How to Find People with the Right Fit

How attitude is a good predictor of prospective employee success, and how you can identify those with the right attitude for your business.

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Attitude - Churchill Quote

The top challenge for CEOs according to a survey from the Conference Board (January 2013) is Human Capital – the ability to develop and acquire the right people, with the right skills needed to take to the business to the next level.  But skills alone are not enough.

“Hire for Attitude, Train for Aptitude”

This is an old mantra which, if ignored, can be costly.  Companies I have worked with have found that recruiting people with the right skills can be costly if they do not have the right ‘attitude’, where there is a lack of ‘fit’.  This is reflected in a study by Leadership IQ of over 20,000 new hires over 3 years which found that 46% of the people about to be hired will fail within the first 18 months on the job. And they won’t fail for lack of skills but rather for lack of attitude.

Top 5 Reasons for Why New Hires Failed

The following are the top areas of failure (i.e., were terminated, left under pressure, received disciplinary action or significantly negative performance reviews):

1. Coachability (26%): the lack of ability to accept and implement feedback from bosses, colleagues, customers and others.

2.  Emotional Intelligence (23%): the lack of ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and accurately assess others’ emotions.

3.  Motivation (17%): insufficient drive to achieve one’s full potential and excel in the job.

4.  Temperament (15%): attitude and personality not suited to the particular job and  work environment.

5.   Technical Competence (11%): functional or technical skills required to do the job.

Top 5 Reasons Why New Hires Failed

The key point from this is that when new hires fail, and 46% of them will, 89% of the time it’s because of attitude and only 11% of the time because of skill.

As such, the key predictor of a new hire’s success or failure is their attitude, not their skills.  As such we need to be clear on what attitude we are hiring for. To do this requires two steps:

  • Define the Specific Attitudes – what are the attitudes that make your business different from the rest.  This is both in terms of what is good (which you want) and what is bad (which you want to avoid).
  • Adapting the Hiring & Interviewing Process – you need to makes sure that you focus on these attitudes, so adapt how you do this as appropriate.

How Do We Do This?

1. Define the Specific Attitudes

Attitudes in themselves are not visible or tangible.  Where they are made apparent is in people’s behaviours.  How people behave is an active display of their attitudes.  Their behavior should also be a reflection of the business’ core values which provides guidance to people in the business.  A good example of how the core values are made tangible, and the expected behavior (and hence attitudes) is shown below.

The US Marine Corp

The US Marine Corps has Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.  The concept of these core values runs throughout all aspects of Marine life, beginning in recruit training and continuing into combat. These “warrior ethos” provide guidance to Marines in difficult ethics situations and as a reminder to provide good order and discipline. These values are defined as:

  • Honor – integrity, responsibility and accountability.
  • Courage – do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.
  • Commitment – devotion to the Corps and my fellow Marines.

US Marine Corp Values Card


2. Adapting the Hiring & Interviewing Process

Too often, when interviewing, we focus on prospective employees’ technical skills and competencies.  Why?  They are the easiest to assess but, as we have seen, they are a very poor predictor of the success or failure of a new employee.

When you look at jobs being advertised the experience, skills and qualification that are detailed it can be seen that the business advertising the position has the expectation that a perfect candidate will apply.  This is about as far from reality as you can get.  Realistically, there is no ‘perfect candidate’ and, as such, there can only be attitudes that are right for your business – they will never be perfect.

Tests for Finding the ‘Right’ Attitudes

1.  High Performers’ Test – what are the distinguishing attitudinal characteristics of your top performers.  List up to 10 responses that reflect your business.  For example:

  • They own the problem.
  • They always see problems as opportunities.
  • They are great listeners and communicators.
  • Etcetera.

2.   Low Performers’ Test – what are the distinguishing attitudinal characteristics of your low performers.  List up to 10 responses that reflect your business.  These are not just the opposite of the attitudinal characteristics that make a high performer. For example:

  • They avoid responsibility and are quick to blame.
  • They focus on themselves rather than others.
  • They do the bare minimum work required.
  • Etcetera.

Once you’ve got your two lists, conduct a quick assessment to make sure every point is on target. This can be done by asking yourself the following two questions about each attitude listed:

  • How does this attitude add value or competitive advantage to this organization? (If the attitude brings no benefit to the organization, it doesn’t belong on the list).
  • Who cares about this attitude? (If the attitude doesn’t bring benefit to your customers, it doesn’t belong on the list)

Doing this provides insight into both what you want and what you don’t want in the terms of attitudes and the associated behaviours.  It then helps you to prepare for the interview by focusing on how they respond to questions around both these areas.  However, how the questions are phrased is just as important as what the question is.  You need to develop the question with the kind of response that you are looking for in mind.  But that is a separate article.


In summary, be clear on what values, attitudes and behaviours you want in your business, and which you want your new employees to exemplify in what they do and how they do it.  Get clarity by distinguishing the attitudinal characteristics of both your top and low performers – this helps you to identify what you want from a potential employee, and what you don’t want.  Around this then adapt your interview and hiring process to ask the kind of questions that will help you elicit answers which will help you determine the prospective employee’s values, attitudes and behaviours.  Take this into account when you look at their technical skills, as it is their attitude that is a predictor of their skills – not their technical skills and competencies.


Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How to Bait Your Hook

What do good anglers know which we can use in driving stronger business growth and results?

Fishing is one of the most popular leisure time pursuits in the world.  There is something about going out there, rod in hand, to capture that ever elusive fish.  This takes time, patience, skill and – let’s be honest – a bit of luck.

One thing that experienced anglers do is that they don’t waste time in an unproductive location.  You can try a few casts, change the bait, but if the fish are not biting then it is time to move on to a new spot.

We need to be like good anglers – if the fish do not bite quickly, then be prepared to move on and try elsewhere.  You might try for the same fish in another location, or using different bait or lures, or even go after another type of fish.  You want to be in a market where you will get a positive reaction as early as possible.

Doing this will save you time, money and embarrassment – it will also allow you to learn from the experience, and to apply it in future fishing spots.  What we do or how good we think something is not important.  There is only one judge out there and that is the market, and the market only cares if what you’ve done meets its needs.

The lesson here is that business is not about us, it is about our customers.  The question I like to ask to illustrate is this: “Why do people buy a quarter-inch drill?

I get a lot of answers – to hang a picture, for home improvements, to replace my old hand-drill etcetera.  They are all wrong.

The answer is simple: “To drill a quarter-inch hole!”

Customers are not interested in the features of the drill – such as its colour, whether it is turbo-charged, the special safety grip it has etcetera – they are only interested in the outcome from using it.

So if your product or service is not getting traction or garnering the sales you want then you need to do three things:

  1. Check that your product or service provides the outcomes that the customers/market need (have your hook properly baited);
  2. Be prepared to change fishing holes if the fish aren’t biting
  3. Continually learn from your experience so that you can:
  • produce a product/service that better meets the needs of the market (don’t confuse this with a better product which has more features but still fails to address the needs) and;
  • find and locate better fishing holes more quickly.

What do you do to find the right fishing holes?  How long do you wait before you move to a different location?  Are you really focused on delivering the outcomes a customer needs or delivering the product or service itself?

Share your ideas, insights and experience!  Share the knowledge, share the wealth!


Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Engaging & Retaining Staff – Part 2

12 Ways to Engage & Retain Staff

In our previous blog, we looked at why employee engagement is so important and provided an overview of Gallup’s findings from its extensive research.  This was summarised in the following 12 ways to engage employees.  In this blog we look in further detail at the first three ways.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the right materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

Remember when you first started your current job.  The initial excitement, interest and challenges create a honeymoon period when you are highly engaged.  Like any relationship you cannot maintain the intensity of this, and after six months you begin to become disengaged.  How this happens varies for each of the 12 elements of engagement.  The Gallup Organisation found in Australia that after six months in a new job engagement drops by an average of 62%.  This makes our ability to retain and engage people a key concern, and our need to understand the 12 elements a priority.

In looking at each of these elements we look at three parts:

  1. What does each element mean?
  2. What is the evidence for this?
  3. What should we do to maintain high engagement for each element?

This helps us to identify where we may be weak, identify the priorities, and what actions to utilise from an a la carte menu of actions.

First Element – Knowing What is Expected at Work

What does it mean?

This is about establishing job clarity for your reports. To be a great manager you need to be able to effectively define and communicate what is expected of your direct reports.

What is the evidence?

At best, 50% of employees strongly agree they know exactly what is expected of them on the job – that means the other 50% do not.  The Gallup research indicated that when employees know what is expected of them, their productivity increases anywhere from 5-to-10% and there is a 10-to-20% reduction in on-the-job accidents occurs.

What should we do?

  1. Vision – make sure your employees know where you are going – be crystal clear and consistent in communicating what your vision for the business is.  This provides clarity of purpose for employees in what they do, and makes it easier for them to follow you. You don’t want “I’d like to follow you, but I don’t know where you are going”.
  2. Establish job clarity to combine individual efforts for the greatest cumulative result. This is more than a job description it includes for each employee:
  • Knowing what is expected;
  • Detailed understanding of their role and
  • How it fits in with what everyone else does

3. Focus on outcome-based rewards to ensure they are focused on achievement rather than ‘doing’.  Make sure that staff are not being incentivized to do routine things.

4. A good question to ask is: “I’d like you to introduce yourself, tell us your job, and how doing your job well increases the profits of your company?”. In doing this look at individual and group results, and understand how they drive the achievement of outcomes.

5. Communicate – wrap your conversations with employees around the key aspects of the business’ mission, this gives them insight into how what they do contributes to the bigger picture.

Second Element – Materials & Equipment                  

What does it mean?

A good manager ensures that their reports have the tools and resources they need to get the job done in expert fashion.

What is the evidence?

Only 33% of employees strongly agree they have been given the tools and resources to expertly get their job done – that means 67% have not.  Gallup research indicates employees are more productive and more engaged at work when they have the tools and resources to perform.

The importance of this is best illustrated by when employees do not have the materials and equipment they need to do their work, this increases their frustration and creates anger with the company for placing them in this situation.  In Australia, 71% of employers providing tools and resources such as career management programs say it has improved their ability to attract and retain employees.

What should we do?

  1. Ensure you not only have the right equipment and materials, but that you make regular small improvements in them, as well as modest changes to the process.  These have a multiplicative effect over time.
  2. Giving employees the right materials, equipment and process helps to reduce stress.  People want to do their jobs well, and to be productive – so help them be so.

Improvements in materials and equipment also include higher customer engagement and higher productivity.  The opportunity for effective and efficient feedback from staff on what can be done to improve things also helps to address this area and engage staff.

Third Element – The Opportunity to Do What I Do Best

What does it mean?

You need to be able to match the right person to the right job, or the right job to the right person.  Key questions to consider include:

  • Who would excel in this assignment?
  • What makes someone succeed where others fail?
  • Is it innate, is it learnt, or is it through effort?
  • Can excellence in a certain role be learned?
  • How fast and much can people change?
  • Can people be moulded to fit the needs of the role or not?

What is the evidence?

67% of employees failed to strongly agree they have been given the opportunity to perform their jobs to the best of their ability.  Gallup research indicates when businesses provide employees the opportunities to maximize their natural talents, employee engagement at work increases 33% resulting in significant gains in a company’s productivity.

What should we do?

  1. Don’t believe the notion about human potential that an employee can do anything if he puts his mind to it, can envision it, and tries hard enough or cares enough.  Not true.  (I may want to be a basketball player, but at 5’7″ “you can’t coach height”). Where there may be meaningful differences then remember these are not just opportunities to advance business interests, but also to improve staff’s careers.
  2. Talk with your employees in a positive, passionate way:
  • “So what are your gifts?”
  • “Where are you most happy?”
  • “Where do you think you could be utilised where your skills could be used best? Why?”

3. Establish where your people are in the “flow” – where the employee enjoys the work itself rather than enduring the work just to earn the pay, or to gain an opportunity to be promoted to a better, more fulfilling job.

4. Look at how you can mould the job for each employee around the way they work most naturally and to maximise the optimal experiences that provide “flow” and drive individual and team outcomes.

5. Managers of the best workgroups spend a disproportionate amount of time with their high producers, matching talents to tasks and emphasize individual strengths over seniority in making personnel decisions.

6. Regular staff reviews (every two to three months) on an one-to-one basis, these should include questions such as:

  • What do you do best?
  • What do you like about your job?
  • Where do you think you have greatest impact? etcetera

7. Creating an effective team is about taking the team’s collective abilities and utilizing them to achieve the results and outcomes, not how well individuals perform.

Which of these 3 elements have you used and to what effect?  If you were to rank them which would you use first?  Would you use them with everyone, some of them or with no-one?

Share your ideas, and share the wealth.

In the next blog we look at the next three elements including:

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

Until then share your thoughts and ideas here, and feel free to share this blog and articles with any colleagues, clients or friends you feel may find this of value.

Share the knowledge, share the wealth!