As many of you have noted over the years, Vista Verde has been privileged to have a staff of fine young adults committed to serving and creating compelling experiences for our guests. Not that our more seasoned staff are any less professional and personable, but folks often find it a pleasant surprise that there are young adults with character, integrity, and an others-first mentality here at the ranch. Every generation seems to get a bad rap, especially as its members make the transition from child to adult. I happen to think that people of all generations are simply “growing up,” and each individual is responsible for his or her own behavior – not the behavior of a “generation.” Frankly, I wish I had been as selfless and humble in my youth as some of the young folks who sign up to join our team here.
So, for this second installment on our “secret sauce of staff,” I will share our philosophies and practices that lead us to procuring and preparing the best possible staff to fulfill our mission. Again, I offer any “insights” from a place of authentic humility – most of our successes here at the ranch were born out of failures and compromises, so this is not intended to be the definitive guide to hiring. Besides, everyone avoids the “know-it-all,” and I value relationships too much to be “that guy.”
We have several resources for finding staff. The most efficient and effective resource is our current and former staff. Many of our staff move on to other careers and vocations, and they invariably meet and get to know folks who are good candidates to join the VVR team. Good candidates, as we define it, have some work history or educational pursuits that reveal a high level of work ethic, diligence in all tasks, and a willingness to sacrifice. We prefer folks who have spent considerable time away from home – either in a college/university or another independent setting. It can be difficult for a young adult to transition from home to life here at the ranch, with its somewhat isolated setting and diverse personalities. Most importantly, former staff understand and support our efforts to find individuals who espouse our values and behaviors. We have expectations that other organizations may not espouse, simply because we are not hiring just another worker, we are hiring someone else’s roommate. The typical perception of a college student is formed by several cultural outlets – movies, books, reality TV, magazines, etc. – and it paints a picture of young adults that is less than flattering, even if entertaining. It’s a bit like watching a NASCAR race for the occasional accident – sickening to think about it, but it is often true that we enjoy watching drama from a safe distance. This kind of drama might sell advertising space on TV, but if it were to happen here, it would lead to a toxic staff culture – which would then lead to a less-than exemplary guest experience. So, most importantly, we are looking for individuals who value our community and culture and are willing to sacrifice some personal freedoms to ensure that we, as a staff community, are healthy, inclusive, safe, and fun. In other words, we need folks who are professional, personable, and have a healthy respect for the dangers of alcohol, drugs (yes – even marijuana!), and reckless romantic relationships. It took me a while to find the correct words to share our vision with you, and I may not have quite captured it, but hopefully it comes across clearly. I once had another friend in the guest ranching community tell me that my expectations were unrealistic, and that young folks will not be able to NOT party and they will always live a bit recklessly. I told him that I thought that he was underestimating them, and I still think there are many young folks who have not bought into the prevailing cultural norms for their age group. If you are one of them, I am looking for you…. Not in a creepy way…
Another important resource is our former guests. Our amazing guests have astutely observed our staff and encouraged the right individuals to apply. We are so grateful for their participation and help. The staff they have recommended to us over the years reinforce that our guests understand and appreciate the impact of a healthy staff culture and community, both on their vacation and, more importantly, on their children. As a parent, I am always looking for significant and healthy adults to provide examples and model behavior for my kids. We take the influence of our staff on our young visitors very seriously.
Lastly, like many organizations, we utilize the good ‘ol world wide web. A website called “Coolworks.com” provides us with a large quantity of resumes and applications from candidates seeking seasonal employment. This is a handy but less targeted resource—although a large majority of our applications have been from Coolworks, most of our hires have been through word of mouth.
Of course, once our new staff members arrive at the ranch, they need training and development that goes way beyond the typical tasks and duties of the job. And so the next installment in this series will describe how we introduce new staff members to our culture and help them to develop as employees and leaders.