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Who Is Going to Train Those Skills If We Are All Here Because of Our Attitude?

Updated: Apr 10

Anoher bandwagon nonsense that was probably taken out of context at some point, and people happily sing it without thinking what it means. Companies sing the "hire for attitude" song while complaining about skill shortages. How does it make sense? They also complain about challenges around behaviour so if we don't have either, what exactly are we hiring for?

My newsletter yesterday created a debate among people, saying that attitude is critical. I have never claimed that attitude is unimportant, but let me tidy this one up with a specific story that happened this week.

I was talking to a senior HR person who identified that an entire department of around 40 people lacks the skills needed in 2023 that would allow them to do the job in line with the company's direction. In plain English, 40 people are incompetent, and their skill sets are behind by two decades. Were they hired for attitude? If so, who was in charge of their skill training?

Companies have fallen for this without understanding its implication.

Firstly, skill and knowledge development is extremely costly if we don't have it in-house. To avoid that, organisations require to have people with existing skill sets to teach others. Unfortunately, it is not the case. I have been called by Heads of Departments and managers to train their staff on department-specific skills. If you don't have the necessary skill and knowledge as a manager, how do you supervise performance or develop your people?

Secondly, the current turnover rate has changed everything, so no, don't come with the other motto of "What if we train them and they leave? But what if we don't train them, and they stay?" Nobody is staying, your turnover data shows that. It may have made sense twenty years ago to hire for attitude and train for skill because people stayed long enough to be properly trained and for the company's investment to return. Today it is not the case, therefore, it makes sense to hire people for their expertise, harvest that for the benefit of the business and if they happen to stay, we, of course, develop their expertise further.

Thirdly, I hate to break it to you, but your fixation on attitude-based hiring comes from terrible experiences due to a lack of management of behaviour within the organisation. We know that organisations rather lose twenty high-performing employees than fire a bad manager or leader. This is how we end up with an unskilled workforce and bad leadership. Great strategy! This is the reason you are so caught up on this topic because you feel the consequences of this ill-advised strategy. As a result, you rather have unskilled people around you than experience another bad manager or leader. I get it. I have been there, but that is not the solution. The behaviour of people at all levels must be managed because you are right, behaviour is critical. The management of behaviour is free, unlike skill and knowledge development or losing highly skilled employees due to poor leadership behaviour.

Lastly, you have confused Mary with Joseph. We talk about hiring for attitude, but we designed behavioural assessments for recruitment purposes. So which one is it that we want to hire for????

Based on all the above, I say that hire for skills and knowledge (expertise) and manage behaviour. Set clear expectations for desired and unexpected behaviours (sometimes role specific), provide guidance and coaching and if people cannot deliver that, say goodbye very quickly because, unlike the two other quotes, this one is true under all circumstances: Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.

PS: You also need to consider which roles you apply this to. For complex jobs, you definitely must look at more than just attitude.

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