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THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER IN THE EMPLOYMENT PROCESS

4/15/2008 - Recently, I had the privilege of conducting a management workshop for a group of business leaders in Las Vegas on the subject of Jim Collins’ best-selling book, Good to Great. This is one of the most successful and important business books in the last several years and we recommend that you buy a copy, highlight the passages that apply to your business and keep it in your library as an excellent referral source as your business grows, changes and prospers. The book is filled with a plethora of ideas about how to move a business from “good to great,” to the point that you can almost be overwhelmed with the abundance of excellence. One good way to approach the book is to read it and then zero in on the ideas that you think apply to your business, then work on ways to use those ideas to move your company from “good to great.” Here are some ideas from Professor Collins, with a few thoughts from Sandy, from the sidelines . . . .

One of the concepts Prof. Collins writes about is “Getting the Right People on the Bus.” He makes the point that, to go from good to great, you have to have the right people “on the bus” and, in addition, they must be in the “right seats” on the bus. His point is that the “right people” are rare, so you hire the right people and then figure out where to put them once they’re hired. This may strike us as out of the ordinary at first but, upon reflection, may make a lot of sense.

In moving to identify the “right people,” Collins talks about the importance of a person’s character and he declares that, in hiring a person for your company, character is more important than experience, education and qualifications. According to this idea, a person may be extremely qualified from an “x’s and o’s” standpoint, but may also have a character deficiency, such as dishonesty or a lack of integrity. What is character? Character is that inner essence of a person that determines what we believe and how we behave. One can have good character or bad character.

“Character is how we act when no one is looking,” a quote variously attributed to Aristotle and others, is a profound concept. When you hire an employee and give him or her responsibility, authority and access to confidential and private information about your company, you want to have absolute trust in this person’s character. You want to have assurance that this person will have your best interests at heart, even when you’re not looking.

The legendary Coach Vince Lombardi knew that many athletes have similar athletic skills -- most of them are tough, strong and fast and athletically gifted, but not all of them are winners. What separates a winner from the rest of the pack, Lombardi taught, is character. “For it is character that is the difference,” he once said. In management, the same principle applies – when times are tough in business, it is character that separates the winners from the rest of the pack – character composed of perseverance, honesty, integrity and an absolute rock-solid confidence of ultimate success.

The ancient Greeks, from whom we all descend, had the idea that character is formed very early in life and that a person will act in concert with his or her character, for the most part. Thus, if we can identify a person’s character, we can predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy how a person will react under a given set of circumstances. For example, a brave person will be courageous, an honorable person will act honorably, an appreciative person will be grateful, a loyal person will be faithful, a dependable person will be reliable; and . . . a liar will lie, a thief will steal, a selfish person will be ungrateful, an angry person will lose his temper and a person who lacks integrity will be duplicitous. These are all character issues, and this is how the Greek philosopher Heraclitus could say, “A person’s character is his fate.”

When examining candidates for employment, the 3 areas where management can best measure an applicant’s potential for employment are:

1. Past Performance – The best predictor of future performance is past performance. If a person has been successful on the job in the past, the odds are pretty good that he or she will be successful in the future. Similarly, if a person has had a checkered past at work, the odds for future success at your company will be very low. As Antonio taught us in the midst of The Tempest, “. . . what’s past is prologue.”

2. Working Style – Management experts recognize 4 working styles and most of us are characterized by one primary style and another secondary style. The 4 styles are: a. Hard charging, choleric Type A, energized and motivated by accomplishment and achievement, often found in management. b. Sanguine, motivated and energized by being around other people, often found in customer relations, patient care and sales. c. Phlegmatic, motivated and energized by “getting along” with others on the job, highly dependable, often found in small department management. d. Perfectionistic, motivated and energized by “getting it right,” often found in jobs requiring close attention to detail, such as information management, accounting, finance and many medical positions.

If you can identify the working style of the candidate under consideration, you will go a long way toward hiring the “right person” and of predicting the odds of future success on the job. There are a number of diagnostic tools for this purpose, but the one Seay Management prefers is the DISC profile.

3. Character – Of these 3 principles, character is the toughest one to measure. You can find out about past performance through background checks, and you can identify working style through the DISC profile. Discerning character however, requires a certain keenness of judgment which we mostly exercise through observation, experience and the opinions of others who know the person. For example, a recommendation from a person that you respect and admire would carry great weight, and your own personal knowledge of a person’s background can be very incisive. A word of caution may be helpful here, which is, remember The First Rule of Leopardology – “A leopard doesn’t change his spots.” Issues of character, for the most part, do not change.

Pat Morely tells this story in his book, The Man in the Mirror (another book we strongly recommend) of the traveler on the airplane who ordered a $2.00 drink. The waitress was very busy so she told the traveler to leave the money on the tray and she would come pick it up back later. After a few minutes, it became obvious that the hostess had forgotten, so the traveler picked up the money and put it back in his wallet. Integrity . . . sold for $2.00. So . . . Character is how we act when no one is looking . . . It is character that is the difference . . . Our character is our fate.

In addition to his Good to Great presentation, Sandy has also recently spoken to the American Moving and Storage Association annual conference on the subject of “The Most Important Things Managers Need to Know.” If you would like a copy of the workshop material used in either presentation, please email admin@seay.us, and we’ll get it to you promptly. We appreciate having you as a friend and client of our firm and look forward to talking soon.



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