Hire Character. Train Skill.

By 08/07/2019 Article
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Many companies hire employees for their character and then train them on the job. They do this with the idea that you can teach skill, but cannot change a person’s character. In a perfect world, you would hire someone whose character is equally as great as their skills. One’s character can be considered more valuable than an MBA or PhD. A person can have all the necessary experience and skills, but if their personality does not fit the company’s culture, are they really the right person to hire?

I have always believed that capacity is a sum total of character and competence (skills). The most appropriate approach is to always have the two (character and skills) blended in a healthy way, but reality will sometimes push us to make a choice between the two. The truth is that character is always supreme.

In any case, if we are left with making a critical choice between character and skill, we should prioritize character. Skills can be acquired and mastered over the years, but character defects are most times irredeemable! Warren Buffett said, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” It’s easier to train a person of good character to do a job well than to develop character in a skilled but unprincipled employee. If you have to choose, hire for character and train for skills.

So, the Competency or Knowledge & Skills of an employee may get you best work. But to build the Best Organisation, one needs to fit the culture and have great personality traits. Great Personalities make Great Team and a Great Team can Achieve Great Results.

Mumbai - Hotel Taj

On this note, I remember the classic case of 26/11 Terror Attack at Taj Hotel, Mumbai. After which the Entire world had took it as epic case to study, research and understand the real reasons behind how did The Heroes of Taj didn’t let any guest affected.

Let’s see what came out from Harvard Studies case research on – The Heroic Response of Taj Employees:

The heroic response by employees of Mumbai’s landmark Taj Hotel during the 26/11 terror attacks is now a case study at Harvard Business School that focuses on the staff’s selfless service for its customers and how they went beyond their call of duty to save lives.

The multimedia case study ‘Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents "the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees” during the attack.

The study mainly focuses on “why did the Taj employees stay at their posts (during the attacks), jeopardizing their safety in order to save hotel guests” and how can that level of loyalty and dedication be replicated elsewhere.

A dozen Taj employees died trying to save the lives of the hotel guests during the attacks.

“Not even the senior managers could explain the behaviour of these employees,” Deshpande is quoted as saying in HBS Working Knowledge, a forum on the faculty’s research and ideas.

Deshpande said even though the employees “knew all the back exits” in the hotel and could have easily fled the building, some stayed back to help the guests.

“The natural human instinct would be to flee. These are people who instinctively did the right thing. And in the process, some of them, unfortunately, gave their lives to save guests.”

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It shows how leadership displayed by people in the bottom rank to the top levels in the organisational hierarchy helped in saving lives.

It also focuses on the hotel’s history, its approach to recruiting and training employees, the Indian culture’s “Guest is God” philosophy and how the hotel would recover after the attacks.

Another key concept of the study is that in India and the developing world, “there is a much more paternalistic equation between employer and employee that creates a kinship.”

Terming it as one of the “hardest cases” he has worked on, Mumbai-native Deshpande said it was hard to see people confront their trauma again.

“We objectify it, keep emotion at a distance, but after 15 minutes of questions with a video camera in a darkened room, there are deeper, more personal reflections of what happened,” he says in the HBS Working Knowledge.

Deshpande said Taj employees felt a sense of loyalty to the hotel as well as a sense of responsibility to the guests.

He cites the example of a general manager who insisted on staying put and help direct a response to the attack even after learning that his wife and sons had died in a fire on the hotel’s top floor.

“Nothing in the employees’ training could have prepared them for such an unprecedented situation,” Deshpande said.

Deshpande has taught the case in the School’s Owner/President Management Executive Education programme.

It can also be taught as an example of managing the post-crisis recovery of a flagship corporate brand, he added.

Hence the Best Learning to understand is that their Human Cultural Values of Guest is God was the main common reason behind this great escape of all the Guest.

One of the HR gurus on hiring and employability, Michael Josephson once said, “In today’s business environment, character and ethics are critical competencies of leadership; without them, a capable person is just another major risk”. It is said that A Bad Leader can take a Good Team and Destroy It. Thereby spoiling the culture of the company.

While hiring Staff specially Leaders, now; most of the Companies have started involving Psychometric Test or any such test to check ones Leadership qualities which necessarily focuses more on its behavioural and personality traits. And may also realize one’s problem solving, decision making and people handling skills, etc.

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The Hiring process should be rigorous enough and should be scientifically and thoughtfully designed to ensure:

  • Desired Competencies are matched.
  • And to know if the values or culture of the company matches with the one, we desire to hire.
  • May increase the chances of getting the RIGHT FIT.

One of the major regrets of my entrepreneurship journey has been the issue of bringing people around me that were full of zeal, enthusiasm and skills but were deeply flawed character-wise! Character defect can initiate a chain reaction that can bring down any institution or organization if not quickly checked.

The real work of an entrepreneur is getting the right people, every other thing can be sourced for. So Who are the RIGHT PEOPLE? A combination of good work ethic, humility, integrity, simplicity, punctuality, courage, selflessness, dedication, empathy, people skills and maturity with required talent, knowledge and skills can be termed as Right People.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right character from achieving his goal”

This may help an organisation improve its:

  • Retention
  • Productivity
  • Belonginess
  • Team Spirit
  • Organisation Culture
  • Change Management process
  • Facilitate Value Roll outs
  • And any such new process or systems
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Southwest Airlines has enjoyed an unprecedented run as one of the most popular companies in the world to work for, and it has everything to do with the people they hire and the almost maniacal manner in which they prioritize customer service.

As you might expect, their interview process is out of the ordinary. For example, rather than a one-on-one formal discussion across a recruiter’s desk where questions like, “why do you want to work here?” making up the bulk of the festivities, an initial Southwest interview is usually a group affair where applicants are asked to develop a personal motto, or perhaps share experiences where their sense of humour helped them solve a problem.

Throughout the interview process, even once it does become more formal, the focus is quite obviously on determining an applicant’s “fit” with the fun company culture. One successful applicant described her interview experience this way:

“They do a really good job of making sure you’re comfortable so they can see the real you… a week later (after an initial interview) I got a call back and I was told I was right for Southwest, but not that particular position, so my recruiter asked if I would be interested in a different position that better suited my skills… Overall the entire experience was very laid back and friendly. Southwest doesn’t just hire for the position, they hire the person, and if they think you fit in with the culture, they will find a place for you.”

And the results?

Despite being created as a low-cost alternative to the more expensive national airlines, Southwest has grown into one of the industry leaders in domestic travel because they make the customer experience so fun and inviting, customers keep coming back for more. And that has everything to do with the kind of people they hire.

Hope now, that the next time when you Hire, you know what to look for!

Thank You!!

Vidhi Patel & Supriya Kabra


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