Hiring for attitude

It’s been increasingly obvious to me over the last few years that a lot of businesses fail to prosper because they get one major thing wrong: they hire the wrong people. That’s not to say they hire stupid or dishonest people (although of course some do) but that they hire for the wrong reasons.

There are lots of different types of people in the world. Some of them have talents in one area, some of them talents in another. Some of them have qualifications that say they can do something really well, some of them have years of experience proving that can do something really well. Some of them love to learn, and other prefer to be taught.

That last point is the key to hiring people. You see, the people that prefer to get taught won’t go out looking for answers, they’ll expect the answers to come to them. They may well have read the manual but they won’t be able to apply it’s principles in creative ways. They are, to put it bluntly, drones. These are the people you should avoid.

In technology we’re constantly trying to find new things; whether that’s new ways to do old things, or ways to do completely new things. While there are manuals and textbooks that will teach you how to use a particular tool it won’t show you how to make the thing you’re working on. You may know how to handle a chisel, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to make a Chippendale. That takes craftsmanship – a subject close to my heart.

You should look for the people that have a craftsman’s attitude to work. They love what they do, they are passionate about doing it right. They are the ones that love to learn, who will keep trying to push the limits of their own, and sometimes the technology’s, limits. Where they see something that isn’t as good as it should be, they say something. In short, they have an attitude of excellence and humility.

Excellence: because without it you can’t call yourself a craftsman. If you don’t aim to be excellent in what you do you’re a person that can’t be bothered. A “good enough” outlook isn’t the craftsmans way. Excellence is a mountain that grows as you climb, but every step brings a better view.

Humility: because arrogance is the nemesis of a good worker. Keeping an attitude of humility makes sure your ears are always open to new and wiser instruction. Arrogance is like a plushly decorated prison. You might think you’re living in luxury, but in reality you’ve lost your freedom.

As Seth Godin says:

I really believe that hiring for talent is not nearly as important as hiring for attitude. If you get the right attitude, you can teach the talent.

So talent, especially qualification-heavy arrogant talent, will not make your business stronger. Humility and excellence will.

2 thoughts on “Hiring for attitude

  1. You have a valid and fair argument (and you know there is a “but” just around the corner by now, don’t you?), but (ah, there it is, the little beggar!!) some jobs are of course better left to those so-called “drones” that you speak of.

    Procedures and techniques and approach should all be forged and implemented by those crazy dynamic free thinking humble excellent pioneers. If you can find them, and then of course if you can afford them (oh, wait, you want to hire the A-Team don’t you?), then all well and good – I suspect most interviwERS are not up to the task!!

    Once a routine is established with a proven methodology and track-tested toolset, then it’s time to hand over to the “drones” with clear instructions and an interim support period.

    Some people ARE drones…. They are very important to a lot of businesses on a cheap day-to-day basis, with high staff turnover – Just walk around any call centre!! I know there are some good people in call centres, but they sometimes manage to rise (like cream) to the top or increase the staff churn figures.


  2. Indeed, you make a good point, sometimes drones are necessary and the right “tool for the job”. However the age-old example of call-centres that you mention I would argue is NOT a place for drones. Think about it, what response would you rather have to your order enquiry:

    “I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that. Ring back on our freephone number and try the option for the accounts department.”

    “I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that. But if you could wait a minute I’ll contact accounts for you and make sure we sort out your problem.”

    That’s probably a poor example, but I’m sure you’ve been in situations where you get the equivalent of Carol Beer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Beer#Carol_Beer). My point is that even with a “proven methodology and track-tested toolset” you’re not going to catch every edge case. Have (at least some) people with a creative, inquisitive, excellent, humble mindset will work wonders.

    As you say, whether interviewERS are up to the task is another question entirely. To truly know what someone is like you have to know them for some time – therefore perhaps you should only hire people with the right attitude from the circle of acquaintances you have. That way you also get someone who has some networking and social skills.

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