Lousy Hires = Lousy Culture. Go Figure.

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:

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  • “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 ERE.net), 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.

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to http://www.HireLikeYouJustBeatCancer.com.


8 Comments on “Lousy Hires = Lousy Culture. Go Figure.

  1. Thanks, Jim. “Shiny happy people” ARE the ones to get if you want a compliant, Kool Aid-drinking “corp-cult”.
    How about: “Lousy Bosses = Lousy Culture”?


    Keith “Let’s Fill Up the Half Glass” Halperin

  2. I agree that bosses share plenty of the blame, Keith, but I think Jim’s point is valid.

    My company specializes in employer branding, and we often find that it’s not always a matter of finding people who are kind, enthusiastic, etc. It’s about finding people who are a good fit for the culture.

    If a company’s culture favors independent, entrepreneurial go-getters, there’s no point in hiring collaborative consensus-builders. I would argue that the kind of person who works at a florist is simply the wrong fit for, say, a NASA mission controller — which says nothing about each person’s enthusiasm or kindness. They’re simply different.

    Bad hires lead to poor engagement, high turnover, and a monetary loss for the company on two fronts: the time wasted on training someone who quits soon after, and the loss in revenue from a disengaged employee, since the Harvard Service-Profit Chain shows that engaged employees earn their companies more money.

    Jim’s take on Wegmans is perfect: they hire people who WANT to work for them, as opposed to hiring good workers and hoping to make them happy sometime later.

  3. Thanks, Jason. I can personally attest to the power of “employer branding,” as when I contracted for a major EOC (Employer of Choice) who was branded to the rest of the world as a fun, free-wheeling group of cool, really smart people, while the reality for the large recruiting staff was a highly political and bureaucratic snake-pit, living in fear, thoroughly GAFIed (Greed Arrogance, Fear and Ignorance/Incompetence)- up, and constantly re-inventing the recruiting wheel. I also agree that it’s important to hire for the company’s culture; where I may be in variance is I think it’s best to hire for the culture you SHOULD have (e.g., functional and nourishing) as opposed to hiring for the culture you DO have (e.g., dysfunctional and toxic).

    IMHO, since we do not make the decision to hire or not, the responsibility for having a good or bad hire should rest squarely on the shoulders of the hiring manager. A quality, on-time, in-budget hire (every time), should be as much a deliverable as an quality, on-time, in-budget product/service delivery (every time).

    It sounds like Wegman’s is more on the “ire for attitude, train for skill” spectrum than almost all employers I’ve run across for a very long time…Good for them!



  4. Jim, Keith and Jason, I agree with all your points. Though, Keith, to your statement regarding lousy bosses = lousy culture, I would respond by saying that bosses are hired too. 🙂

    To further your points, it is critically important that the hiring manager focuses on making a good hire. How can recruiters possibly know about all the team dynamics within a company for which they are recruiting? Sure, they may understand the broader culture, but I think making a good hire is deeper than that. The hiring manager needs to ensure the new hire is a good fit with company culture, with their specific team dynamics and with the skills required and/or desired.

    Of course within that is hiring positive people as Jim’s article argues.


  5. Deming once said “a bad system beats a good person every time”. The title seems like a bit of link baiting to me, especially when you close the post with a Deming-like quote from that book.

    The title implies that it’s the hires fault. I’d say it’s the hiring process and lousy management that creates the lousy culture that destroys the positivity of the employees.

    Forget putting the focus on “hiring positive people” and start using Delivering Happiness or other methods of actually listening to employees to find out what’s making them cynical and negative.

  6. Yea know, to be fair, some companies create employees with “bad attitudes.” If you heave unrealistic expectations on people and offer nothing but a conundrum, without providing any hope for them to solve issues, it will make anyone seem “negative.” I have seen companies with owners who were not happy with anything but 25% growth, across the board, in a flat market, in a bad economy. I don’t see how an employee can feel positive and fulfilled when given an impossible goal. If companies are setting unattainable goals, and then blaming employees for having “bad attitudes” the company should be looking at themselves in the mirror. There are those employees who are negative and always will be, but most people will find themselves positive and happy if the company itself does the necessary things to make its people flourish; the majority of people will be positive IF THE COMPANY, OWNERS and management do their job.

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