Nobody wants to hire a dud. The time, energy and money that go into replacing an employee are usually significant. If we all want to hire great people, then it begs the question — how do we do it? Most people scour their investment decisions in significantly more detail than they analyze the decision on whether or not to invest in a potential employee.
If we are going to start getting smarter in our hiring process, we need to begin with the simple reality that employees are not “fixer uppers.” While you can train people on new skills, it is very hard to change who they are at their core. This common relational mistake happens too frequently in the workplace, as well. We need to get a sense of who someone really is before making a hiring decision. Of course, the challenge is what can you really learn about someone in a typical 30-minute interview?
While a certain level of core skills is usually required, I believe the key thing to look for in hiring a new employee is attitude. I have repeatedly seen how a very skilled worker with a bad attitude can rot an organization from the inside out. Attitudes are contagious, and nobody wants to purposely expose their organization to the harmful impact of “stinkin thinkin.”
Joe and Anne Ulmer are local entrepreneurs with a long track record of success in hiring for attitude. They have operated Ulmer’s Kid Shoes in Jackson for over 30 years. While Joe spends most of his time with the shoe store, Anne is busy running The Beagle Bagel Café, which they opened in 1995. To successfully operate these businesses, they need the dedicated help of many employees who interact directly with the public. The reputation they have built for exceptional customer service is due in large part to their hands on leadership and the hiring of quality employees. Anne shared that “we do our best to hire people with great attitudes and who fit in with our cultural belief that the customer is always right.”
Hiring for attitude is part art and science. While some companies have a battery of tests and detailed interview procedures to filter for attitude, the Ulmer’s base their decisions primarily on gut instinct utilizing decades of experience hiring people. Anne shared the valuable tip that employers should take note of how potential employees treat the interview process. Are they prepared, on time and look their best? The Ulmers also take the time to actually check references. I am amazed at how often this invaluable step is overlooked by employers. Anne also noted words of entrepreneurial wisdom that were shared with her that “you always want to hire good people when you can, even if you are not hiring.”
For the Ulmers, their hard work and dedication has certainly paid off. In addition to running successful businesses for years through economic ups and downs, they are now also in expansion mode with The Beagle Bagel Café. They have expanded their baked goods and catering significantly, and they opened their first franchise store in Madison in 2009. They will also be opening a store in Highland Village this spring. I have no doubt that this husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team will soon be rapidly expanding this franchise in the years to come.
As Keith Harrell in his book “Attitude is Everything” points out, some companies really go to great lengths to hire people with the right attitude. He shares about Southwest Airlines’ detailed procedure for weeding through tens of thousands of applicants to find employees who are the right fit. A Southwest Airlines hiring manager has been quoted as saying that they look for “the perfect blend of energy, humor, team spirit and self confidence to match Southwest’s famously offbeat and customer obsessed culture.” While attitude may not be everything, as we all go through our hiring process, we certainly need to keep attitude at the top of the checklist.
Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.