What is more important? Attitude or qualifications?

It’s no secret that hiring staff is an expensive business. The loss of productivity with the departure of a highly capable staff member, the recruitment campaign – from placing the advertisement, screening applications, interviewing, reference checking, contract formulation and getting the new employee ‘up to speed’ is both time-consuming and costly. None of these costs begin to consider the possibility that the new hire isn’t the right fit for the company’s culture and the risk that the whole process may have to be repeated.

Mark Murphy, the author of the best-selling book, ‘Hiring for Attitude’ makes reference to research that demonstrates that of those people who fail in roles within the first eighteen months of employment, 89% of the reason for the failure is due to attitudinal deficiencies and only 11% is due to a lack of required skills to do the job. Ultimately, he demonstrates that attitude and not skill is the top predictor of success or failure for an individual in a new role.

Consider the case of a potential front line employee for your storage facility. Do you hire the individual with ten years of similar work experience and suitable qualifications, but a seemingly chequered history in terms of stability (a number of different companies over that time)? Or do you opt for an individual with limited relevant work experience, who seems to be brimming with motivation to learn, can demonstrate the ability to be innovative, collaborate with team mates, handle feedback and coaching and, instinctively appears to be a good fit for the company’s culture?

Why focus on Attitude?
1. What you know changes, who you are doesn’t.

Hiring people with the right experience but the wrong attitude and expecting that they will successfully integrate into the company’s culture is foolhardy. Individuals can always be taught more skills, but it’s almost impossible to change innate traits they demonstrate (i.e. being overly competitive or not being a team player in the workplace).

2. You can’t find what you’re not looking for.
Analyse the personal characteristics of some of the top performers in your current workforce. If they are thriving (increased telephone query conversions to sales etc), ask yourself why and look to hire new individuals who exhibit similar traits.

3. The best way to evaluate potential staff is to watch them work.
Steer away from traditional interviewing techniques that reaffirm what you already know from the individual’s resume (their previous work history). Simulate ‘real’ job tasks and give the individual a set time to perform the task and then evaluate their success and potential suitability for your job vacancy.

4. You can’t hire those who don’t apply.
This concept is a again related to that of analysing the traits of your top performers. The mindset they possess has enabled them to succeed in your business. Don’t be shy to use this to your advantage. Seek referrals from current staff as to their friends or acquaintances who may be looking for work. Your top performers are likely to interact socially with like-minded individuals.

How to recruit for attitude?
The question then remains, how do you alter your current recruiting processes to ensure that you focus on ‘hiring for attitude’ and ‘training for skill’? How indeed do you avoid falling into the trap of hiring for experience vs. hiring for the right mindset? Again a check list provides a useful reference guide.

1. Advertise for specific qualities you are looking for in the job.
Try to gauge an individual’s passion for the role they have applied for. What is it about the self storage industry and the desire to provide exceptional customer service to storers that excites them? Perhaps ask them to describe what such exceptional customer service might look like.

2. Engage behavioural interviewing techniques.
Ask questions that demand the interviewee detail examples of where they have provided exceptional customer service; times they have bent rules or flexed company policies to exceed customer expectations. Challenge them with questions that perhaps catch them off guard and illustrate attitudinal traits. For example: Describe a time when your sense of humour helped you get out of a sticky situation, or what is your personal motto?

3. Induct, train and performance manage.
Give your new employee the best chance of success in their new role. Provide them a solid induction, reinforcing the importance of converting initial sales enquiries and the revenue benefit of selling customers packaging materials and boxes. Train them how to use customer management systems like Sitelink, Storman and Winsen. Don’t keep them guessing as to how they are performing; give regular feedback and address any issues as soon as you become aware of them.

4. Consider ‘personality fit’ not just ‘experience fit’.
Technical competence for a job doesn’t guarantee longevity of employment for the benefit of both the individual and your company. What are the chances that the person you are considering employing will simply come to work to collect a pay check? Will they ‘fit’ the culture of your business?

Previous work experience has traditionally been given a disproportionate weighting in job interviews by employers, whereas a person’s attitude has been considered secondary. Convention suggests that this is important. Whilst not to be discounted, it’s useful to consider the employment mantra of some of the world’s most enduring companies. For instance Southwest Airlines has been operating on highly competitive American flight paths for the past 42 years. The airline has forged an enviable reputation as a carrier that continually differentiates on customer service as many of their competitors falter. Their employment mantra can be summarised as follows:
– Character before credentials
– Attitude over aptitude
– Hire people based on who they are first and what they know second

History suggests this mantra has service Southwest Airlines well; perhaps it could od the same for your self storage business? Food for thought at least!

Amended from ‘Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill’, Peter Carbonara

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