Testing Candidates Before Hiring Them: With Zale Tabakman

Some decisions are very complicated and hard to make. Naturally, this can cause us to experience a lot of doubt and insecurity. “What if it all goes wrong?” we ask ourselves. “What if it doesn’t work out?”

Our guest on today’s episode of The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast is Zale Tabakman, the President and Founder of Local Grown Salads. He’s having a hard time deciding how to hire the right people for his business.

Hiring can be a strenuous process involving finding, interviewing and onboarding candidates. I actually compare it to marriage—in order to find a match, you need to date them and find ways to collect information about them. It’s not always that simple, though.

Episode Transcript

Zale Tabakman - FOM

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. Welcome to The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast.

Today, I am thrilled to introduce my guest. His name is Zale Tabakman and he's an original from Toronto, but he has the parted and gone south. So we're going to talk a little bit about that, 'cause we like Canadians to stay in Canada. We're going to explore that. And he is the Founder and President of a company called Local Grown Salads. So, Zale, welcome.

[00:00:39] Zale Tabakman: Thank you, thank you. It's great to be here.

[00:00:41] Kim Ades: So, tell us a little bit about you. What is Local Grown Salads and why on earth would you move to Baltimore?

[00:00:48] Zale Tabakman: [Chuckles] Okay, all right. So, Local Grown Salads is an indoor vertical farming company. So, we manufacture the equipment that grows vegetables inside. We grow some 60 different types of vegetables. We break them up into herbs, greens, and small vegetables. When I say small vegetables, peas, beans, those kinds of things, and herbs and greens that are normal.

And why did I move? Why does any man move to the United States? There was a woman involved.

[00:01:16] Kim Ades: Ah!

[00:01:16] Zale Tabakman: A very lovely, perfect woman. And so...

The rest is history.

The rest is history. So, she brought me to Baltimore and then we started doing work in Baltimore, trying to get our company launched in Baltimore. And it turns out that we also did a little bit of work in Philadelphia and Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. And it is unbelievably true.

Anybody needs to start a business, Philadelphia is the place. People will reach out, they'll help with you, they'll work with you. They say, "well, I can't do something, let me introduce you to my friend who can", so that's how come we're in Philadelphia. So, I ended up actually commuting from Baltimore to Philadelphia.

[00:01:57] Kim Ades: Oh wow.

[00:01:59] Zale Tabakman: As a Canadian it sounds really cool, it's very famous cities, but it's really like commuting from Hamilton to Toronto.

[00:02:05] Kim Ades: Got it.

[00:02:05] Zale Tabakman: 45 minutes on a train.

[00:02:08] Kim Ades: I understand. And so how long have you been running this company for?

[00:02:13] Zale Tabakman: We actually started Local Grown Salads in the December of 2013, was when we came up with the idea and we've been developing the technology since that time.

[00:02:22] Kim Ades: And so, when you think about your client base, who's your client for this?

[00:02:27] Zale Tabakman: So, the ultimate product is obviously consumers 'cause there's growing vegetables. But the way we go to market is we go directly to distributors and distributors then will sell to retailers and food service. And the other really interesting client are manufacturers. We have a company here that we're talking about, there's in upper state New York and they want 40,000 pounds of cucumbers every week, and guess what they do with those cucumbers... they mix it with dill and you got pickles.

[00:02:55] Kim Ades: Beautiful.

[00:02:56] Zale Tabakman: So, essentially distributors who distributed food service and retail and manufacturers who make food that we eat.

[00:03:05] Kim Ades: So, you help them make more food-- make more pickles!

[00:03:08] Zale Tabakman: We help them make more pickles. Well, right now pickles are interesting because currently they bring their two covers from Texas, California, Arizona, which is 1500 miles and can talk American language, but you know, a couple of thousand kilometers. And now all of a sudden you'll be reduced to a few hundred miles or a few hundred kilometers.

And so, from a sustainability point of view, a carbon foot print point of view, fresh point of view, that's like the day and night. That's why the industry is growing so fast.

[00:03:40] Kim Ades: Very interesting. And how big is your company? How many people do you have working for you at this point?

[00:03:46] Zale Tabakman: Well, we have about seven full-time kind of people, but we do a lot with interns and universities. And last semester we had some 200 students working for us, from a whole bunch of universities, all the way from Dalhousie to Vancouver, we had foreign students, we had a fellow that was from Bangladesh, we had a couple of American students.

[00:04:07] Kim Ades: And what are the students doing?

[00:04:09] Zale Tabakman: Helping us build what we call our LTS ecosystem and our marketing system. To be able to grow, we are planning on growing to 200 farms over the next 24 months. That's like Uber style growth. Each farm is about $2 million, so, we're talking about like a $400 million rollout in 24 months. So, we have to build a system to manage it, and that's what we call the ecosystem.

And then we have marketing students doing marketing for us and developing social media plans, all sorts of interesting and exciting stuff.

[00:04:46] Kim Ades: So, you have a thriving business and a thriving romance.

[00:04:49] Zale Tabakman: Yes. Yeah.

[00:04:51] Kim Ades: Amazing. [Chuckles] So tell us, what is your greatest challenge today?

[00:04:55] Zale Tabakman: My greatest challenge is spending money on senior people. Over the years is just... every time I've tried to do it, I just hire badly. The challenge is, first of all, I'm scared because I've made so many mistakes over time. And the other part is I really don't have the right skills to do it, even with all my gray hair and all kind of lots of experiences I have. I just don't have the skills or the confidence to do it properly.

[00:05:21] Kim Ades: Okay. And is there somebody in mind specifically that you're looking to hire? Or you can't even find that the right person?

[00:05:28] Zale Tabakman: I could probably find the right person. I have 30,000 LinkedIn connections. I'm not a shy guy.

[00:05:34] Kim Ades: Right.

[00:05:35] Zale Tabakman: We could find the right people, but I'm just scared to actually do it, to pull the trigger.

[00:05:43] Kim Ades: I got the picture. Okay, so, there are a few thoughts that I have. Usually when we're scared about something, it's because maybe we had a bad experience, but typically it's because we're expecting a negative outcome. Right? You're expecting a negative outcome, "I've done this in the past. I blew a whole bunch of money, hired the wrong person, wasted time, wasted money, wasted resources, wasted opportunity--"

[00:06:06] Zale Tabakman: Where were you shadowing me?

[00:06:08] Kim Ades: Yeah, I know. I know.

[00:06:09] Zale Tabakman: [Laughs]

[00:06:09] Kim Ades: I know your life. And so, that's what it is. So now when we're going to do it again, we're afraid, we're anticipating the same kind of negative outcome, and that negative anticipation kind of trips us up. And so, the question is how do we address that? And so, typically what we want to do is say, what do we believe to be true? Out beliefs drive that emotional experience that create the anticipation of a negative outcome.

And part of what you believe to be true is, "well, I have to find a person and then hire them". And what if you don't? What if there could be a different game that you play where... you know, when you met your significant other, you didn't just right away decide to move to Baltimore, right? You kind of dated first.

[00:06:55] Zale Tabakman: Five years.

[00:06:56] Kim Ades: Five years.

[00:06:58] Zale Tabakman: [Laughs]

[00:06:59] Kim Ades: Wow!

[00:07:00] Zale Tabakman: I have a collection of ex-wives before her.

[00:07:03] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:07:03] Zale Tabakman: [Chuckles]

[00:07:03] Kim Ades: But five years. So, it's actually very parallel, right? Same story. But you dated for a while, you tested out different permutations of this relationship until you decided "yes, this one is worth moving for". And so, in the same way, what I would recommend for you is don't think about hiring someone, think about dating someone, and what does that dating environment look like. What could it be like, so that you could get to know each other first before making a more substantial offer, and one that you know will be a win-win. Right?

So you're saying, "well, I've got to find someone and hire them in a way you're taking this massive leap into this big black hole, because you don't know how the person's going to perform". What if that's not the case? What if you don't have to hire someone full-time permanently? What if you could say, "Hey, I'm looking for someone on a contract basis. I'm looking for dating", right? "I'm looking to date, and so here's the scope of the project. Let's see how we work together. Let's see how it goes.

Let's see how you perform. Let's see how you communicate with me and how we communicate with each other. Let's see how the organization responds to you", and on and on and on. And slowly you grow your intimacy, you grow your scope of work together. But my strongest recommendation is don't hire someone.

[00:08:26] Zale Tabakman: Right. So, I want to ask you-- I loved the analogy, everything's great. But I want to push back a little bit on that.

[00:08:32] Kim Ades: Please.

[00:08:34] Zale Tabakman: A lot of the kinds of senior people that we're looking for, don't want to get engaged in that kind of way. Like, if you go to a guy who's a senior VP of marketing or senior VP of operations, we're talking, you know, people making $200,000 a year... They don't want to date.

[00:08:53] Kim Ades: Well, I would push back on your pushback and I'll tell you why.

[00:08:58] Zale Tabakman: Okay. [Chuckles]

[00:08:58] Kim Ades: Because to leave their nice $200,000 a year job to go work for Zale, who is also an unknown, is also a bit of a jump into a big black hole. And so, what we're doing is we're creating steps along the marriage path. And if you can create a win-win scenario, where you get to feel more comfortable with the candidate and they get to feel more comfortable with you, then what happens is when they decide to make it a full-time thing, it becomes a far smaller risk for everybody involved. And so, my pushback is this: you haven't found the right formula to create that win-win entry point yet.

[00:09:45] Zale Tabakman: I got it. Yeah, no, it's making sense. I'm a very practical person, so I'm trying to think through how I would do it. I think I mentioned before, I have a very large LinkedIn network, it's like 30,000 connections. So, realistically, we're looking for somebody that wants to jump in and get involved in a startup, you know? I may have been at this for 7-8 years, but we're still at startup stage.

We could say to them, "we're looking for a senior executive that wants to commit 10 hours a week or 10, 15 hours a week, and the idea is that eventually you'll be part of this journey". We're calling it a journey. "And our quest is 200 farms in the next 24 months", so we can reach out that way. And we're going to get the kind of people that want to be part of that kind of journey and that kind of quests.

[00:10:37] Kim Ades: For sure, but also what you're doing is you're saying, "Hey, right now we don't want you to jeopardize your family, your home, your life. We want to make it safe for you to come and learn about us and be part of us and grow with us. And so, while here's the longterm vision or the plan, here's the scope of the current project", which is totally manageable, handleable, they can wrap their arms around it, they can envision delivering, all of that stuff.

So, sometimes this long-term vision stuff is scary. It's nice to know that it's available, but I would really focus on "here is the scope of today's project".

[00:11:16] Zale Tabakman: Right. We actually do need somebody that can... To be honest with you, I need somebody who can say, "I want to be on an Airbnb trajectory. I want to be on an Uber trajectory. A WeWork, a McDonald's in 1950s trajectory". We don't want people who are afraid of that. We want somebody who says, "oh, I can live it. I want to grow it. I want to be part of that".

[00:11:40] Kim Ades: Yes. And yet, at the same time, I think it's very important to test out performance by giving a specific project, just to see how do they handle it. Do they show up on time? You know, even just the basics. Do they understand my language?

[00:11:59] Zale Tabakman: That's true. And I think your earliest comment of me being afraid has actually triggered a different thought in my mind, the way I interpreted it is I just need to be very... The standard of what I want is extremely high and very unique. So, maybe I'm just afraid of putting in the-- I'm not afraid of the person, I'm just afraid of like all of the ugly ducklings I have to date before I find the perfect woman.

[00:12:26] Kim Ades: Well, here's the other piece of it, and I think this is important. When you don't trust yourself to make the right decision, I would create a series of let's call them... hurdles to overcome, right? And so, what do I mean by that is perhaps the first hurdle is "here, let's do a project together", but then the next hurdle, or even the one before that is "I'm going to ask other people to interview you, not just me". Let them give you a green light.

And so, that I'm at the very end of the road, where all these other checks and balances are taking place, so that they are kicked out sooner rather than later, before they even get to me. If that makes any sense. So, involve your key decision makers in the process, involve your board of directors, involve the people that you trust, your investors, whoever they are, to help bring the right people to the table and screen before they even get to you.

[00:13:28] Zale Tabakman: Good idea. I don't have that much of an infrastructure that I can help screen, but I have who I can reach out. That's great. Are you busy? You know, next week to help screen? [Chuckles]

[00:13:38] Kim Ades: The truth is we coach executives and it is not unusual for a business owner to say, "Kim, can you please have a conversation with this person? And see if I'm on the right track, if they're the right fit for me".

And I remember one in particular, a very close friend of mine and a long-time client, and he hired someone, and before he hired them, he said, "Kim, can you double check?" And I went back, I said, "this is a bad idea, bad fit", but he had hired them and he regretted it to this day. "Why didn't I listen to Kim?"

[00:14:21] Zale Tabakman: Yeah, I believe it, I believe that.

[00:14:23] Kim Ades: Yeah, because you need someone to also ask the right questions, right? In terms of fit. So, it's a great idea for you to partner with someone who can help you through that in advance. And it could be a coach, but it could be a recruiting expert or anybody else.

[00:14:40] Zale Tabakman: So, one of the things that you bring to the table is you're not emotionally attached to this decision. Right? Like, the problem is I get emotionally attached to the decision. I interview the person and then all of a sudden, it's my reputation on the line, and if I would pull the plug, well, this guy's gonna-- we see that it's subtle and it's in the back of your head all the time, but in back of my head, sometimes what's going to happen that way. But if you go in as a third person, you don't even have to tell the guy he's not being hired. You just tell me.

[00:15:11] Kim Ades: Exactly. But also, I think what happens when we're so eager to make something work, we ignore the red flags.

[00:15:18] Zale Tabakman: Right. Oh yeah. I had two marriages that didn't quite work out [laughs]...

[00:15:26] Kim Ades: Because of that.

[00:15:27] Zale Tabakman: Because of that, yeah.

[00:15:28] Kim Ades: Exactly.

[00:15:29] Zale Tabakman: They were great women, but they just weren't great for me, right? It wasn't about them.

[00:15:33] Kim Ades: Exactly, exactly. Right. And so, sometimes it's just a really great idea to have a trusted advisor, to have a second set of eyes or a second set of conversations to double check that everything's aligned, that this person wants what you want, that you're all heading in the right direction, that they're being honest, open and clear about what it is that they want. And that this is-- like, there's nothing off the table, if that makes any sense.

[00:15:58] Zale Tabakman: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

[00:15:59] Kim Ades: Yeah.

[00:16:00] Zale Tabakman: This makes a lot of sense. It's solving the problem. I mean, now we're getting more insight into what the problem was and how to go forward.

[00:16:09] Kim Ades: Yeah. But I hope those ideas were valuable for you. I'm excited by your work.

[00:16:14] Zale Tabakman: Thank you.

[00:16:15] Kim Ades: My daughter is studying Plant Sciences.

[00:16:18] Zale Tabakman: Oh wow!

[00:16:19] Kim Ades: She's doing her Master's degree, so she's very much into the work you were doing. And actually the conversation of the day is "what do I do after my Master's degree, mom?" She has been invited to do her PhD and she's like "what do I do with that? I want a real job!" So, she's trying to figure some things out.

[00:16:44] Zale Tabakman: I can tell her there's a lot... The future is indoor vertical farming, and there aren't a lot of people that have figured this out. Now, when she says she's doing Plant Sciences, what kind of plant science things is she doing? Because there's a wide range.

[00:17:01] Kim Ades: So, now I've stepped into a minefield where I don't know what I'm talking about. Just studying one particular plant and its genetic makeup, so I don't know.

[00:17:12] Zale Tabakman: Okay.

[00:17:13] Kim Ades: But... Yeah.

[00:17:15] Zale Tabakman: There's lots of possibilities. If you have her reach out to me, I can tell her what we're doing, I can tell her about our industry and she can see if there's a place for her in our industry.

[00:17:26] Kim Ades: I'll do that. Zale, thank you so much for being on the podcast with me. For those of you who are listening, I hope you've got some good ideas about how to hire and maybe how to get an extra set of eyes or ears on your potential candidates before you do the hiring.

If you have a challenge that you want to share on the podcast, please reach out to me. My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. If you have a challenge that you want to share, but maybe not so much on the podcast, please reach out to me anyway. My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.

And if you know a young professional, someone in your world in your work, in your life that could benefit from some executive coaching, we just launched a new service. It's called The Journal That Talks Back. Please check it out, it's incredible and it comes from all the work we've done over the past 17 years with Frame of Mind Coaching. Please take a look. It's www.thejournalthattalksback.com.

Zale, thank you. Everyone, have a great day and we will see you next week.

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