Saturday, November 30, 2013

"I Y'am What I Y'am": Why You Should Always Hire for Attitude

I'm not a big Popeye fan (although I do love spinach!) but this classic mantra - "I y'am what I y'am." - is a great reminder of how to hire smart.

As a leader and manager, the most important thing you will have the privilege to do is to build your team.  And that starts with recruiting for and hiring the best talent.

But how to you find and know who is best?

Hire for attitude.  Train for skill.

According to Bill Taylor, Co-Founder of Fast Company, "over the years, as I’ve studied high-impact organizations that are changing the game in their fields, they’ve adopted a range of strategies and business models. But they all agree on one core “people” proposition: They hire for attitude and train for skill. They believe that one of the biggest challenges they face is to fill their ranks with executives and front-line employees whose personal values are in sync with the values that make the organization tick. As a result, they believe that character counts for more than credentials."

Every company, including every nonprofit has a specific culture, "We're innovators; we lead!" "We're risk averse; we follow!"

The only way to make good hiring decisions is to know what your organization (really) values and to find people who share them.  

This is easier said than done.  It's easy to get blindsided by credentials and hard to get inside someone's head in a few short interviews, but it's possible. 

In addition to asking interviewees about work experience, get them talking about their passions.  What makes them tick? How do they have fun outside of work?  What is their favorite movie or novel?  These questions, while seemingly irrelevant, can tell you a lot about a person's priorities.  And can help you discern whether or not they will enjoy working with you!

Also, talk to references of a prospective hire.  What were they like to work with?  What did they bring to the last holiday party?  What's the worst mistake they ever made?

"But what about skills?" you say.  "What about experience?" 

Of course, skills and experience are important too, although the literature is mixed regarding how important your GPA is to your success on the job.  No one is suggesting that you hire a super cool chemist to become your chief fundraiser.  And there is nothing wrong with assessing a person's track record. 

Still, don't fall into the trap of thinking that skills alone are enough, especially in sales aka fundraising and other customer-facing positions.  

To be an excellent and successful fundraiser you have to be Likable.  You have to be able to attune, i.e., read and mirror other people, understand what motivates them and react.  You also have to be upbeat, enthusiastic, and inspired.  No one buys stuff from an Angry Bird!

Like most customer facing positions, fundraising is a skill but it's also a mind-set facilitated by empathic and persuasive communication. These behaviors are better suited to some personalities than others.  Don't delude yourself into thinking you can train someone else (including your partner!) to be more curious, helpful, interesting, and kind.  It won't work!

As Popeye attests, and research shows, personality is hard wired at birth and changes little over the course of a lifetime.  We are who we are!

"Your personality is going to be essentially the same throughout your life...U.S. Air Force research on personality types that began in the 1950s shows.  For decades, researchers tracked their subjects by observing their behavior and interviewing their families, friends, and colleagues. The conclusion? Basic personality traits did not change, Davidson says. "Introverts were introverts, extroverts were extroverts. The descriptions were constant."

In short, if you want to get great results you've got to recruit and retain awesome people.  Do this by defining the personality traits and attitude necessary for new team members to succeed and find a way to rigorously assess and hire for that.