two jobs; hold their co-workers accountable.

Not Just on Christmas Eve

At the North Pole, everyone believes in doing what’s right and being accountable. Everything they do counts, including how they treat each other, the jokes they tell, the quality of the work they put into toy making, knowing not to use the sleigh for personal business, and the like. Santa’s job as a leader includes being a role model and setting an example, not only on Christmas Eve, but all year round.

About the author

Eric Harvey is the author of 25 books, including the bestsellers Walk the Talk and Ethics 4 Everyone. He is the founder and president of the Walk the Talk Company.

Eric Harvey is the president of WalkTheTalk, a company that provides organizations with high-impact resources for personal and professional success. WalkTheTalk believe is developing capable leaders, building strong communities, and helping people to stay inspired and motivated to reach new level of skills and confidence.

WalkTheTalk | Website
WalkTheTalk | Facebook @WalkTheTalk.LPDC
WalkTheTalk | Twitter @WalkTheTalk_com
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Table of Contents

Santa’s Helpers,
Introduction,
1. Build a Wonderful Workshop,
2. Choose Your Reindeer Wisely,
3. Make a List and Check It Twice,
4. Listen to the Elves,
5. Say Ho Ho Ho, but Don’t Forget the Snow,
6. Give Them Gifts That Last a Lifetime,
7. Get beyond the Red Wagons,
8. Share the Milk and Cookies,
9. Find Out Who’s Naughty and Nice,
10. Be Good for Goodness Sake,
Closing Thoughts,
Summary Checklist,
Reindeer Food for Thought,

Overview

This compact book presents leadership concepts in a new and exciting way. With lots of practical advice you can implement starting today, you can start to motivate your team, deal with change, and become a better leader now.

Make your company a cherished favorite using insider advice delivered directly from the North Pole. Find out if your existing strategies are naughty or nice and unwrap easy-to-follow leadership secrets. Build an excellent reputation and motivate your company to achieve big things every year using the invaluable gifts of every team member.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Read this book and learn how returning to your childhood can make you a better adult-and a better leader.” ― Ken Blanchard, New York Times bestselling author of The One Minute Manager

“I’ve always loved Santa Claus – and now that I know his leadership secrets, I love him even more! Read this book and learn how returning to your childhood can make you a better adult-and a better leader.” – Ken Blanchard, New York Times bestselling author of The One Minute Manager

“This is a short, fun and yet helpful business book… This book won’t take you long to read; it’s full of lists (what else would you expect from Santa?) and summaries. But that doesn’t mean it’s short on actionable information-far from it… The book makes a great stocking stuffer for entrepreneurs-and you don’t need to believe in Santa to find the information helpful and actionable.” – Small Business Forum

“The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus offers good guidance… Eric Harvey easily relates the business issues of the North Pole to that of, really, any workplace. His advice can be repetitive, but it’s sound and simple enough to implement quickly; in fact, each chapter ends with quick takeaways and the book itself wraps up with checklists and final reminders. That’s a nice surprise at this busiest of times… If you want a happy ho-ho-holiday at work, “The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus” will make you shout.” – Twin Cities Business

“This revised and republished book is a quirky, friendly and quite open guide for managers and leaders at all levels, wrapped around some yuletide jocularity. Many of the challenges that Santa Claus has are relevant to any company: personnel, public image, logistics, production, facilities management and so on… Yes, the concept may appear a bit of a cliché, yet the author manages to straddle the line between being humorous and being informative… All in all, an interesting, different book with an attractive price tag to match. Something to consider this Christmas, possibly for a friend, a colleague and, of course, one for yourself?” – Autamme.com

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CHAPTER 1 BUILD A WONDERFUL WORKSHOP

Make the Mission the Main Thing

When it comes to getting “big things” done well, there are few (if any) businesses that can hold a Yule candle to our North Pole operation. I’m extremely proud of the workshop that the elves, reindeer, and I have created — and we’re more than happy to show it off. But, at ninety degrees north latitude and minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, we get very few takers on our standing offer to tour the facility. Most southerners (everyone’s a southerner to us) only see our plant through their imaginations … through the stereotypical images they’ve had of Santa’s Workshop since childhood.

What’s your vision of our workplace? Do you see candy canes and chestnuts? Wood chips flying in the air and falling into neat little piles? Whistling and singing? Busy little elves and reindeer, with smiles on their faces, scurrying around to make and package toys? If so, your image is right on — except for the candy canes and chestnuts … and the wood chips (we rarely use wood any more).

Yes, we do run a productive and happy place here. And that’s in spite of the intense pressures and challenges we face — ones that undoubtedly were not included in your vision of us. So how do we do it? Just how do I keep everyone, including myself, on track and motivated throughout each year — all for one long night’s big splash? The answer is basic and simple: through an unwavering and uncompromising focus on OUR MISSION. And as the leader, I’ve taken several steps to establish and maintain that focus.

First, I’ve made sure that all the elves and reindeer know what our mission is (“Making spirits bright by building and delivering high-quality toys to good little girls and boys”) and why it’s important. Ask any member of our North Pole staff and they can quote our mission verbatim … and explain its significance.

Second, I’ve spent time with individual employees — discussing how their respective jobs specifically link with, and contribute to, the accomplishment of our mission.

Third, I’ve kept the mission “in front of folks” by posting it on walls, discussing it at staff meetings and training sessions, including it in internal correspondence, and through a host of other activities that help ensure it stays our central focal point.

Finally, I’ve made it a core component of our decision-making and work-planning processes. If an action we’re considering doesn’t support our mission, either directly or indirectly, we don’t do it!

With all the team members we have, orders we get, toys we make, and issues we face, it could be way too easy to dilute ourselves, head off on tangents, or just plain lose sight of why we’re here. We avoid those by keeping our mission at the heart of everything we do … by making our mission our main thing. I recommend that you do the same in your workshop.

Focus on Your People As Well As Your Purpose

Here’s a nugget of leadership wisdom that I’ve picked up over the decades — something you can take to one of the toy banks we occasionally deliver: you can’t possibly focus on your mission without also focusing on the folks that make your mission happen. The two go hand in hand … hoof in hoof (sorry, but the reindeer insisted). And besides, since you manage things and lead people, common sense suggests that it’s people who are at the core of all leadership activities.

But alas, common sense apparently isn’t all that common. There is a handful of managers out there who don’t get it — they don’t get the message, and they don’t get the positive results that the message can help produce. That point was clearly brought home by a short letter I received several years ago:

Dear Santa:

This year I only want one thing — a manager who cares as much about me as the work I’m doing. It’s hard to be committed when there’s no reciprocation. Please help!

Now that’s a sad commentary … and a tall order to fill. There was no need to check our production schedule. I already knew that “caring leaders” weren’t on our list of deliverables. But I needed to respond in some way, so I decided to do two things: 1) Write this book, and 2) Vow to do my very best never to be the kind of leader described in that letter.

I’m happy (even jolly) to say I’ve done both. Writing this book was by far the easier of the two responses; living up to my vow — turning my good intentions into predictable behaviors — was more challenging. It took abandoning a few old behaviors and adopting a few new ones; it required commitment, self-discipline, concentration, and prioritization. And I needed to monitor my progress (and still do), through both self-evaluation and periodic feedback from the workshop team, by providing answers to the following:

In the last several months, what have I done to …

  • Be accessible (physically and mentally) to employees who would like my attention?
  • Be considerate of staff-member needs?
  • Provide employees with the training, tools, resources, and feedback required for success?
  • Keep employees in the “what’s happening” information loop?
  • Help team members maintain an appropriate balance between their professional and personal lives?
  • Demonstrate respect for employees’ time and talents … as well as respect for them as individuals?
  • Solicit, and listen to, staff-member ideas and concerns?
  • Help everyone develop and grow?
  • Fairly distribute the work and workload?

These, and many others like them, are the questions I ask — and the things I do — to make sure I focus on the wonderful workers who comprise our wonderful workshop. What questions do you ask? What action items would I find on your list?

Let Values Be Your Guide

Every once in a while, a truly special moment occurs in education — the student turns out to be the teacher. I experienced one of those moments not too long ago, and I’d like to share it with you. This next leadership lesson comes courtesy of a savvy little elf named Virginia.

It was a Tuesday morning and I was conducting a leadership development training session in the workshop classroom. I gave each participant a set of plastic building blocks along with an assignment: “Build a model of a wonderful workshop.” The purpose of the task was twofold:

  1. Test student creativity and thinking, and
  2. Provide me with ideas for improving our North Pole facility.

After starting the exercise, I left the room.

I returned an hour later and found that everyone was busy building his or her structure — everyone, that is, except Virginia. She was just sitting there, staring into space. “Is there a problem, Virginia?” I inquired. “No, Santa,” she replied, “I’m just thinking.” So I left her to her thoughts and exited the classroom.

After another hour had passed, I returned to the room to conclude the exercise. As I moved from table to table, I was truly impressed by the array of detailed models with structural components like smokestacks, loading ramps, conveyor belts, sleigh landing pads, cafeterias, gyms, offices, and even high-tech classrooms.

When I came to Virginia’s model, however, I was taken aback. There, in front of her, were six vertical columns — and nothing more. “Need more time?” I asked. “No thanks,” she answered, “I’m done.” Hearing that, I probed further: “Virginia, I’m not sure I understand. All the other models are very detailed structures, but all you have are six columns. No walls, no roof, no nothing. How come?” The explanation she offered is where you’ll find the lesson for leaders everywhere:

“Well, Santa, it seems to me that what makes a workshop wonderful is not walls and ceilings, but what happens inside those walls and under those ceilings … it’s not how a workshop stands, but what it stands for that makes it special. These six columns you see are pillars, and they represent values — the values of respect, integrity, quality, customer service, responsibility, and teamwork. I found them listed on our website. Maybe for some folks they’re just words, but for me, they’re blueprints to follow. And that’s where leadership comes in. Making sure that everyone knows what values are important, and then helping everyone turn those good beliefs into everyday behaviors is how leaders create a great place to work. At least that’s how I see it. And that’s why my model looks the way it does. Did I do okay?”

With a huge grin on my face and a twinkle in my eye, I responded: “Yes, Virginia, that is a wonderful workshop. And I think that you are going to be a wonderful leader. Thank you for giving me such a valuable gift.”

CHAPTER 2 CHOOSE YOUR REINDEER WISELY

Hire Tough So You Can Manage Easy

You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen; Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the least famous reindeer of all: Misfit? Probably not. He’s not here anymore. Unfortunately, I had to let him go decades ago. But I certainly learned a lot from the whole Misfit experience.

It all started when I was faced with hiring a new reindeer to fill a vacant position. Now, I know that pulling the sleigh is a very important job. Ask the reindeer — they’ll tell you. But I was busy — very busy. Recruiting and hiring a new puller was just one of the scores of things on Santa’s platter. And besides, bringing on new staff can be tedious, bureaucratic, and tiring work. It’s not what makes me jolly. Personally, I’d much rather walk around the workshop, chat with the elves, and test the new toys. So, I took the easy route. I did a cursory résumé review, conducted a quick, pro forma interview, and grabbed the first warm, antlered-body that appeared halfway decent.

Did I probe to determine if Misfit was committed to responsibilities like teamwork, dependability, and customer service? No. Did I test his flying skills? No. Did I do a thorough background check? No. Did I involve any of the other reindeer in the selection process? No. Did I take one of our new, high-pressure water gun toys and shoot myself in the proverbial foot? YES!

Misfit was appropriately named all right. After a short period of putting his best hoof forward, the problems began. He’d show up late, and then display a less than desirable attitude when I called him on it. More and more, he’d carry less and less of his share of the load. That made the sleigh pull to the right — forcing the left side crew to work harder in order for us to stay straight. The harder they worked, the more irritated they became … and the harder it was for me to keep the reins in check.

I ended up spending way too much time watching Misfit, re-re-re-training him, counseling him, and handling complaints about him from the other reindeer — and the elves as well. Pretty soon, he was bringing the whole team down. And productivity was going down with them. All of that because of one Misfit reindeer … all of that because I cut corners and allowed joining the team to be way too easy.

That was then. Now I do things much differently. Through the Misfit experience, I’ve come to realize that:

  1. Because it’s employees who ultimately make our mission happen, staffing is my single most important responsibility.
  2. The time I spend hiring the right way is nothing compared to the time I’ll have to spend dealing with the wrong reindeer.

Take a hiring lesson from Santa. Invest in doing it right up front and everyone — especially you — will be happier down the road.

Promote the Right Ones … for the Right Reasons

Just listen to his cute little song (go ahead … sing it to yourself) and you’ll quickly realize that Rudolph wasn’t always the lead reindeer. In fact, he didn’t get that promotion until one foggy night about a century ago. Before that, Donner had the top spot; Donner was “the deer.” And as it turned out, promoting Donner was “the problem.”

Now don’t get me wrong, Donner was not a bad reindeer. He was a great reindeer! One of the best pullers I’ve ever had. He was strong, fast, and dependable; he pulled more than his weight (and he weighed a ton). He followed instructions to the letter. Donner was a pro — as a puller. So when it came time to promote a new lead, he was my obvious choice. He had earned it. And I assumed that the best puller would make the best leader. Well, to quote another old song title, “it ain’t necessarily so.” And he proved it.

To say that Donner had a difficult time is an understatement. The lead job was different than the puller job — with skill and ability requirements that I hadn’t tested for and that he couldn’t meet.

He was in over his head, and he was miserable. So were the other reindeer … and so was I. It’s no secret that I was a little short on the “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” during that period. Donner needed to go back to the job he was good at, and a new lead — the right lead — needed to be found.

Lead reindeer (“RD1″on our classification sheet) is an important position. The lead has more contact with the pullers than anyone else here at the Pole … and a lot more influence over them as well. It was critical that I pick a leader that the other deer would follow. And there stood Rudolph.

Rudolph was a decent puller, but by no means was he the strongest or fastest of the crew. When he first joined the team, some of the other reindeer laughed, called him names, and excluded him from their games. They’re not an easy bunch to “bond” with. But that changed as they (and I) began to notice that there was something special about Rudolph; he seemed to have a knack for getting things done with others … a nose for leadership. So I decided to consider him for the lead.

This time, I started to take some notes. I created two columns: 1) The tasks, duties, and responsibilities of the lead position, and 2) The characteristics, talents, values, abilities, and attitudes that I felt were necessary to perform those tasks successfully — and to support our overall mission. Then I tested Rudolph and the other candidates against those criteria. He was a standout. He had “the right stuff.”

So, on that foggy night long ago, Rudolph got his shot. And the rest, as they say, is history. It’s a wonderful history … and an unforgettable lesson.

Go for the Diversity Advantage

Not all of what I’ve learned about hiring came from reindeer experiences. And since our other group of workers tend to get a little miffed if they don’t get equal time, here’s Santa’s third and final lesson on employee selection — involving the elves:

It used to be that our elves were pretty much all alike — same size, same pointed ears, same little green suits, same way of talking … same everything. Whenever we needed new elves, I automatically looked for, and brought on, workers that fit the standard mold. Why not? That’s the way it was for years and years — and it seemed to be working just fine. We rarely messed up an order and we had never missed our December 24 delivery. I was one happy sleigh driver — that is, until two things happened.

First, I found out that we had competitors. Department stores, online retailers, discount chains, and a whole host of other manufacturers and toy distributors were moving in on the market we had cornered for decades. They had all kinds of workers (not just elves), and they were gaining ground on our operation. To add insult to injury, some of them were actually using phony Santas — imposters dressed up like me … pretending to be me.

I wasn’t sure how to address the challenge of competition, but I knew that something needed to be done. Staying with “business as usual” probably wouldn’t serve us well that much longer.

Soon after discovering that we had competition, the second thing happened: a group of North Pole politicians (yes, we have them too) passed a law that said we had to expand our hiring practices; we had to start bringing on “different” kinds of toy makers — not just the little pointy-eared fellas we’d been employing forever.

So we complied with the regulations and came face-to-face with a new set of challenges. We had not-the-same-oldelves recruiting procedures to develop and coworker acceptance issues to deal with. Since not everyone spoke Northpolese, there were some language barriers. New interpersonal skills had to be developed. And things called “nondiscrimination regulations” had to be communicated, taught, and followed.

It wasn’t easy, but we did it. We did it all. And in the process, we got more than a Santa’s sackful of unexpected benefits. It didn’t take long to discover that our “different” toy makers came bearing gifts. They brought new skills, perspectives, and ideas to the workshop. They gave us more than one way of thinking, planning, producing, and problem solving. They made us better, stronger, and much more in touch with the “different” shapes, sizes, and colors of customers that we serve. And all that has helped us more than hold our own with all those competing Santa wannabes out there.

What started out as a challenging situation — to merely comply with a requirement — has become our most significant competitive advantage. And it can be yours as well. Believe Santa Claus … believe in diversity.

(Continues…)