Hire for skills and deal with attitudes

Hire for skills and deal with attitudes

Attitude: “predisposition to behave in a specific way in certain situations”. 

Skills: the learned ability to do something competently. “Hire for attitude and train for skills” is the adage that many businesses, especially service businesses have lived by for decades. 

Despite all the radical changes, this adage is still true. The ones who put a smile on your face are the ones with the right attitude, not the most skilled. But, that is not really the focus of this article! As someone who is on a daily basis dealing with requests for coaches for their Managers and leaders, I am left wondering about the relevance of this adage among professionals, managers and leaders.

In the increasingly complex world of business, people with a unique set of skills are rare to find and organizations do hire or promote individuals even when they suspect that there might be “poor attitudes”.

Clearly, at senior levels, the issue is quite complex and the tradeoff between competencies and dispositions are not so easy to make. Lets understand this better. Individuals may be genetically inclined to do well in certain spheres of human endeavor and struggle in in certain others, emotional intelligence being one.

In the early days of one’s career, the implications of these “attitudes” may have been less pronounced and as a result organizations may have ignored it. Organizations may also have rewarded such individuals for their results, and somehow given the message that their means are acceptable. 

Individuals may also display these behaviours only with certain people and in certain circumstances and therefore leave decision makers confused – excellent with customers but very difficult with internal colleagues. 

While it is not prudent to offer a generalized set of solutions, a few guidelines are possible: 

1. Paying attention to person – role fit when we know what individuals enjoy and what they don’t, can help.

2. Ignoring early warning signs or worse rewarding it can very seriously send the wrong message to the individual and people around him.

3. If we wish to help, it may help to take an empathetic view towards such individuals – not see them as wrong doers but as individuals who have difficulties in certain areas. This might open the door for help reaching them. 

4. If coaching is being considered as a way of helping, it is prudent to be patient. It may take a while to yield results. The coach must have a deep understanding of allied disciplines like therapy to be able to assess if coaching alone will work or if the individual will need counseling or therapy too. 

5. One may also need to be cognizant about the role of the environment on the individual. Certain organization cultures may have been more conducive for such individuals than others. 

In summary, many organizations will unfortunately continue to hire or promote for skill and struggle with the consequences of “attitudes”.