Knowing what must be done is only the first step. Knowing what it takes to do a job is the second. The whole process of assigning people to tasks really turns on your ability to pick people with the ability to succeed. Those who have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to do the tasks the job demands will succeed; those who don’t will fail. People may be able to refine their knowledge and skills on the job, but if they come to the position with significant shortages, you will wait a long time to see them meet your expectations. In fact, they may fail first. Richard Fear, in his book The Evaluation Interview, writes, “All too many people have been placed in positions that, on the one hand, make relatively little use of their real aptitudes and interests and, on the other hand, make demands upon them in areas where they are the weakest.” How right he is.
The same is even truer about attitudes. It’s not that you cannot change attitudes, but the journey from weak and negative attitudes to good, strong, and positive attitudes is painful, stressful, and uncertain. When it comes to attitude, don’t waste your time playing social worker. If a candidate reflects a negative attitude, then move on. Life as a leader is already a challenge; don’t add to it by trying to be a psychotherapist. We will focus more on this topic when we discuss development and evaluation in a later chapter.
How do you determine what the key characteristics of a successful candidate for a job might be? Start with the job’s functions. If the job calls for somebody to talk to customers and ask them for personal information, then it is essential the candidate has good communications skills, a capacity for sincerity, and a sensitivity to people’s anxieties. If a candidate lacks interpersonal skills or seems introverted, you need to consider another person.
If the role requires strong financial analysis skills, then a person with no accounting background and without a strong systematic thought process would probably fail to meet expectations.
Job assignment is the process of matching job requirements with personal abilities. A mismatch is almost always a prescription for disaster. Certainly, some shortcomings may be remedially corrected, but if the core capabilities for accomplishing the job tasks are missing, both you and the candidate will be unsuccessful and unhappy. Do not set up candidates for failure just because you think they are good people. Although positive attitudes are essential, they are not sufficient. Good attitudes can make up for many weaknesses, but they cannot make up for a lack of capabilities.
Skills and core personal competencies matter. Personal characteristics vary greatly, and some of them can be critical to success. Such characteristics may be obvious to all interested parties; others may not. Some examples of what to look for might be:
candidates for an accounting clerk assignment who pay attention
to detail and have basic arithmetic skills;
machinist candidates who have steady hands;
purchasing clerk candidates with strong verbal skills and the
ability to deal with a broad range of vendor personnel who
might be inclined to sell hard;
candidates for customer service representative who can patiently
receive insults from irate customers;
bank teller candidates who can add and subtract and have a
pleasant demeanor when under stress; or
candidates for systems analyst who have logical, structured
Many of these may seem obvious to some and surprising to others. It is essential that the leader knows and understands how these types of personal characteristics might impact success in any given job. Once again, Jim Collins makes the point: “It all starts with disciplined people. The transition begins not by trying to discipline the wrong people into the right behaviors, but by getting self-disciplined people on the bus in the first place.”
Make certain candidates have the right skills and the right attitudes and you have a much better chance of achieving peak performance.