Lousy Hires = Lousy Culture. Go Figure.

Apr 10, 2013

WegmanFamily1One reason I get a kick out of reading business books is because their themes frequently come to life and smack you right in the nose at work the next day. Recently I read “The Energy Bus” and underlined this passage: Negative people often tend to create negative cultures whereas positive corporate cultures are created by positive people.

It’s almost a ridiculously obvious statement, but how many companies act like this isn’t true? When the corporate higher-ups get word employees are complaining, they’ll email an all-employee survey, post motivational quotes on bulletin boards, roll out a new contest, and maybe even treat the team to lunch.

That would be like your plan to slim down for the summer centers on wearing vertical stripes while you keep eating your stash of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. You’re masking the problem instead of actually solving it.

One company with an amazing culture is regional supermarket chain Wegmans, who regularly appears near the top of Fortune Magazine’s annual 100 Best Companies To Work For list. Wegmans has the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered while pushing a cart, and their attitude has little to do with formal training. First and foremost, Wegmans seeks to hire friendly people who are inclined to help others. Its people smile a lot because they can’t help it, not because of some corporate edict.

Experiencing a positive atmosphere when shopping for bananas is great, but more gratifying is interacting with upbeat people Monday through Friday at your workplace. Before I describe one method to hire positive people, let me share with you some specifics about Connor, a sales rep we hired less than a year ago.

Nine months into a new salesperson’s tenure, we take them to lunch and talk about how they’re liking the job, where they’re struggling the most, what they can do to make things better, and how we can help. Of course, we also pat them on the back for the progress they’ve made.

In the past, some hires with negative attitudes have acted like victims, claiming they have no control over their situation and believing all their struggles are rooted in the company’s shortcomings. Here are some quotes from Connor that are the opposite of a pessimistic, I’m-the-victim attitude:

  • “One sales call can make or break your day — if you let it.”
  • “Sales training is bumpy, but you have to keep in mind the final outcome so you know where you’re trying to end up.”
  • “My manager is trying to make me better by giving me helpful guidelines. I don’t feel criticized.”
  • “I appreciate the kind words from the veterans on the sales team — that means a lot to me. I know I still need to keep getting better so I can earn compliments from our customers.”
  • Talking about the stress of the job, Connor said, “It’s how you react. When I’m stressed, I look for help from the team so it doesn’t weigh me down. This job would be really hard if you did it all by yourself. I really appreciate them taking the time to help me.”

So how do you find a positive person, not someone who will succumb to frustration, anger, or moodiness? In addition to asking behavior-based questions (which I’ve written about extensively on, you need to take time after each pre-employment interview to ask yourself these six questions about the candidate:

  1. Are they pessimistic or optimistic?
  2. What is their ability to show enthusiasm? On a scale of 0 to 10, what is their “spark factor”?
  3. Would they build the image of our company during their conversations with our customers or suppliers?
  4. Did their examples demonstrate the character trait of kindness? Considers the feelings of others, takes a genuine interest in other people.
  5. Did their examples demonstrate the character trait of service? Encourages others, promotes harmony.
  6. Did their examples demonstrate the character trait of enthusiasm? Exudes optimism, cheerfulness, energy, and a belief in being able to influence outcomes.

Connor scored well on these six questions during his interviews, so I’m not surprised that trend has continued since he joined our team.

Let me conclude by sharing a second quote from “The Energy Bus”: There’s no spirit in companies anymore because there’s no spirit in the people who work for these companies. Too many companies have been far too successful at creating a culture and system that zaps people’s energy and spirit.

Hiring positive people is your first and most important step toward building the right culture.