Are You One of Us, Or One of Them? Part 2

You may accept the premise from my last article that the selfish of this world do not make the best hires. However, that still leaves you with the mission of proving that point to your hiring managers and HR/staffing team. The list of negative attributes regarding selfish employees from last week should help. But there should also be a positive statement in favor of an effort to hire selfless employees and employees with enlightened self-interest. The selfish are driven exclusively by personal goals and desires for personal gains. As long as your corporate goals align with theirs, you have an ally ó tenuous and temporary though the allegiance may be. The selfless, on the other hand, have higher goals. They want to succeed as much as, if not more than, most selfish people. Most often their goal is to provide for others ó family, future plans, fellow workers ó and thus they have an embedded need to be loyal to their provider (read: employer). They are likely to succeed not only more often, but also at greater heights, since they intend to share the wealth. The old myth of “nice guys finish last” is just that, a myth. In essence, the selfish finish when they think they have enough for themselves. The selfless feel a need to succeed beyond that point for the sake of all the others. Nice guys finish last in that they’re the last ones to stop working, not as in last place. But if you have read some of my previous articles concerning the dangers of using corporate employee profiles and unsubstantiated subjective guidelines to recruit, you know that I believe companies have no place judging a candidate’s core belief system as part of a pre-qualification process. That kind of screening is not an exact science and can vary greatly from screener to screener. There is little in the way of defined, tested, and accepted behavioral anchors that will keep you out of jeopardy in the event of litigation when it comes to judging morality. Developing a recruiting strategy that will help you attract candidates of higher moral and ethical standards requires first that your organization become the place they want to be. In others words, “If you build it they will come.” Branding The first effort must be an internal branding effort. Fortunately, the first steps are simple. Encourage employees to express concerns they have regarding the on-the-job behavior of others, particularly behavior that causes personal or professional issues, inefficiencies, lost time, or lack of consideration. Using this data, start a “Selfless Employee Goals” list and make each employee’s success or failure in achieving this goal an element of their annual review. Such a list can be tangible, but it should make more reference to issues pertaining to interacting and supporting team efforts. It reveals repeated errors as not merely a personal failure, but a failure that brings down the team and passes burdens onto others. The use of peer reviews as a compliment to the preceding is also effective. Tools must be put in place to prevent this process from become in tool of the petty or vengeful. Then again, the surfacing of those people who would abuse the system is also another form of “revealing” where “they” may be hiding. Use the corporate newsletter to print the “irritating habits” of others. Often selfishness is merely the behavior of people who have been allowed not to confront the consequences of their actions. Or, they are convinced that they are anonymous and that nobody is aware of their selfish acts. Being confronted with consequences or having the shield of anonymity ripped away are often the jolt required to get employees on track. Most importantly, you need the commitment of the senior executive staff to seek a branding effort in both recruiting and marketing that speaks to a higher level of corporate commitment to a post-Enron corporate ethics policy. It is not only the right thing to do from a quasi-corporate morality point of view, it is also the smart thing to do. The employee, investor, candidate, customer, and vendor marketplace are all looking for business partners they can trust. Only idiots are still wandering the halls of corporate America mumbling “greed is good.” Start shouting your message from the rooftops, but only after you have said it in-house and are certain your employees both believed you and began their own behavior modification efforts to meet the new behavioral goals. Corporate sponsorship of outreach events should exist not only at the national level, but also at local events, where your employees can participate and meet potential candidates. If you have installed positive and uplifting policies in your corporation, your own participating employees will be natural recruiters for the type of candidate you seek. After all, where else are you likely to find selfless candidates than at a 10K walk for a worthwhile charity? Set a Thief To Catch a Thief Would your recruiting team recognize a selfless person if they tripped over one? Would your hiring managers care one way or the other? After working to uplift your own employees’ attitudes regarding environment and working to internally and externally brand your company as a humanistic place to work, do not assume that the rest is applications and offers. Does your recruiting staff reflect the image you have attempted to create? Do you still have hiring managers in the process who seem to be slow on the uptake? These folks need to be either retrained or reassigned. Although it is difficult to document the chemical reaction that occurs when you meet with someone you instinctively acknowledge as selfish or selfless, we are all convinced it happens. Therefore, you must accept that candidates with high personal, professional, and ethical goals feel they have the same instinctual ability. A selfish person may not have problems working for a selfless person (in fact, they probably would prefer it), but a selfless person will consider the idea of working in a selfish environment a distinct reason to consider other options. Performance Beats Opinions As part of your ongoing review of the program’s initiation and success, use employee review data to track:

  • The percentage of employees ranked in your top 20% in professional accomplishments compared with their ranking as a “respectful employee”
  • The overall performance of teams with respect to the ratio of employees with positive personal reviews and those with other-than-successful personal reviews within those teams
  • Projected improvement in efficiency and profitability for incremental improvements in overall employee attitudes based on the previous two categories

In essence, positive employees with firm professional and ethical convictions and a sense of loyalty, compassion, and commitment to things in this world other than the first-person singular are in effect the most effective, efficient, and productive. Dollar for dollar, they produce more than their “good guys finish last” counterparts. The problem is usually that nobody has ever tried to prove it empirically. Simple Examples of Complex Behavioral Issues Last week, I gave a list of behavior tendencies that indicate the presence of a selfish employee whose behavior is probably causing interaction issues with your team. To briefly give examples:

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  1. Do you often find the coffee pot in the common mess area empty? (In essence, the last person to get coffee was too self-involved to accept the fact that a fellow team member would not have the luxury of a cup of coffee. They were also oblivious to the fact that there was coffee for them because someone else on the team did care. In addition, this person’s view of their self importance justifies the role of others to care for them.)
  2. Is the paper always low or the toner or paper jam light on your copier perpetually blinking? (Same as above.)
  3. Is the trash can in your common area usually overflowing? (Achieving excellence requires constant observation and commitment to tasks that may be seen by some as “not assigned” or “beneath them.”)
  4. Does “Hey, that’s not my job!” echo down the hallways of your company? (Assigning oneself duties and rejecting others is the ultimate expression of selfishness. All others must accept their roles in order for yours to make sense to you.)
  5. How many issues arrive on your desk in the five minutes after you left your office rather than during the other seven hours and 55 minutes? (The favorite pastime of the selfish is passing the buck, and this can only really be done if you are not there to stop them. “Hey, it’s your issue now!”)

The talent shortage, currently obscured by this recession, is still upon us, and finding talented people to fill open slots will always be a temptation. But the consequences of hiring badly usually, if not always, offsets the gain of having done so. A bad hire pulls down the organization around them without putting anything of substance back. The selfish of this world are bad hires. They also reflect badly on the process that accepted them and the image of the company they ultimately represent. One of the final litmus tests I think about when considering a candidate for a position is to imagine them at a social gathering in one of our company polo shirts. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Would they represent the image of the company we are trying to project? Or would people at the party make a mental note to ensure they don’t have 401k money in our stock? My father once told me, “Rudeness is ignorance, expressed at its highest level.” So, hiring rude people is akin to hiring ignorant people, and who you hire speaks to others of who you really are. One more good reason not to hire the selfish over the selfless! Have a great day recruiting.

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( 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,, 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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