Hiring employees who do more than “park their brain at the door”

“The notion of ‘park your brain at the door’ (and do what I tell you to do!) is no longer valid in the information age,” says Paul C. Palmes in his book, The Magic of Self-Directed Teams. In other words, delegating only the crappy jobs and ordering employees around will not get you a highly motivated work force.

If you really care about having employees who think, create and want to add value, the place to start is in how you recruit employees.

First, hire more than a warm body. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to fill a position quickly? This can happen even in a down economy—someone unexpectedly quits, new orders come in, you laid too many people off, etc. The bosses are breathing down your neck saying, “We need someone now,” so it’s tempting to fill the position quickly without going through the normal interview process. This is a recipe for disaster. If you have ever made a bad hire, you already know the costs—lower employee moral, lack of production, possible legal costs and the eventual cost of replacing the bad hire.

Hiring the right person does not have to be a slow process, though it does need to be a complete process. Everything you do in the recruitment process is part of your pre-employment assessment of a candidate and must be consistently applied across all potential hires. If you require a cover letter and resume, then all candidates had better provide a cover letter and resume. If you state in your job posting “no phone calls,” then screen out all candidates who call. A manager told me she thought a candidate who calls anyway was showing initiative. I asked her how those kinds of candidates had worked out; she begrudgingly admitted they tended to be employees who did not follow instructions very well.

Second, use fifty percent or more of the interviewing process to assess a candidate’s attitude. Asking someone if they think well on their feet will get you mostly a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, ask candidates behavioral questions that get them to talk about how they would respond to work related situations [i.e. “Tell me about a time a customer made an unreasonable demand, how did you handle it?” or “Give me an example of a time you had a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it?”]. Such questions will give you much more insight into the candidate’s attitudes and how they fit the expectations, duties, and responsibilities outlined in the job description.

Hiring the right person—someone who is enthusiastic, wants to be challenged and wants to make a difference—is in and of itself an accomplishment. In next week’s post we will tackle the next step–how to develop employees and engage them in their work.

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