While Human Resources Manager at a Home Depot store in Thousand Oaks, CA in the decade of the 90's I would conduct mass orientations: we would hire people by the bushel-full and they would spend their first day filling out forms and learning the values and policies of the rapidly growing organization. There was also the opportunity to bond with other newbies, and I always enjoyed this more creative part of the day.
My favorite question for new employees was one that was asked of President Obama last month - much to my surprise. I knew I hadn't been the first or only person to think of the question as an effective way to get insight about a person, but I was still surprised to hear it, these 15 years later. I once asked it of renaissance man Steve Allen while interviewing him on my radio show, thinking he would probably pull the most amazing answer from his incredibly fertile mind. Nope, he replied: "I hate questions like that." I think I had to go to commercial to recover from the embarrassment.
"If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?" And I usually added: "and what would you talk about?" I added this last part after an employee years before had answered: "Adolf Hitler." Stunned - and re-thinking my hiring criteria - I stuttered "why?" Calmly she replied, "So I could ask him ‘What the #!^@ were you thinking?'"
Anyway, it's a great question for getting to know people. And over the years, as I've asked it of 100's of new employees, I've come up with many different people myself. Mary Martin (the original Maria von Trapp in "Sound of Music", Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific", and Peter in "Peter Pan"): because I had wanted to grow up to be her. Vincent Van Gogh: because his letters to his brother Theo were as colorful as his paintings and I wanted to hear him talk. John F. Kennedy: a childhood icon struck down when I was in 8th grade science class. (One new employee answered Lee Harvey Oswald to this question and I thought that was brilliant: "Did you act alone?"). Hands down, the best answer I ever heard came from my brother, Phil, who immediately responded "Pete and Kobe Bryant." Tears rolled as I imagined my developmentally delayed nephew -- who dresses in a Lakers uniform before watching every game on TV -- and his basketball hero happily chatting away.
I was pleased to hear that the President chose to lunch with Mahatma Gandhi. Not pleased that he made the same lame joke I did about his lunch date not eating much, but pleased with the choice. I would ask Gandhi things like "how do you keep from getting discouraged?" and I wondered if the President would ask him that, too.
What has this all got to do with employment? Well, I was just thinking about the importance of having a connection with your employees and co-workers that goes beyond the daily grind. And then I remembered my favorite question.
By the way... Today, I think I'll lunch with my grandmother. That's always been the #1 answer.