Safe Often Leads to Sorry on Hiring Front

Discussion
Jul 26, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


It’s been said, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” But for many companies hiring new employees, safe often leads to sorry consequences, say experts.


“I’ve seen it time and time again,” David Sanford, executive vice president at the recruiting and staffing firm of Winter, Wyman & Co. told Fortune. “Hiring managers
will opt for the ‘safe’ candidate rather than a more provocative one – and then they’re disappointed a year later when the person hasn’t stepped up and produced fantastic results.”


The difference between excellence and mediocrity can often be tied to a person’s passion for their job. Those that have it, excel; and those that do not often fail to perform
up to expectations.


The key is to hire correctly, say experts, because passion can’t be taught.


Lou Adler, CEO of the Adler Group and author of the bestseller Hire with Your Head, said, “Enthusiasm can be a false signal, and interviewers are often misled by it. You
need to take the time to do a detailed, job-by-job review. Where did this person excel in the past? What specific achievements got recognized and rewarded? Why did she get promoted?
Which job or jobs really gave him a chance to shine? This will show you pretty clearly what the candidate is passionate about. Then you can assess whether her passions match the
job you’re trying to fill.”


Mr. Sanford said asking the right questions is imperative for employers looking for people with passion.


“I always think that when companies talk about passion, one thing they mean is, a willingness to take risks,” he said. “So one question I ask candidates is, ‘Tell me about some
of the risks you’ve taken and how they turned out.’ A person who has never taken a risk is probably not who you’re looking for.”


Determining the level of passion an individual has for their work can often be better assessed by the questions they ask rather than the answers they give in interviews, according
to Mr. Sanford.


“Passionate people will ask you a question and then, based on your answer to that one, ask you another one,” he said. “They’re not sticking to a script they prepared beforehand,
they’re following one idea to another idea to another idea with genuine spontaneous curiosity.”


A lack of passion in the workplace, said Mr. Sanford, is often the case of employers getting the people and results they deserve.


“Too many employers pay lip service to the idea of passion but in fact they want cookie-cutter thinking, which is why they end up with cookie-cutter hires. They want everyone
to stay in his or her neat little box,” he said.


Discussion Questions: How closely tied is passion to superior job performance? How can retailers build a more passionate workforce?

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9 Comments on "Safe Often Leads to Sorry on Hiring Front"


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Karen McNeely
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I think most employers would like passionate people who also share their vision. This of course can be discouraging to folks in the organization who have passion, but perhaps challenge management to think in a different direction. Sometimes, even if the direction is not quite right, it can fuel different ideas and innovative ways of thinking, but I think, more often, the different thinking is strongly discouraged.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me with more and more execs being ruled more tightly by stockholders, the entrepreneurial spirit is being squashed.

If employees are passionate, then either they learn to stay between the lines or they themselves become entrepreneurs.

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 7 months ago
Strange as it may seem, the word ‘passion’ comes to us from Old French and Latin meaning to ‘suffer and endure.’ In Sanscrit (pijati), it means ‘reviles, scorns.’ The Old English version ‘feond’ meant ‘enemy or devil.’ This edgy legacy is why passionate applicants and subordinates scare the heck out of managers. Passionate people can’t live in non-passionate environments. They’re very hard to manage, seldom fit in and, worse of all, they keep wanting to change things. They do ‘scorn’ the status quo and to those who play political games they will seem like the ‘devil.’ And then everyone suffers until the passionate ones move on looking for a place to belong. Mr. Sanford has it right because only those passionate enough to disrupt, innovate and take risks will generate sustainable profitability. Now is Mr. Adler also right when he warns about being misled by someone’s enthusiasm? In a way, yes. One can ‘act’ passionate like we do when receiving a fruit cake for Christmas. However ‘passion’ and ‘enthusiasm’ are different things. ‘Passion’ is closer… Read more »
William Carlson
Guest
William Carlson
14 years 7 months ago

I’ve always said — well, “always” since having interviewed and hired a fair number of folks and learning this the hard way — that I’ll hire passion, enthusiasm, energy, spirit, etc. and teach capabilities because you simply cannot do the opposite.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

There are different ways to hire. Either look for the (1) right experience and technical skills and/or (2) look for the drive to succeed (work ethic, willingness to innovate and learn, intelligence, etc.) The ideal candidates have both the experience and the drive to succeed. But there are very few ideal candidates. The drive to succeed comes from within. The technical skills might be teachable. The best interviewers focus on both.

Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
14 years 7 months ago

I am a believer in ethics and character. An employee might have a passion to get paid more and work less. People, purpose, and passions change and their motives along with them. I want the people who dedicate their lives to having character because that is who they are. How do you measure passion?

Herb Sorensen
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Some really great comments above! In our own hiring, we have failed on every front possible, I think, and yet an incredible team of keepers have emerged. This discussion reminds me of Kemmons Wilson’s (Holiday Inn founder) comment that when he hired an executive, all he looked for was taste, because everything else he could hire by the pound.

We have rotated around among a series of core issues from time to time (depending on the deficiency du jour :>) that include the passion here being discussed, but also things like taste, intellectual horsepower, specialized knowledge/expertise, etc. Some time ago we began running an assessment panel on hires above a certain level. The thing that has really surprised me, with young professionals, is how poorly they test for non-team performance. Hardly a boat rocker in the bunch! What’s going on? And yet I see how the organizational imperative tends to try to limit the boat rockers we do have. No easy solutions!

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 7 months ago

Seems like my colleagues have quite a bit to say on this – both positive and negative. Let’s make sure we distinguish between passion and work ethic. Passionate people scare insecure managers who feel they will eventually replace them, especially if they are better businessmen or women. They tend to switch jobs quite often as a result of being held back or they lose interest quickly.

I’ll take a person with a good work ethic, willingness to learn and get their hands dirty over a loose cannon any day. They are in for the long run.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 7 months ago
As a consultant, when I write job descriptions, task lists, and position descriptions, I use words based in skills, talents, and knowledge domains. In addition, I try to include a section based around personality characteristics. When consulting on a specific individual for a specific role, I encourage discussion around the organization’s culture (that elusive “fit”), the interactions the person will have, and the personality characteristics truly mission critical for the position. The bottom line about passionate people is that most organizations cannot absorb very many of them. Most cultures are not inclusive of a variety of passions. Ian Percy has summarized most of the issues very well. Let me add only that sometimes a passionate hire is not what the position needs, or what the culture can tolerate. While that is probably true of dysfunctional or non-optimizing circumstances, well, the world is full of that. Passionate people are intense. “Managing” that intensity often is experienced as diluting or muffling the passion. For most of us, passion is expressed through emotion. Emotion in the workplace can… Read more »
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 7 months ago

The question isn’t, in my view, risk-taking versus cautious. The question isn’t what personality traits or attitudes are the most useful. The question is: how do we find out how people will really perform on the job?

Interviewing to try to determine how a person will behave is like asking someone to draw to see how they play the piano. The job interview is one of the poorest tools we have for bringing good people into an organization, and probably one of the most commonly used.

On top of that, you can try to hire the most risk-taking people you possibly can, but your organization’s Master System will determine how they behave — a risk-taker in a cautious organization will be assimilated, and their risk-taking will vanish.

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