The Four Keys to Hiring Great People

Whenever you’re getting ready to make a hiring decision, what grid are you using to evaluate whether or not your should make an offer? If you’re like most business owners/entrepreneurs/leaders/managers, you probably don’t have a well thought out grid. In fact, your grid may be as simple as, “What does my gut say?” or “Do I like this person?”

However, the problem with those kinds of quick reads, is that they inevitably lead to a poor hiring record. And when the HR experts tell us that the average cost of a wrong hire is 3-5X their salary, that’s a pretty big mistake to make.

Now, the reality is that everyone who hires people regularly makes mistakes. No one has a perfect record. But that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t increase our batting averages. And while there are all kinds of systems and books on hiring, I’ve found that the following four C’s are the four keys to consistently hiring good people. So, here they are.

Key #1. Character

This is number one by a long shot—and unfortunately, it’s the one that way too many leaders rush past way too quickly. Why? Usually because they want to fill a slot as fast as possible and move on. But this is the employee hiring problem that ultimately haunts every leader and business owner.

I don’t care how competent someone is, if they have a major character flaw, it will surface and it will cause problems. For example, if you’re interviewing someone and you notice that they never discuss their mistakes or never take ownership for a mistake (i.e. they always have an excuse or it’s always someone else’s fault), run don’t walk away. This is a character flaw (lack of personal responsibility) that will come back to haunt you over and over again.

Now, while there are all kinds of character issues, here are some of the more common ones I’ve noticed that should cause any leader to walk away from a candidate (note: besides the obvious ones like lying, cheating or stealing)

  • Passive-aggressive behavior (this is a business killing issue)
  • Pride/Self-importance (or a lack of humility)
  • Discourteous behavior (watch how they treat servers and admins)
  • Anger issues (or short fuse issues)
  • Narcissism
  • Lack of respect for others
  • Lack of perseverance
  • Lack of ambition
  • Not honoring/keeping their promises (especially when it comes to money)
  • Lack of self-discipline
  • Being unprepared (for example, meetings)
  • Always running late for meetings

The list could go on and on, however, my encouragement is that you start creating your own list. And, believe it or not, the more people you hire, the longer your list will get. But, what I can tell you from my own experience and that of my clients, is that when any one of us has chosen not to listen to the character concerns we’ve had, we’ve all paid for it.

Note: While attitude isn’t “strictly” a character issue, I do include attitude under this character rubric. Why? Because a bad attitude will affect, not only the employee’s performance, but also those with whom they’re working (whether those others are other employees or vendors or clients/customers). In addition, it’s far easier to train someone for a job than it is to improve their attitude. I’d take someone with a great attitude and average skills over a person with great skills and a poor attitude any day.

Character matters! Do NOT compromise on this one.

Key #2. Competency

Once you and I get passed the character issue, competency takes center stage. And as we saw above, this is another occasion when most business owners and leaders rush passed this test. However, in this case, it’s usually not because of speed, it’s usually because they’re not really clear on what skills and abilities are needed for successful completion of the position they’re hiring for.

In other words, most small business leaders tend to think in terms of hiring a person for a position vs. the actual specific tasks they want the person in that position to fulfill.

For example, when hiring an admin, it’s not unusual for a business owner to look for someone who possesses basic admin skills (like typing/word processing). They may even give them a typing test. But what they may really want is someone to do graphics design or page layout. Or they may really want someone who can write for them. Or who can edit their documents. Or they may want someone who can coordinate a team of outsourcers. Or they may want someone who can edit video and ftp it to a website. Or they may want an admin who can manage the office.

In other words, until you’re crystal clear on what the actual tasks are that you want a person in a position to perform, you really can’t judge if someone is competent for that position (which is why so many mis-hires are made).

Another common mistake here is to hire someone who’s good at a technical skill (like selling) and assuming they would make a good manager of other people who possess that technical skill (e.g. managing other sales people). However, just because someone is good at a technical skill doesn’t mean they’ll be a great leader/manager (i.e. leadership and management are radically different skill sets). Personally, I’d never hire anyone for a leadership/management position who hadn’t already demonstrated their ability to lead and get others to follow them.

Transferring someone else’s abilities in one arena to another without proof in that arena is a huge mistake (no different than congress calling a movie star to DC to testify on capital hill about something unrelated to acting).

So make sure you’re clear on exactly what skills someone needs to possess to do the job you want them to do—and then make sure you ask questions to see if the person you’re interviewing actually possesses that ability. Don’t assume or transfer. Get proof.

Competency matters!

Key #3. Chemistry

At one point in my hiring career, this one wasn’t on the list. My assumption was, if I just hire the best people I can find (and who have good character), I’ll be fine. But what I failed to figure in to the equation was the relationship between my direct reports and me. Lesson learned.

At first, it’s not directly observable. When you hire someone new, you spend time with them. But after they get their “sea legs” things start to change. And here’s what everyone else in the office observes. When you go by Joe’s office, you always stop in, ask how he’s doing, talk about his family and what they’re doing this weekend, etc. But when you walk by Fiona’s office (your new hire with whom you really don’t have great chemistry ), you just walk by. It’s not intentional. You’re not thinking about it. But everyone (including Fiona) is observing it. And therein begins the unraveling of “the team.”

In order to build a great business, you have to have a great team around you. And while you can employ all kinds of people throughout your organization, your top team/direct reports need to be people with whom you have chemistry. Out of over 7 billion people on planet earth and over 314M in the US alone, there are plenty of people who could work on your team and do a great job. So, why would you ever want to choose someone to work directly with you—with whom you don’t have any chemistry?

So here’s my recommendation. If you’re not clicking with someone during the interview process, you probably won’t click with them later when you’re facing a big challenge or trying to meet a tough deadline—so pass on them. The last thing you need on your top team is some kind of ongoing relational rift. Rather, you want to look forward to being with your top team. You want to look forward to seeing them. And you want to enjoy spending time with them. Life’s too short to choose otherwise.

Chemistry matters!

Key #4. Congruency

This is another C that I had to add to my original list because of some wrong hires (hey, that’s how most of us learn). The essence of the congruency test is that every business has certain core operating principles—from mission and vision to core values to general operating principles—that everyone who’s employed there needs to be in alignment with—or else conflicts will emerge.

Now, the first problem related to congruency is that most businesses and organizations aren’t really clear on what those core operating principles are. They know when someone isn’t following them, but that haven’t really labeled what they are—which is what creates a number of mistakes in hiring (i.e. no one can consistently hire people in alignment with their core operating principles if those core operating principles haven’t been spelled out).

However, the second problem here is that a lot of businesses and organizations think that they’ve spelled out their core operating principles because they have a set of mission, vision and core values statements they wrote with a strategy consultant during a two-day retreat—when they haven’t fully spelled out all of their core operating principles.

For example, some businesses believe, “Nothing goes out the door until the excellence has been put in.” While others believe “Just get it out the door. We’ll perfect it as our customers are using it.” Those are two completely different cultural standards. Choosing someone who holds the opposite standard will cause a lot of major conflict on your team (trust me on this!).

Regardless of what business you’re in, you have some “insider’s agreements” about how things ought to be done. Not labeling those things is a mistake. Write them down. Discuss them (if you have a top team). And use them as a way to ask questions during the interview process to discover if someone will fit (i.e. be congruent with) your corporate culture and your core operating principles.

Congruence matters!

So the next time you’re getting ready to hire someone for a position, make sure you pull out these four C’s. Use this grid to help you evaluate each candidate. Ask questions to elucidate answers that will help you figure out if they’re a fit for you and your company. And, whatever you do, make sure you don’t eliminate or pass by any one of these four C’s. You will regret it. And you be writing me saying, “Bruce, you were right!” You’ve been warned.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you want to read more about corporate culture and how to create it, make sure you check out my book on “Breaking Through Plateaus: How to Get Your Business Back on a Double-Digit Growth Curve By Creating a Culture That’ll Automatically Produce It”


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