Twisting to the top Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

It can be an uncomfortable conversation, but Daniel DiZio is frank when talking to an employee who isn’t cut out for the position he or she desires.

“Simon Cowell telling somebody they aren’t a good singer saves a lot of time and energy for someone who is trying to pursue a singing career,” says the president and CEO of Soft Pretzel Franchise Systems Inc., whose stores operate as the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory. “Sometimes people want jobs because somebody else has that job. Then they get it, and they are not really the guy for it. So we explain, ‘You are a people person, and we need to have you in the field.’”

DiZio and his partner, Len Lehman, have propelled the company’s franchise sales to a 675 percent increase from 2004 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with DiZio about how to find the right employees and what to do when the person you thought was right isn’t.

Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?

Making the tough decisions is the hardest part — what is best for the company, not having emotional ties to decisions and not holding on to the wrong people. We’re loading a school bus here, we are putting people in the right spot, and we want the right people on the bus.

If we don’t get the right guy, it is a tough call to make a decision to get that guy off the bus. But at the end of the day, those are the best decisions for the company and, as a leader, that is what is expected.

Q: How do you find the right people?

We are not just looking for the resume. We are looking for the guy that has some life experiences and that comes to the table and is willing to not be pigeonholed in the sense of what they are willing to do.

We are looking to hear people say, ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes,’ to other intangibles and are excited. When we have a grand opening, we don’t ask any of the employees to go. But, if you put a lot of time into developing the store, we think you would want to be there on a Saturday.

Q: Is there a way to know if an employee is right for the job?

If someone is lying to you, then they are lying to you. That’s why it’s so important that if they are not the right fit, you don’t keep them around for years until you realize that.

At the end of the day, you are bringing them on board and taking a leap of faith that they are the right person for the job. If they aren’t, then it’s a matter of throwing them back out there. The guy is not the guy for us. He might be the guy for someone else, but not us.

Q: How long do you wait to find out if they are right for the job?

Three months. I don’t know if it takes that long. It’s not something where they work long hours. It’s not about that. It’s seeing their excitement level and seeing what they are following through with. Since we are a smaller company, we need self-motivated people. We don’t have baby sitters on top of people. We might not talk to a guy for a week. He could have went golfing all week. He better bring something to the table that he has been working on.

A lot of people need to be checked up on, and that is what makes them work. We’re not looking for those guys. We are looking for guys who we don’t see them for a month, but we know they are working on stuff. When we do talk to them, they say, ‘This is what I’ve been working on.’

Q: What are the pitfalls to avoid in business?

Making it any more complex. People get into too many things. Do a few things, do them well, and leave it at that. In my case, we know there are a lot of great ideas out there that we can institute into our stores, but we just do pretzels, hot dogs, sausages and bottled soda.

We have been offered fountain soda and been told, ‘Your margins will go up 2 percent.’ I don’t want to be bothered with fountain soda and cup lids. There is something about simplicity that allows us to grow.

We stay focused on what we do and keep it there.

When you make it too complex and you are the only one to handle it all, it is impossible to hand the reins over to someone else.

HOW TO REACH: Soft Pretzel Franchise Systems Inc., (800) 679-4221 or