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HIRING FOR ATTITUDEA REVOLUTIONARY APPROACH TO RECRUITING STAR PERFORMERS WITH BOTH TREMENDOUS SKILLS AND SUPERB ATTITUDE
By MARK MURPHY
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2012 Mark Murphy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDiscover Your Brown Shorts
We now know that attitude, not skill, defines high and low performance. But while attitudes like coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation, and temperament are all nice to have, they're far from a one-size-fits-all solution. An employee who is competitive and individualistic may be the perfect fit for a solo-hunter commission-driven sales force or a Wall Street financial firm. But put that same personality to work in a collaborative, team-loving start-up culture with a bunch of programmers all coding around one big communal desk, and that individualistic superstar is doomed to fail.
The "right" attitude is as unique as the organization to which it belongs. Just as we learned on "Sesame Street" all those years ago, we're all different, and we're all special. These unique attitudes are what make your organization so special, and that is what Hiring for Attitude is all about. This chapter will guide you through a Brown Shorts Discovery so you can clearly identify and document those key attitudes. (Brown Shorts is a crazy name, I know, but I'll explain it momentarily.) Now, you may be tempted to say, "I know what makes my company so special," and jump ahead, but as the following story shows, that's a dangerous thing to do.
Jim is the vice president of nursing for a small community hospital. He shared the following story about a hiring error he made before he became certified in Hiring for Attitude and learned about his Brown Shorts. When a résumé from a top nurse (I'll call her Sue) looking to relocate from a well-known East Coast teaching hospital landed on Jim's desk, he eagerly scheduled an interview. Jim's initial impression of Sue was that she was highly professional. (It was only later that he admitted he was also thinking things like: "stiff," "formal," and "not like the rest of our nurses.") During the interview, Sue spoke at length of her love of analytical thinking and her eagerness to learn the latest cutting-edge techniques. "Technical perfection," she said, "is always my first priority." When Jim asked Sue to name her most admirable strength, she said, "My ability to stay tough, even when engaged in heated and complex debates with world-class clinicians."
Excited (and he now admits somewhat wowed) by Sue's level of skill and experience, Jim hired her. And he did so without considering how Sue's analytical and hard-as-nails attitude might fit in with the warm, friendly, and eager-to-serve culture at his small community hospital. "She'd been a top performer at her last job in every way possible," Jim said. "So I figured there was no way I could go wrong."
Not long after Sue came on board, Jim noticed that things with his staff and the patients weren't going as well as usual. And most of the upsets were Sue related. Some of her peers saw Sue's love of "heated and complex debates" as unreasonable arguing or even arrogance, and they started coming up with excuses to avoid working with her. Others felt attacked by Sue's seemingly sharp words and responded with anger, defensiveness, and blame. Jim watched as the loyal sense of teamwork that was one of the hospital's greatest strengths began to be replaced by avoidance, taking sides, and even outright conflict. And that negativity began to register in patient complaints and surveys.
Sue didn't lack skills; she lacked the right attitude—something that's far more difficult to identify. But when he interviewed Sue, Jim had been unable to predict her lack of attitude because he didn't have his Brown Shorts (and his Brown Shorts Interview Questions and Answer Guidelines). And while he did figure it out after Sue came on board, Jim couldn't make things better, no matter how hard he tried. Even when people are willing to change (which is not the norm), it's not easy to fix attitude. Sue was used to being seen as a superstar—not as a problem. So she saw no reason, and felt no incentive, to change her attitude as Jim was coaching her to do.
Jim hired someone else's superstar without stopping to consider whether her attitude would make her a superstar in his organization's culture. "I couldn't believe how just one person with the wrong attitude could cause this much trouble," Jim said. Of course, this entire situation could easily have been avoided. Jim simply needed to identify the right attitude for his organization and then use that deeper understanding of attitude as his primary measure for hiring the right talent—a process I call "discovering your Brown Shorts."
WHAT THE HECK ARE "BROWN SHORTS"?
I know Brown Shorts is a pretty bizarre name, especially for an ostensibly serious management topic. So I'm going to define the term, tell you where it came from, and then explain what it means for you. But be forewarned. In the next few paragraphs I'm going to talk about Southwest Airlines, and I'm going to brag on them a bit (as we say down South). And no, this isn't one of those company lovefest type of books, where I spend 200 pages gushing over a few companies. Yes, Southwest is a great organization, but this just so happens to be a great story. And even though you've probably read a lot about Southwest, there's a very good chance you haven't heard this story.
Southwest Airlines understands its own winning attitude and does a great job of hiring for it. You have to fly Southwest only once to experience the organization's famous attitude of fun. The gate agents might initiate a game of "who has the biggest hole in your sock?" to make waiting for a delayed flight a bit less stressful. Or perhaps the crew sings the seat belt instructions. I even read about a Southwest pilot who walked past a gate of waiting passengers with a Dummies guide to flying poking out of his briefcase. When you fly Southwest, you notice that every employee—from executives to pilots to flight attendants—lives the core value of fun. But not all fun is alike. Southwest wants a certain kind of fun, a specific attitude, and to find that attitude. They have come up with some clever and unconventional tools to help assess whether or not a candidate has that attitude. This is where the Brown Shorts come in.
A former Southwest executive once told me a story about a group interview of potential pilots. To give a little background on pilots, you need to know that many of them are male, over 40, and ex-military. They have a fairly serious demeanor that shows in everything they do, including how they dress. So these candidates were conscientiously attired in their black suits, white shirts, black ties, black over-the-calf socks, and spit-polished black shoes. They were all ushered into a typically bland meeting room where everybody sat down and waited for the usual drill. But then the Southwest interviewer came along and said, "Welcome! And thanks for coming to Southwest Airlines! We want y'all to be comfortable today, so would anybody like to change out of their suit pants and put on these brown shorts I've got here?"
Let's pause for a second. To get the full impact of this, you have to remember that this is a job interview. You know—a hyper-formal affair in a sparse meeting room that follows a standard script where you talk about all the great things you did at your last job and why you want this new job. That's it. No getting undressed and putting on shorts, or anything crazy like that.
Understandably, a good number of the pilots were taken aback. They gave the Southwest interviewer a look that I imagine conveyed the universal unspoken question: "Are you smoking something?" I know if I'd been in that group, I'd have been thinking, "Listen, buddy, I'm all dressed up in my best black suit, white shirt, black tie, black over-the-calf dress socks, and spit-polished black shoes, and now you want me to change into some ugly brown shorts? I'm going to look like an idiot! Find some other chump to look like a fool."
Naturally, the pilots weren't that openly honest (or rude). It was, after all, an interview. The ones who declined the shorts simply said, "Thanks, but no thanks." And because Southwest is so serious about having fun, the interviewer in turn said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to the pilots who didn't don the shorts. Herb Kelleher, founder and now chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines, wasn't kidding when he said, "If you don't have a great attitude we don't want you." The pilot could have been an instructor at Top Gun, but if the brown shorts were a no go, then that person wasn't going to fly for Southwest. (See Figure 1.1.)
Southwest is serious about finding people who are fun. And that's not just because the organization is so nice (although it really is). Southwest also recruits for people who are fun because it helps the airline's bottom line. Fun is Southwest's competitive advantage and how the organization gains customer loyalty and ensures repeat business. Fun is also how Southwest loads planes quickly and why customers don't mind the lack of seat assignments. Reading this you may think fun is a nice add-on to smart operational management. But it is actually the secret sauce that enables Southwest to successfully execute all those operational innovations. (The other carriers know the same tricks that Southwest does, but because they don't have enough people with the right attitude, they can't successfully execute them.)
Furthermore, every employee at Southwest controls the brand marketing. Let's say the average pilot flies 75 hours per month, and that the average flight is roughly two hours long. That comes to about 38 flights per month per pilot. If a typical Boeing 737 holds about 140 passengers and flies about 75 percent full, that's about 105 passengers per flight. If you then multiply that by the roughly 38 flights each pilot flies per month, you get just under 4,000 passengers (customers) a month with whom a Southwest pilot might interact. Let me repeat that. With just my back-of-the-envelope calculations, I guesstimate that each Southwest pilot interacts with—and profoundly influences—about 4,000 customers per month. That's a whole lot of customers who could be lost if Southwest hired a pilot with a bad attitude, somebody who didn't fully represent the Southwest brand. I don't care how many billboards you rent and television spots you buy, all the marketing in the world can't help you if your employees are undermining your brand every day.
You're probably wondering about the candidates who did put on the shorts. Well, they made it to the second round of the interviewing process. You need to do more than put on shorts to work at Southwest, but it's certainly a good start that will get you in the door.
Over the years, I've talked to many Southwest executives (both current and former). And some of them had a slightly different version of this story. I've heard that the shorts weren't actually brown but rather Jams shorts—those funky, brightly colored surf shorts popular in the 1960s and 1980s. (Yes, I owned a few pair.) Apparently in one interview session every candidate walked down to the Southwest store together where they all donned the shorts. I've also talked to a bunch of pilots who said they wore the shorts or had a friend who did.
Whatever the exact truth of the brown (or multicolored) shorts, this story inspired me. And after the first time I heard it, the Brown Shorts concept began to grow in my mind. It seemed to me that every organization should have a similar test of attitude—something as simple and effective as a pair of brown shorts—by which to assess which candidates have the "right" attitude and which ones have the "wrong" attitude. Sure, Brown Shorts is a funny and weird way to describe that idea, but that's what makes the label so memorable.
I'm not suggesting that every company start asking its job applicants to drop their pants. It wouldn't work, and your lawyers (and mine) wouldn't like it. And I'm not telling you to emulate Southwest's let's-have-fun attitude. Fun may work for Southwest, but if your organization is a hospital or a nuclear power plant, fun probably isn't the key attitude you're after. It's not Southwest's culture I want you to mimic but rather its Brown Shorts approach to hiring for attitude.
Southwest understands the attitudes that make the organization so successful, and they're dedicated to hiring only the people who truly live and breathe those core values. In 2010, Southwest received 143,143 résumés and hired 2,188 new employees. Obviously, the airline doesn't take just anybody. James Parker, one of its past CEOs, said in a BusinessWeek interview about Southwest's hiring practices "If you're hiring a pilot or a mechanic, a lawyer or an accountant, you want people with a high level of skill. But what we really looked for was people who had the right attitudes, who were 'other-oriented,' who were not self-absorbed, who wanted to accomplish something they could be proud of." When the interviewer intelligently asked how you can tell if someone is "other-oriented," James responded, "I always used to see if they had a sense of humor—I think that's very important."
It's easy to look at the stock market and say, "Wow, Southwest is successful." But when you examine the measures that make Southwest one of the most successful airlines in the United States, you can see its commitment to attitude at work. For instance, Southwest:
Has consistently received the lowest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded (out of the nation's 16 largest airlines) over the 23 years the DOT has been tracking customer satisfaction
Was ranked number two on Glass Door's U.S. 2011 list of Best Places to Work. (Southwest rated a 4.4 out of a possible 5 compared to Facebook, who took the number-one spot with a 4.6.)
Has for the last 17 years been rated Number One among all airlines by the American Customer Satisfaction Index
Was recognized as a Top Employer in G.I. Job's 2011 list of Top Military Friendly Employers
This list barely scratches the surface of the recognitions Southwest receives every year. You can't fail to notice that Southwest's loyal customers (it carried 88 million passengers in 2010) love the airline. Southwest's 35,000 employees love working for Southwest. And it seems safe to say that the shareholders are probably pretty enamored with the organization too.
Southwest has consistently maintained this widespread feeling of love (LUV in Southwest lingo), and it's preserved that love through some challenging times for airlines (like 9/11 and subsequent huge economic downturns in the travel industry). And the driver behind the airline's phenomenal level of success is, without a doubt, attitude.
One final note before I tell you how to find your Brown Shorts. Don't make the mistake of thinking attitude applies to Southwest because it's in the service industry. Throughout this book you'll read about organizations ranging from Google to Pixar to the local community hospital that have discovered how to make attitude a major competitive advantage. If attitude is a critical component for a group like the Navy SEALs, it's probably good enough for the rest of us.
ARE BROWN SHORTS ACTUALLY SHORTS?
I shared this Southwest story because I want you to understand the origin of the Brown Shorts concept. Some organizations are serious about hiring for attitude, which drives amazing business success. But I don't want you to get the wrong idea about what your Brown Shorts should look like or how you should develop them.
I've never been a fan of business books that oversimplify things. You know, where the author leads you to believe that you can be just like Company XYZ if only you too find your magic one-word solution. Your Brown Shorts are not going to be brown, and they are not going to be shorts. And they are not going to come wrapped in a single-word package like "fun" or even "sense of humor." (Even at Southwest, Brown Shorts are a lot more detailed and comprehensive than just "fun.")
The goal is not to adopt Southwest's culture. First, your culture is unique and special. It's totally different from South-west's, which is the way it's supposed to be. But like Southwest, you want to clearly identify the attitudes that make your organization great so you can do a better job of hiring stars who share that special attitude. Second, you're not going to get your Brown Shorts down to one word, like fun. Southwest summarizes its Brown Shorts with elegant simplicity, but the executives have years of detailed work, mountains of validation, and hard data about the people who will and will not succeed. The elegantly simple one-word solution for your business will come in time. But right now I'm going to show you how to get a deeper insight that will make everything else possible.
Excerpted from HIRING FOR ATTITUDE by MARK MURPHY Copyright © 2012 by Mark Murphy. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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