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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

How many of you subscribe to that saying “hire for attitude, train for skills, raise your hand (Now, imagine me getting a good laugh imagining you actually raising your hand.)

I’ll stop monkeying around now and get right to the point of what I want to say here. We’ve all heard it before and a lot of us are probably nodding our heads in agreement just hearing the phrase. We all know what it means. Skills can be learned, attitude, hardly. EQ which we associate with attitude is about as important if not more so than IQ which we associate with trainability. If you are an experienced HR practitioner or a manager who has gone through the agonies of a wrong hire, you probably know by now that knowledge and experience in applying a particular skill is not a sure indicator of future success.

People are generally good at that – agreeing. But ask how far they’ve gone in applying what they’ve agreed with in the first place and we’re probably going to see some glassy-eyed stare. With this subject, it is quite difficult to go farther than just agreeing because applying it means breaking traditional concepts and conventional thinking in hiring.

This statement makes a lot of sense to me but I must admit, I’ve never really contemplated on this as much as I should until now. I’d like to start with making more sense of this as it relates to our work in recruitment. Let me focus on the first half of the statement, hiring for attitude because as you most likely know, I have talked so much about training for skills already.

Taking “hiring for attitude" seriously is indeed serious stuff! The first question that comes to mind is, what kind of attitude are we looking for? If you answer this question by giving me a list of attitudes you want your future employees to have, I think you are already making a big mistake by stereo-typing the process. I think a tedious but important thing to do is to study each position closely, analyze the tasks involved and pinpoint the kind of attitudes necessary in carrying out the tasks. A job that requires a person to collaborate with other members of the team in order to bring together team result must like working with others, exchanging ideas and considering other people’s opinion. A job that requires an employee to compete with others must have that competitive attitude. Round peg, round hole.

The next and even more daunting task is to design a screening process that will screen out those who don't have the attitudes you are looking for and those who do. There are several ways to do this. Some experts suggest behavioral interviewing where applicants are asked to talk about previous experiences where they are faced with a challenge requiring the possession of a particular attitude. The rationale here is that past behaviors are indicators of future behaviors. Other companies, play games with their candidates in order to see how the candidates behave in the face of a challenge or when dealing with others. I’m sure there are several other ways to do it. Use your favorite search engine. I’m sure it will come up with something. What I think is important here are the two things I mentioned, you got to have a means for determining the right kinds of attitude one person should have in a particular job and then be able to design a process for threshing out these attitudes from the candidates that you have for the position. Let me add by saying that if this is important in hiring new employees, it is even more important in promoting leaders or managers. I’ve said it too many times. Being a good worker doesn’t automatically translate to good leader. Stop losing good employees and the gaining yourself a lousy manager by developing a strategy for identifying potential manager who demonstrate the kind of managerial attitude that you are looking for.

As the ones in charge in letting people into the organization, we have this big gate-keeping responsibility of making sure that we only allow people who have the right set of attitude, knowledge and skills necessary for the successful execution of their responsibilities. As the world of work becomes more and more challenging, we also need to take a closer look at how we hire and make changes as necessary. We need to learn from where we faltered in order to come up with a stronger strategy. Anyway, we cannot expect to produce better results by using the exact same strategy.

I have a strong feeling this topic is not over but I'm just too sleepy to continue so watch out for some more next time.

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