Tag Archives: attitude

How to Interview for a Bad Attitude

“We hire people for their technical skills, but we fire them for who they are.” Russell complained.

“Tell me more. What do you mean you fire them for who they are?” I asked.

“Well, they may have the right experience, know how to handle the technical part of the job, but their attitude is a little out of whack. In the beginning, attitude doesn’t show up, but after a couple of months, little things appear. After six months, this strange behavior actually begins to flourish and it’s downhill from there.”

“What do mean, strange behavior?” I was getting curious.

“Sometimes, it’s people skills. They are a little gruff at first, then a couple of people get on their bad side. Pretty soon, they become downright rude. They publicly dress people down in meetings. No one can disagree with them without a huge public confrontation.”

“Do you interview to discover this type of behavior?”

“No, usually the person is pretty well coached by a headhunter on how to handle the interview, so we don’t find out until later.” Russell stopped, his brow furrowed. “You mean you can interview for a bad attitude?”

I nodded.

“What? You can’t just ask them if they have a bad attitude,” Russell protested.

“Tell me, when does bad attitude show itself?”

“It usually stays hidden. It stays hidden, until there is a confrontation, a disagreement, a difficult problem that can’t be solved.”

“So, you can’t ask directly about attitude, but can you ask about a time when there was a disagreement on a project, a time when there was difficult problem that couldn’t be solved?” I wanted to know.

“I suppose,” Russell listened.

“For all the soft side, like attitude, character traits, just think about how that attitude will emerge as a behavior. I ask myself – How does a person with that attitude behave? Then I interview for that behavior.”

How to Hire for Attitude

“To heck with the technical skills,” Jena proclaimed. “I am just going to hire for attitude.”

“The skills required are easy enough to teach, and you have a good training program,” I agreed. “But how will you interview for attitude? Specifically, what attitude will you interview for?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I want someone with a sense of urgency. I am tired of hiring people who feel like they can take all day to produce a single unit when I need 15 units produced. I am tired of people who feel like we push them too hard. We work hard here. I want someone who likes to work hard.”

“I think I understand,” I nodded. “Just exactly what questions will you ask to find that out?”

Jena looked stumped and then smiled. “I have no idea.”

“Well, that’s a start. If you did have an idea, what question would you ask?”

Jena shook her head and chuckled. “I guess, I could ask them if they like to work hard?”

“And how do you think the candidate would respond?”

“Unless they are an idiot, I guess they would answer – yes. And if they were truly an idiot, they would not have made it to the interview. That means every candidate will answer – yes.”

“Then, is that a helpful question?” I probed. “Can you think of a better question? A more specific question? A question about something real? A question about a behavior that you can observe?”

“But, I am trying to hire for attitude. You can’t see attitude,” Jena protested.

“I know you cannot see attitude, but ask yourself this question. How does someone, who likes to work hard, behave? How does someone, with a sense of urgency, behave? Then interview for that behavior.”

“Someone who likes to work hard, shows up early,” Jena started. “And they work at a pace that gets the work done. They are aware of pace. They don’t stop every half hour for a smoke break. They keep working until the job is done. They don’t quit, they don’t leave a project half finished thinking someone will come along behind and complete their work.”

“Now we are getting somewhere. You cannot see attitude, but if you can connect attitude to specific behaviors, you can certainly ask questions about those specific behaviors. So, let’s hear some questions. First establish the project.”

Jena gathered her thoughts. “Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where the deadline was very important. What was the project? What was the purpose of the project? What was your role on the project team? What made the deadline so important? How did your team respond to make sure you met the deadline? Step me through the pace of the project? How did you know you were ahead of schedule or behind schedule? When you were behind schedule, what did you do? When you were ahead of schedule, what did you do? As you got to the end of the project, what planning did you do to button up the last stages of the project? Step me through that plan? How did you know you had completed all the final details on the project? How was the project reviewed, by your manager, or the client? Step me through the review process?”

Jena stopped. “Okay, I like those questions,” she said.
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The Manager is Accountable

“Roger, the reason we are having this conversation is that I don’t believe your accountability on this project is clear. As the manager on the Phoenix project, you are accountable for the output of your team. You have been working with this project team for more than two years. You are accountable for who is on the team and off the team. You are accountable for monitoring the pace and quality of the team’s output. You are accountable for the work environment.” I stopped, so Roger could catch his breath.

“I know, I know I am accountable. But, if I have team members who are slow walking the job? I mean, I set the example. I am here early. I stay late. I’m engaged,” Roger defended.

“So, let’s say the pace is not meeting what the client expects, or what you expect, as the manager. What could be happening?” I asked.

Roger’s eyes flew to the ceiling, searching for answers in the back of his brain. His head began to nod.

  • “Could be an attitude problem.
  • Or, could be that the expectations are out of line.
  • Could be that the work instructions aren’t clear.
  • Maybe the training wasn’t effective.
  • Maybe we don’t have the right tools available.
  • Or, the way we have the work layout isn’t efficient.”

I could see a clearer understanding infecting Roger’s take on the problem.

“Roger, everything on your list could be valid. Which of those could you have influence on, as the manager of your team?”

Roger’s nod stopped, his eyes intent. “I can impact all of them.”

“So, I expect to see this list written. Then some analysis, which are you going to tackle first? What steps will you take, as the manager, to inspect the work instructions, check out the traininig, look at the work layout.

“This meeting is adjourned. Let’s meet tomorrow morning at ten, and you can tell me your intentions.”

Things Fall Apart

“I don’t think you have an attitude problem. I don’t think you have clearly defined the accountability and the authority that goes along with that dotted line. That’s why dotted lines are so dangerous,” I said.

“So, what should I do? This Key Result Area is not a high priority, but the work still has to get done,” Megan explained.

“You are shooting yourself in the foot when you describe -it’s not a high priority-. If the work in this area is not done, what happens to its priority?” I asked.

Megan thought. “You’re right, the tasks will take about five hours a week, but if they are not completed, all hell breaks loose, other things begin to fall apart.”

“So, what should you do with that dotted line?” I pressed.

“Get rid of it, change its color, make it bold,” Megan retreated. “I guess I have to specifically define what I want, how much time it should take and what the result should be.”

“You guess?”

It’s Just a Dotted Line on the Org Chart

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“What do you mean, she doesn’t know she is accountable? It’s very clear to me,” Megan complained. “She has a very clear dotted line to that area of responsibility. I know it’s not her highest priority, but still, she is responsible.”

“So, there is a conflict in her priorities?” I asked.

“Not a conflict, really, she has to get it all done. Just because it’s a dotted line doesn’t mean she can ignore it. Besides, at the bottom of her job description, it says, -and all other duties assigned.- That should cover it.”

“As her manager, what do you observe about the way she handles the conflict in her priorities?” I pressed.

Megan thought. “I think it’s an attitude problem. It’s almost as if she doesn’t care about one part of her job.”

“I thought it was just a dotted line?” I smiled.

Megan stopped cold. “You think the problem is the dotted line?”

“Dotted lines create ambiguity. Ambiguity kills accountability. What do you think?”

You Can’t Interview for Attitude

“I get it,” Sara smiled. “I know, for someone to be a high performer, they have to value the work in the role. If they don’t place a high value on the work, it isn’t likely they will do a good job.”

“Not in the long run,” I confirmed. “In the short term, you can always bribe people with pizza, but once the pizza’s gone, you’re done.” (This is known as a diagnostic assessment.)

“I’m with you,” Sara nodded. “But how do you interview for values. I am afraid if I ask the question, straight up, I am going to get a textbook answer. The candidate is just going to agree with me.”

“Sara, when you are observing your team, watching them work, can you see their values?”

Sara stopped. “I think so, I mean, I can see enthusiasm. I can tell when someone is happy.”

“How can you tell?”

“I can just watch them,” she replied. “I can see it in their behavior.”

“Exactly. You cannot see a person’s values, you can only see their behavior. And that is what you interview for, their behavior. As a manager, just ask this question – How does a person with (this value) behave?”

Sara’s eyes narrowed. I continued.

“Let’s say that you have an accounting position and that accuracy, specifically with numbers is an important value.”

“You can’t ask them if they think accuracy is important. Of course, they will say – yes.”

I nodded. “As a manager, ask yourself this question. How does a person behave if they value accuracy in their work.”

“I know that one,” Sara jumped in. “I once asked our bookkeeper how she always balanced to the penny. She told me she always added things twice. People who value accuracy in their work always add things twice.”

“So, what question would you ask?” I pressed.

“Tell me about a time when accuracy was very important. How did you make sure you balanced to the penny?”
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