Hiring for Attitude is what you can’t ignore if you want to create a great company culture.
As part of me being a manager in tech companies I do hiring interviews with peoples from tech, product, design, marketing, leadership for almost 12 years now. One fundamental question in this area that is discussed again and again (even if answered many times already by hiring professionals, company culture thought leaders and practitioners) is if you should hire for attitude or skill.
While this question can come across as a platitude easily, I clearly believe that one can’t overestimate the importance of it. Just think about it: Hiring someone who complains a lot, or who is not energized by his job or even worse, someone who seems to be an intriguer just because she brings the right knowledge and experience. This is like intentionally killing you company culture. We all know that those kinds of behaviors — especially when seen in people on key seats — are like cancer for an organization. They grow and grow and grow as people observe people in key seats, they adapt to it and sooner or later it will be an essential part of your culture which you can’t remove anymore (as seen here in an experiment with bananas, water and monkeys).
To make it more concrete I like to give you an example: Whenever I interview for Product Leadership Positions I specifically look for an attitude based on the following qualities:
- Accountability — Is this person taking the lead, or finding excuses. Is the person thinking “End 2 End”, in an inclusive way or does she think in categories like us VS them, top VS down, I VS the team.
- Curiosity — Is this person a listener, someone who is happy when being confronted with new perspectives or a person who feels best within her comfort zone and becomes defensive when confronted with different perspectives
- Seeking for a higher purpose instead of being Ego Driven — Why is the person doing what she is doing? What are her life decisions based on? is it a person who is driven by a higher purpose (e.g. having a positive impact on internet users, disrupting the travel industry to make it more transparent, creating better workplaces or is it about her career, money, titles, as a step to become a consultant, because he always wanted to live in Berlin ….
- Enthusiasm — Is this person someone who is energized and energizing others when creating new things, when there is success, when a new challenge arises etc. or is it someone who seems to be not interested, comes with a lot of but’s, complaints or reasons why things won’t work or are not working. also sarcasm is a clear inverse quality for this trait.
- Creativity — is this person able to think outside the box, to connect the dots, think in metaphors. can the person follow a non-scripted discussion. is the person able to go beyond the edges of her knowledge. or does she think in predefined boxes, stereotypes, handbook / wikipedia lists.
- Resilience and proactivity — Is this person able to let go, to accept reality, does she know her trigger points and emotions or this person driven by emotions and ego-fear. is this person able to think between signal and reaction to control her reaction or does she react directly. is the person grounded or choleric.
As you see, this is not about charisma or being introvert vs extrovert, it is not about being more data driven or more feeling — this is just about from which attitude those people interact with the world, other human beings and problems. Also it is not about being inspiring — this would be hard to measure as it is a very subjective valuation of another person. The attitudes mentioned above are not, these are universal, and they don’t change with different situations or because you tell somebody to change — we have to live with a negative attitude forever (aka until the person leaves).
People may raise the concern, that we’re not psychologists and can’t evaluate people using such categories: That is true, so we should avoid interpreting psychological aspects and personal circumstances (as in: “this guy might be a bit aggressive because of bad childhood”), at the same time we can’t ignore the human side of the equation, so knowing about personality types, constructive and destructive attitudes and being clear on what kind of attitude people need to have a) for a specific role and b) to fit into your overall company culture.
If you are interested, here are some videos that I think give some very useful insights:
- Training video — Hire for attitude
- Why finding out what people are good in can be misleading.
- Jim Collins — It is not about Charisma, Attitude means: What’s your values, do you do your job for you or for a purpose thats bigger then you
- The speed of trust — trust = Competence + Character
To end this, here’e some food for thought:
Some years ago I met for lunch with a candidate for a team lead position. When we decided to leave the restaurant, he “asked” the waiter for the check. The way he did it clearly showed how he treats people with less power — rude, disrespectful and immature. Would you think this signal shouldn’t be taken into account to actually forecast how this person will perform as a leader?