Avoiding The Double D Bad Apples

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We hire people for what they know, and we fire them for who they are. It turns out if you hire someone without the right skills or experience you can train them… If they have a good attitude.  If you hire someone with a bad attitude, your chances of changing that are close to zero. Business is in the business of training people how to do things. Business is not in the business of character development.

The Savior Syndrome

Most often when someone is hired with the wrong attitude, their leaders try to save them.  At the least this goes on for months sometimes years. And during that time those engaged in the saving process are wasting their time and not devoting sufficient time to the staff who could benefit from a little coaching and encouragement.  Keeping a bad apple in the barrel is a powerful message to the rest of the apples that bad attitude is acceptable. It can also tell other employees that you really don’t care much about them if you leave someone like this in the organization.  In one organization I had the CEO make a list of all the impacts of a significant bad Apple who was leading a department. We then went back and added a dollar value in terms of wasted time, frustration and workarounds by other executives and staff.  It totaled half a million dollars in an organization with about $10 million of revenue.  He ‘moved on’ shortly afterwards.

To avoid bad apples your mantra must be to hire for attitude, and train for skills. Let the author know if you’d like some more ideas on how to hire for attitude. The rest of this article will focus on avoiding the two worst attitudes in leaders.

The two killer personality qualities or traits are dominance and deference. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review pointed out that people weak in these areas can be up to 15 times less effective in achieving results and performance in a business. These two factors underlie the failure in cockpit communication on commercial flights that leads to over 75% of the crashes.

The elements of a dominant personality or desire for control, hostility, poor listening, low empathy and rigidity. The elements of deference are people who seek approval, are overly dependent, avoid risk and who carry tension. Dominance and deference are the double D’s of bad apples.

In most cases people with either of these traits have already experienced problems in their work and life because of them. Although they are often unlikely to be aware how they cause their own problems. They blame their failures on other people and outside conditions  If they are applying for a management job or promotion, it is likely that these traits will not show up in ordinary interviews. There are two ways to surface these traits. The first is to contact people who worked for the candidate in their previous employment. Fellow employees are much more likely to give honest feedback than the HR department or the CEO. Try these questions as a starter. ‘Would you say the candidate had superior communication skills?  Would you say that in a crisis or tense situation that the candidate remained calm and thought things through well? Have they ever made an innovative or risky decision?’

The second way to surface personality traits of dominance and dependence is to interview the person in a team setting with the team working on a task. Most major cities in the US now have escape rooms. These are rooms into which a team is locked. They must work together to figure out how to escape from the room. You usually have about an hour. I recently heard of one in New York City that charged $40 a person. Take a team with one or two candidates along with the people they’ll be working with and put them in an escape room. Then have your team debrief on how the candidate behaved.  Just Google escape rooms in a city near you to read about them. If you do a few of these, I’m sure you could create your own escape room in your club. Simply observing someone for an hour in an escape room will tell you an unbelievable amount about their personality, and help you avoid these two debilitating bad Apple syndromes of dominance and deference.

Will Phillips

Founder, REX Roundtables

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