Are You One of Us, Or One of Them?

In that difficult period in your youth, where you’re old enough to move about but not yet old enough to be trusted to stay at home alone, you probably found yourself spending a lot of time in the car shopping with, at least in the 1950s and 1960s, your mother. If your parent was also a mentor, this could have also been time well spent in your personal development. In fact, it was in the car where I first learned about “them,” and how they were nothing like “us.” The concept was first explained to me when I noticed that no matter how many parking spots were available in front of the store, my mother always chose a space in the back two-thirds of the parking lot. The reason? It was explained to me people that like “us” always leave the spaces nearest the store for the handicapped, elderly, or people with infants. If you were young and had your health, it was the right thing to do. Of course, not all people followed this common practice. Those were, of course, “them.” But that wasn’t an excuse for “us” to behave any differently. Right is right, even when right is in the minority. The failing of the majority is not justification for “us” to behave like “them.” At the end of grocery shopping my job was to return the shopping cart to the rack, whether it was the hottest day of the summer, the rainiest day in spring, or the coldest day of winter. We didn’t push the cart into the empty space next to our car or shoved it in between the adjacent park cars. You see, “we” did not allow a minor personal inconvenience to ourselves justify passing the inconvenience onto others. A willingness to act appropriately that is limited only to those instances where no personal inconvenience is involved is in fact a form of hypocrisy. If you know the difference between right and wrong but you turn it on and off based on personal convenience, you are in fact one of “them” pretending to be one of “us.” You probably have convinced yourself, but you haven’t fooled “us” for a minute. Some seek truth and the meaning of life after trekking for weeks in the wilderness of the Himalayas from the Dalai Lama. Me? I learned it in a ’56 Chevy, in the parking lot of a Stop and Shop, picking up milk, eggs, a couple of chops, and some coffee for the old man. Fundamental truth #1: There are only two groups of people in this world: the selfish and the selfless. Does this have anything to do with HR/staffing? In a cynical, “dog eat dog,” “kill the competition,” “good guys finish last,” “pull up the gang plank, I’m on board” business world where we equate devious and heartless with clever and determined, should you even bother to seek out the people of this world who push their carts back to the rack? Or give consideration to those who show respect for the elderly, infirm, and burdened rather than leaning on the horn and swearing? Why do we so often find in our business culture the belief that those who are caring cannot also be ambitions, or that the greedy are the true leaders? Consider the following traits of the selfish, and consider the opposite condition that exists for the selfless:

  • The selfish never join a team. They may use a team, steal from a team, take credit from a team, abandon a team, deceive a team, or mark time with a team. But they never join. If your goal is to build winning teams, it is not theirs.
  • The selfish create dissent and disorder. We all like to believe in the “Three Musketeers” philosophy of comradeship. You know, “All for one and one for all.” But as soon as we discover somebody is all about themselves and nobody else, we all start playing our cards closer to the chest. Some cliches are based on fundamental truths, like the one about “bad apples spoiling the barrel.”
  • The selfish are rarely as productive as the selfless. It is hard to spend the whole day looking out for #1, stealing from others, and still finding time to get any real work done. Besides, your goals and theirs may not align, in which case your goals come in last.
  • Selfish people suck the joy out of working. No matter how hard you work to build a positive company profile and brand yourselves as the place to be in your industry, “us” and “semi-us” can pick “them” out with laser precision?? and suddenly it is “resume update” time. It is like being at a party that’s been crashed by Hells Angles. Some movies I just do not want to stick around to see the end of.
  • Selfish people hire poorly. You see, talented and quality people are not team players to a selfish person; they are people who will compete against their own personal objectives. The lower other peoples’ success, the higher the selfish person’s own physiological, physical, or monetary bonus.
  • The selfish are always ready to abandon ship the day before you hit the iceberg. As things go wrong they are in a “me first, and then women and children” mode and not in the “change course before we hit the iceberg” game.
  • Selfish people are not that bright. I realize that there is an old myth out there that many of the better businesspeople in this last decade were at best a little sleazy. Well, if by “best” you mean those that like a meteor streaked across the sky for a moment, only to flicker and burn out, I guess you are right. But true immortality is measured in time periods longer than the expiration date of the quart of milk I bought last week. The selfish often are the personification of a flash in the pan.
  • The selfish have no true allies. The selfless avoid the selfish, which the selfish only with fellow travelers as companions and confidants. But due to the lack of trust they serve as neither to one another, and the strength that comes from union and sharing never occurs for them.
  • Selfish people pass the all burdens onto others as their first choice. After all, it’s all about them!
  • The selfish compensate for their problems by creating issues for others.
  • The selfish assume that all their problems are beyond their control, and self-constructed universal truth serves to justify their need to pass onto others since it is not “their” fault.
  • Selfish people are like people who do not bathe. They are not nice to be around.

Assuming the premise that the above “Polly Anna” point of view has merit, what can we do about it?

  • I have spoken against the use of subjective profiling as a hiring tool as a legally risky and dangerous elitist form of staffing.
  • There still is not a universal, tested, documented, and legally defendable definition of “selfish” or “selfless” that can be applied in a diverse candidate pool without fear of imbalance in group measurement between racial, gender, ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation.
  • Companies do not necessarily have the right, moral or demonstrative, to act as the moral guardians of the workforce.
  • Is your recruiting team selfless enough to recognize the difference as important?

So what is the point of this exercise? HR/staffing is not just about who you hire and who you fire. It is also about training and directing your existing workforce. It’s about upgrading your current talent and their performance?? and by that effort, creating the beacon you need to attract and recruit the candidates you truly want in your organization. It’s about building a success-driven team motivated by selfless personalities and enlightened self-interest. Enlightened self-interest, by the way, is like being selfless, after having it explained to you that you will actually succeed faster and to a greater degree by not focusing on just your self. In the next installment we will discuss how to go about building this kind of workforce. But do you really need to make all this fuss? Is this an issue for you? Answer these questions and decide:

  1. Do you often find the coffee pot in the common mess area empty?
  2. Is the paper always low or the toner or paper jam light on your copier perpetually blinking?
  3. Is the trash can in your common area usually overflowing?
  4. How often does the expression, “Hey, that’s not my job!” echo down the hallways of your company?
  5. How many issues arrive on your desk in the five minutes after you leave your office rather than during the other seven hours and 55 minutes?
  6. Do you honestly believe that a workforce engaged in petty and minor vindictiveness as well as daily sessions of childlike “acting out” as a form of disruptive behavior can also as productive and team orientated?
  7. What kind of reasons do candidates who reject offers or interview invitations give you as real reasons? If you probe for real reasons, that is.
  8. What are the exit comments from the productive and well-liked employees who leave? Again, if you have an exit process that motivates truth.
  9. What is your opinion of the company’s actual, not stated, attitude towards employees and the need to be fair and honest?
  10. I don’t have an item #10, but all lists in HR/staffing articles always seem to always have ten items, so I figured, “Hey, what the…”

By the way, my mother continued to shop on her own right up to the end in her 75th year. She had a partially crippled hip and required a cane, but she still parked in the back two-thirds of the parking lot. After all, the front one-third was for people with greater need. She was 75 and she still had more class than all those people half her age getting tense, acting out road rage, fighting over the “best parking spaces” nearest the store. They were still out there fighting their parking lot turf war and my mother was already halfway through the store. Now, who was really more productive? Have a great day recruiting.

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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