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Screen out turkeys, jerks and a**holes

by Miki Saxon

Yesterday I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s follow-up to his original comments about The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, written by Stanford professor Bob Sutton.

And that made me think about something I’d written in January and that brings me to what I want to share with you today.

For any company, there’s a variety of types that you don’t want to hire—no matter how great their skills are. Whether they qualify as turkeys, jerks or a**holes, they spell bad news to your people and their productivity. While turkeys and jerks come in many flavors, all of which are bad for your company, a**holes are completely toxic.

Way back around 1998 or so, I wrote and article for MSDN about how to use your company’s culture as a screening tool to avoid hiring turkeys—and it works equally well for jerks and a**holes.

Here it is again, just as it was written, except for some slight formatting changes.

Don’t Hire Turkeys! Use Your Culture as an Attraction, Screening, and Retention Tool and Turkey-Proof Your Company.

Companies don’t create people—people create companies. At the beginning, most start-ups have great cultures that attract great people, but when business heats up, cultural focus is often overwhelmed by other priorities.

It takes a certain kind of person to brave the early days of a start-up. Generally, these people don’t like bureaucracy, politics, backstabbing, etc. In the beginning, it’s easier for startups to hire people “like themselves.” First, they hire all their friends, and then their friend’s friends. Then what? New positions have to be filled and the only people available are strangers.

So how do you hire strangers and not lose your culture? Since your culture is a product of your people, hire only people with matching or synergistic attitudes. The trick is to have a turkey sieve that will automatically screen out most of the misfits and turn on the candidates with the right values and attitudes.

  • Your sieve is an accurate description of your real culture.
  • It must be hard copy (write it out), fully publicized (everyone needs to know and talk about it), and, most important of all, it must be true.
  • Email it to every candidate before their interview and be sure that everyone talks about the culture during the interview and sells the company’s commitment to it.
  • Everybody interviewing needs to listen carefully to what the candidate is saying and not saying; don’t expect a candidate to openly admit to behaviors considered negative, since he may be unaware of them or not consider them negative at all (remember “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap).
  • Red flags must be followed up, not ignored because of skills or charm.
  • Consider the environment the person has been working in, find out if he agreed with how things were done, and, more importantly, how he would have done them if the decision were his.
  • Whether or not the candidate is a manager, you’ll want to find out about his attitudes and approaches to managing as well as his work function methods.
  • Probing people to understand what their responses, conscious as well as intuitive, are to a variety of situations reveals how they will act, react, and contribute to the company’s culture and its success.

Finally, it is up to the hiring manager to shield the candidate from external decision pressures, e.g., friends already employed by the company, headhunters, etc., and, above all, it is necessary to give all candidates a face-saving way to withdraw their candidacy and say no to the opportunity. If they don’t have a graceful way of exiting the interview process they may pursue, receive, and accept an offer, even though they know deep down it is not a good decision.

A bad match can do major damage to the company, people’s morale, and even the candidate, so a “no” can actually be a good thing.

Remember, the goal is to keep your company culture consistent and flexible as you grow. From the start, you need to consciously identify what you have, decide what you want it to be, publicize it, and use it as a sieve to be sure that everyone who joins, fits.

Doing so means that the people who join in year three will have as much fun as those who started the company in year one.

One Response to “Screen out turkeys, jerks and a**holes”
  1. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] Everybody’s talking about The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (me, too), but many top people don’t believe that it’s really possible to jerk-proof a company, saying that they’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. […]

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