How Does This CEO Learn About His Employees? He Gives Them “The Coffee Test” (And It’s Not What You Think)

The cliche that accompanies just about any entry-level office job out of college is the assumption that your first task (as an aspiring young professional) will be to run seven blocks in the sweltering heat to grab an office full of grumpy individuals coffee.

But for Arash Shirazi, CEO of The Bullitt Agency, a coffee order is far from a menial task. In fact, he uses it as a metric to better understand his employees—especially Millennials.

“I call it 'The Coffee Test,’ and it’s more than an exercise in taking orders. It involves active listening and comprehension. I will ask a newer employee I want to get to know if they would be willing to grab coffee for the office, and I will pay close attention to how they approach the task. Do they write the order down? Do they keep it in their head? Do they ask questions back about individual preferences? Are they proactive and return with condiments that weren’t requested? Do they they balk at the premise of the task or complain to a peer afterwards? That can be telling. The coffee test isn’t really about coffee at all (well, maybe a bit because we tend to work long hours). It’s more a personality assessment and exercise in problem solving,” said Shirazi.

He went on to explain that the outcomes of “The Coffee Test” have ranged all the way from one employee trying to pass off an iced coffee for a hot coffee (not sure how you can get away with that), to another employee coming back with four types of sweetener and saying, “I forgot to ask what kind you wanted, so I brought back options.”

When you think about it, a coffee order is no different than any other circumstance wherein you have to take direction and execute what is being asked of you. The people who take direction well are those who ask questions, and proactively take it upon themselves to figure out exactly what is being asked of them and how they can succeed. On the flip side, there are also those who do not treat a task with much attention to detail, and, as referenced above, come back with an iced coffee instead of a hot coffee (so to speak).

“It says a lot about the way you approach your work,” said Shirazi. And obviously it’s not the ‘end-all’ test that decides whether someone stays or goes. But it is an interesting little exercise. And afterwards, I like to pull certain people aside and give them feedback and coaching on questions that they should ask, in any situation, in order for them to be more successful.”

So the next time someone asks you to grab coffee, remember The Coffee Test. Ask the right questions!

Oh and the employee who passed off an iced coffee for something else? “Unfortunately, he didn’t last.”

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