Advice to create your company’s attitudinal roadmap from Mark Murphy (the transcript)
Equipped with years of research on 20,000 new hires, Mark believes that the right attitude is the common thread among your company’s highest performers. During our discussion he shared excellent insight on the importance of gauging employees’ attitude in the interview process and how doing so will help ensure new hire — and ultimately, company — success.
What do khaki-colored shorts have to do with your company’s recruiting process? How should recruiters, hiring managers, and staffing providers begin assessing for attitude? Read below or download the complete transcript to find the answers to these and many more questions.
Seamless Workforce (SW): Joining us today on The Seamless Workforce is Mark Murphy, founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, a research and management consulting firm. Mark has authored a number of books about recruiting, employee engagement, and workforce management, including his most recent book, “Hiring for Attitude.” Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Mark. We really appreciate it.
Mark: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
SW: First, we’d like to start with your most recent book, “Hiring for Attitude.” Tell us about what inspired you to write it.
Mark: The big issue we saw was that companies have done a pretty good job over the years of finding people with decent skills. They’ve done a pretty good job of figuring out if people can technically do the job. But we saw this hole where companies were doing a pretty lousy job of figuring out if they were really going to fit the culture. And as unemployment spiked up, and as the global labor pool started to really increase, we were looking at organizations and saying, “You know, something’s off here.”
So we conducted a study. We tracked 20,000 new hires over a three-year period of time and found that 46 percent of them were going to fail within about 18 months, which was shocking enough. But the real shocker was that they weren’t failing because they couldn’t technically handle the job. They were failing predominantly because they didn’t have the right attitude. They weren’t coachable. They didn’t have enough emotional intelligence. They were more motivated to get the job than they were to do the job. And temperament-wise, they weren’t a good fit with the culture.
So we looked at all this research and said, “You know what, we’ve got an issue here where companies haven’t yet figured out how to find the people and select the people that are going to fit their culture.” And that’s really what this book is about.
SW: Do you think it has more to do with if they are gauging attitude effectively, or do you think they’re not putting enough weight on it in the selecting process?
Mark: You know, it’s interesting. It’s really a combination of those two. One, it hasn’t historically gotten the weight. It’s typically a manager who will sit down in a job interview. They’ll go, “Tell me what you did at your last job.” And, “OK, if I give you 10 lines of code, find the bugs in it.” And, “Tell me how you worked through this particular problem at your last job.” It’s very skills-based interviewing. So partly it is that companies haven’t really put the emphasis on it because they haven’t really sat down and diagnosed who worked and who didn’t work for us. Who are the people that are really knocking it out of the park, and who are the people that are falling behind? They haven’t really done that introspective kind of analysis.
And on the other side of it, when we talk about hiring managers sitting down and conducting these interviews, a great many hiring managers — you know, we train them how to be great engineers. We train them how to read financial statements. But very often — most often — we don’t train them how to select for talent. Being a manager who is known as a person who has an eye for talent is one of the greatest things a leader can have, one of the greatest reputations they can have. And yet we invest very little in teaching managers how to actually interview people, how to assess their attitude, and how to determine if they are going to be a fit with the organization.
So it’s partly an issue that we don’t put enough emphasis on it and partly an issue that even if a manager sits down and tries to hire for attitude, they end up asking questions like, “If you could be any kind of tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Which is not particularly helpful. So they end up going off the rails, and they really don’t know how to assess for attitude.
SW: So if you came across an organization that is not correctly assessing for attitude, how would you tell them to get started?
Mark: It actually starts by really taking a look at who has succeeded and who has failed in the organization. Every organization is different. And we called these attitudinal characteristics an organization’s brown shorts. It’s an absolutely bizarre term, I know, but every organization has some sort of unique set of attitudes.
These brown shorts really came from a conversation with a Southwest executive about a group interview he was conducting for a bunch of pilots. About 20 pilots come in for the interview — a very serious group of guys — and they come in, and they sit down, and the recruiter says to them, “Listen, it’s so great to meet all of you. We’re really looking forward to getting to know you better so we’d like to offer you the chance to get a little more comfortable if you want to. We have these brown Bermuda shorts. …” (They’re just brown polyester shorts that are part of Southwest’s summertime uniform.)
“So if anybody wants to put these on and get more comfortable, we welcome you to. We have changing rooms in the back and shorts in every size.” And the majority of those pilots looked at the recruiter like he had two heads. “Like, seriously, I’m going to sit here in a white shirt, black tie, black jacket, and brown polyester shorts? Are you kidding me? I’m going to look like an idiot! No way am I doing that.”
And so about 16 of the guys said, “No. Thanks but no thanks.” And about four of them said, “Yeah, you know what? Sure. Let’s have some fun.” And they went and they put on the shorts. And the recruiter turned around to the other 16 and said, “Listen, thanks so much for coming in. It was great to meet all of you. We wish you the best of luck. Bye bye.” They did it slightly nicer than that because they’re Southwest, but that was the gist of it.
And what it really said was, not that every candidate has to put on shorts, but rather that one of Southwest’s critical attitudes, one of the things that separates their culture from all the other airlines, is fun, this sense of humor. That’s what holds their business model together. That’s how you get away with $40 fares on the redeye out of Vegas. That’s how you get away with no seat assignments. That’s why you have flight attendants singing the seatbelt instructions. It’s all part of this sense of fun, of attitude, of sense of humor. And they realized that they didn’t care if somebody was a Top Gun instructor, if they didn’t have the right attitude, they simply were not going to be a fit in the Southwest culture.
So we looked at that and said, you know what? Every organization has brown shorts. Now, maybe they’re not shorts. Maybe they’re not brown. I don’t know what they are, and probably it sure as heck isn’t going to be fun for every organization. I don’t want the Mayo Clinic in their ICU saying fun is their new core attitude. But every organization has some attitudinal characteristics that separate them.
So back to the original question: How do you begin with this? The answer is that you first have to figure out your brown shorts. You have to take a look at your high performers and your low performers. You have to identify the characteristics that separate these two groups of folks. If you’re Southwest Airlines, you look at this and you say, well, the people that fail here, they tend not to be able to laugh at themselves, they tend not to have a sense of humor. They get too caught up in who’s where on the chain of command. Whereas we want people who are fun, easy to get along with — a pilot who is unafraid to take off the jacket and help the guys on the ramp. We want those kinds of people. And if you look at your high and low performers, it paints a very clear picture as to who you should hire and who you shouldn’t hire. And it’s really an introspective look.
Google and Apple are both fantastic companies, and yet their cultures are as different as night and day. But you can’t look at Apple and go, “Oh, they stink.” And you can’t look at Google and go, “Oh, they stink.” They’re both fantastic. But they are just radically different. And the only way to figure that out is to look deep into who succeeds and who fails in this organization. And once you know your brown shorts, you have a road map that you can use to go out into the world and see how other people match up to you.
SW: So once you have that road map, who do you give it to?
Mark: What we ultimately want is a situation where we know what our brown shorts are, so we can build interview questions that actually reflect them. And every organization should have a set of interview questions that speaks directly to its unique attitudes, the unique characteristics that make its culture different, and then there should also be an answer key to that. There should be some sense as to how high and low performers respond to these questions, so that anybody — whether it’s a hiring manager, whether it’s a recruiter, whether it’s your staffing company — anybody can look at this and say that they know what their characteristics are, what the brown shorts are, and which questions to ask to reveal if this person is wearing the brown shorts or not. And then they have an answer key that tells them, pretty quickly, whether or not this person gets it and is one of them, or they’re probably good for somewhere else but just not here.
We should recruit for attitude, we should be interviewing for attitude. Let’s say a candidate comes in from a recruiter or from a staffing company. You want them [that recruiter or staffing company] to understand exactly what they’re looking for so that when they bring a candidate to the organization, they really have a clear sense as to if this person is a fit or not. And then when the company looks at them, they can say, “Yes, wow, you got this one spot on. They really are a fit.” And then when that person gets into the workforce and they’re starting to work with their fellow employees, their fellow employees are looking at them going, “Yeah, wow. Boss really did this one right. This person really is a good fit.”
And so we want that consistency from the front end. Even our job ads should really be reflecting our brown shorts, all the way into how this person is living once they’re actually out on the floor and doing their job.
SW: That sounds like integrating it all into the process.
SW: So let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about once that new hire does come on board. Yoh conducted a survey in which 77 percent of respondents said that it took three months or more to determine whether or not a new hire was competent. Do you find this surprising?
Mark: Surprising, no. Disappointing, yes. My lack of surprise is more due to a function of lowered expectations, I think. What we often see is that it can take a while to figure out if a person is competent, and part of this is it depends on what we mean by competent. Competence has a multi-faceted definition. There’s the technical competence, like we have XYZ piece of software and does this person know how to run it? But then there’s the competence like, “Do they fit our culture? Do they know how to work within this unique organization? Do they know how to get things approved by the unique set of bosses that they have?” And depending on how good of a job the organization has done selecting for these various forms of competence, that’s going to very much determine how long it takes to figure out if this person gets it or doesn’t get it.
And so if we go back to what I said earlier about really thinking through who succeeds and who fails and why that’s the case, and we really start to dig into this, one of the things that we can start to identify are those key leverage points. You know there are moments in every job — there are some situations that are easy. For example, we don’t really care if the employee finds the way to the break room or not. They’ll figure that out. That’s not a critical thing. But if they mess up the pitch to the executive VP of whatever, that’s a more serious lack of competence. They’ll find their way to the break room eventually, but they may only get one chance in front of that executive VP.
So if we’re looking at competence and we’re trying to figure if this person gets it or not, it may take a while because there may only be a few of those really big opportunities to present in front of the executive VP. And if that’s what we mean when we say, “Is this person competent or not?” it may take a while for those situations to really roll around, those situations where it’s like “Oh man, this is a higher leverage moment here!”
And that’s part of it — the more we understand what those high leverage moments are, the more we can simulate them in the interview process. The more we can assess for that stuff in the interview process. Oftentimes, when we don’t hire as thoroughly as we might like to, then we have to wait until they’re stumbling their way on the job to figure out, “Did we hire the right person? I can’t tell. We haven’t gotten into any of the serious moments yet.” It’s like, “Yeah they do fine during the normal season, but are they good in the playoffs? I don’t know. We’re not going to know until we get to the playoffs.” And that’s part of the problem we get to because we haven’t simulated the job well enough on the front end during the interview process. Now we’re left hoping that we can figure it out in the next 90 days or so.
SW: And it sounds like recruiting is the first line of defense, training is the second.
Mark: Exactly. If we do the right job recruiting, if we can hire the right people, the training side becomes significantly easier. It’s not that you’re never going to need to do training or coaching, because of course we are. But if we hire the right way, then the attitudes we hire for, the high leverage moments we’re hiring for, are the same exact things we’re going to be training for. And one of the things I think we miss a lot is that recruiting and training, yes, are often in separate departments, but they should really be reading off the same sheet of music. Because what determines success for new hires — we should be recruiting for that, and we should be training for that, and we know what it is. That’s the beautiful part about this.
In the “Hiring for Attitude” book, all the techniques we give don’t require an outside set of data. It’s all based on what the organization already has. Everything we’re talking about here today is information that every recruiter has, information that every trainer has. All we have to do is go look at our current set of employees and see who’s succeeding and failing, and why.
SW: It’s just a matter of tapping into it.
SW: Thanks so much for that insight. Before we sign off, are there any final items you’d like to share with us, either on the topics we’ve covered or something that you wish we might have asked you?
Mark: The only thought I’ll leave everybody with is that when we think about our brown shorts, one of the things that underlies everything we’re talking about is to make it specific, number one. And that is, don’t say, “Oh, well, we want people who can, uh, lead by example.” Because I don’t know what that means; it’s too fuzzy for me. We want to really boil this down to it as unique to our organization. Instead, “I want somebody who can walk into a scary senior VP’s office and not be rattled when that senior VP hits them with 20 questions.”
If I know that that’s what I need to recruit for, I need somebody who has experience dealing with those kinds of situations. That’s a starting point. Now when I conduct my training, what’s one of the first things I want to train this person on? I want to train them how to respond when somebody hits them with 20 questions.
So it really is a universal piece, and we don’t want to all go out and be Southwest and Google and Apple. We need it to be specific to our organization. Those are all great companies to be sure, but they’re not us — unless you’re listening to this and you’re from Southwest, Google, or Apple. But we need to really look inside ourselves, and if we do that, we all have a set of brown shorts that we can put on, and that’s really what we’re testing for. You’ve got great people in your companies right now that are absolutely wearing those brown shorts. We just need to find other people who can fit as well. The recipe for that is already inside our organization. All we have to do is dig a little bit for it.
SW: That’s great advice. Listeners, you can read more about Mark and his work at LeadershipIQ.com, or catch updates from the company on Twitter, by following @LeadershipIQ. I also encourage you to check out Mark’s book, “Hiring for Attitude.” It’s available at Amazon.com. Thanks again for your time today, Mark.
Mark: Thanks so much.