Episode 256: February 26, 2013
by Stever Robbins
In part 1 of this topic on how to choose service professionals, we discovered that, basically, you want to hire someone competent. Confidence is nice, a sharp dresser is nice, but what really matters when getting things done is that the person be able to do them. Sounds obvious, right? If only.
But making sure your bookkeeper knows how to bookkeep, your plumber knows how to plumb, and your lawyer knows how to…well, law isn’t the whole story. When you hire people, you’re not just hiring individual collections of skills, you’re hiring a team. That requires people skills.
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People Skills / Chemistry
You will need to get along well enough with the people you hire to get the job done. If someone seems like a good candidate, shift the conversation from their work competence to the process of how they work with people. Ask questions like
Tell me about the best relationship you ever had with a boss. What made it work?
What’s the most important thing I should know about working with you?
How would you best like to work together?
Also share your answers to the questions. You need to know enough about each other so you work together smoothly. For example, anyone I share a physical space with needs to know that I’m rather, er, organized about my pens. I have a navy blue Pilot G–2 07 gel ink pen, a blue ballpoint pen, a black G-Tec-C .18mm pen, and a .5mm mechanical pencil for a reason. And it is not OK if an office mate “borrows” one and forget to put it back where it belongs. (Calm down, Stever.)
Irrational? I don’t think so. But if so, good! You’re now interviewing for personal chemistry. You know from your competence conversation that the rational relationship will work. Now you’re making sure you’re irrationally compatible, too.
Besides, my bookkeeper of 15 years also carries three pens and a pencil. Golly, I love that guy.
Values (Especially Integrity)
Now that you know the personal chemistry works, up the stakes and start asking “why?”
Why are you a bookkeeper? Why are you a lawyer? Why are you a plumber?
Why is a magical question. It gets people in touch with their values. They’ll say: “I’m a bookkeeper because I love having everything balance,” “I’m a lawyer because everyone should be allowed to present their case,” “I’m a plumber because I like opening up pipes and dancing in the spray.” (Jason, if you’re listening, I am never going to have you fix my sink again. Do you hear me?)
The values here are balance, people being allowed to present their side, and fun.
If their values aren’t clear from their answer, change the question a bit and ask, “Why do you keep with it? What’s important about it to you?”
You’re looking for whether their values match up with the job. Some lawyers value fairness, some value winning, some value helping the underdog, and some value making money. Consider whether your prospective hire has values that match your needs for the position.
My friend was hit by a car. He interviewed lawyers until he found one who valued winning and money, and was willing to work on contingency. As my friend put it, “He was really scary to talk to. But I knew he’d win the case.” The values matched. In this case, personal chemistry was less relevant, because he wanted someone with the disposition of a bulldog that hadn’t been fed in far too long.
We also like people with similar values. Feel free to share some of your values. “Yeah, I became an actuarial accountant so I could do good with 87.3% probability by the time I turn 71.”
You’re also listening for their integrity. How honest, legal, and ethical are they? You want to do business with ethical people who won’t steal from you.
If they’re a lying cheat, they’ll lie and say “Very ethical.”
You can’t just ask, “How ethical and honest are you?” If they’re a lying cheat, they’ll lie and say “very.” But you can ask questions where they draw the line. “As a bookkeeper, what kinds of things are you willing to deduct?” If they say “I’ll follow your lead.” You say “Great! What if I say let’s deduct my disco lessons as a business expense?” Listen carefully for how far they’re willing to push the edge. And how they react to the fact you’re taking disco lessons.
Sometimes you can ask not about their personal experience, but their judgment of others’ ethics. You can ask a lawyer, “What’s the most shocking tactic you’ve seen used to win a case?” Listen. Then ask, “Would you go that far?”
Ask these questions non-judgmentally, with a neutral manner. If you seem to be approving or disapproving, they’re smart enough to tell you what they think you want. Be ambiguous enough that they read you as being aligned with them, wherever they are on the spectrum.
Finally, you want to check references. If you know anyone who’s used them before, talk to that friend and ask about these same qualities: chemistry, values, and integrity. Also ask how the person has screwed up, and whether they’ve been willing to take responsibility for their actions. My bookkeeper once filed some papers late and I incurred a fine. He paid it. That’s integrity!
Hiring competent people isn’t enough. You need to make sure you have the right chemistry, that their values are a match for both the job and your own personal set of values, and that they operate with integrity. Add these to the competence equation, and you’ll hopefully end up with a long, happy, productive working partnership.
This is Stever Robbins. I help business owners hire better by improving how they design their hiring processes. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.
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