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You Can’t Teach Personality

Recruiting the right person involves more than just looking for a demonstration of the right skills that are key to the role. The ability of the person to fit into the role plays a big part too. In a customer-facing role for example, employees need to be able to give patient, good humoured, courteous good customer service. Most of us could handle that for an hour or so, but many could not sustain it beyond that. It takes a certain type of personality.

The leisure industry is one area which generally suffers very high attrition rates. However one company, the Thermae Bath Spa has a remarkably high retention rate. Nearly 30% of current staff joined the company in its first year. The company’s HR manager, Vanessa Lowes, has put this down to the “family atmosphere” of the business. She has said that the company seeks out employees who can deliver a good “first impression, last impression, body language and a genuine smile” and that forms the focus of their recruitment strategy. Employees are made to feel valued, which makes them enjoy their work, take pride in it and feel passionate about the service they offer. You can’t force people to be happy or enjoy their work, but often happy employees mean happy customers.

At Disney World workers are not referred to as employees, but “cast members” and every aspect of the recruitment process mirrors the Disney culture. Walt Disney was known for his policy of hiring attitude, not aptitude and this can certainly still be seen today. Anyone who’s ever been to Disney World knows that you’d be extremely unlikely to come across any workers who had less than a grin plastered across their face. It’s part of the culture, and besides from meeting Mickey Mouse and co, the infectious happiness is what attracts visitors there in the first place.

Recruitment is a challenge for any company, and coming across the right person takes time and effort, especially when you need the cultural or personality fit. Having the right skills and abilities is not enough. I could quite easily take a job as a shelf-stacker or cashier in a supermarket. I could so those jobs, no problem. Or could I? My skill level would be sufficient, but my boredom threshold is incredibly low. So no – I’d be a disaster doing either of those roles. They call for someone with a much higher tolerance of routine and repetition than I have, so I would be bored and miserable.

If you’re part of a small team, having the right person in is even more important. The wrong person can upset the dynamics, adversely affecting productivity and morale. I was once called in to deal with a woman who worked in a charity that supported people with a physical impairment. She joined the top performing team in the organisation, and initially things were fine. But the disparities in personal styles between the incoming worker and the rest of the team showed up very quickly and the team plummeted to being the worst performing group within about six months. It was desperately sad – the whole lot of them were unhappy and it took quite a bit of work to sort it out. We eventually extracted the “square peg” and managed to get things back on an even keel. It did a lot of damage in the short term though.

We are fortunate in our company. We get on really well as a team and it’s important that somebody joining us reflects the same values and understands our working culture. My ethos is to treat my employees the same way I’d treat my clients (or suppliers come to that) and I expect that to be reflected in the way the team transacts with others.

It doesn't have to be hard to find out about someone’s personal style. There are some straightforward ways you can assess somebody’s suitability. For example:

  • personality profiles;
  • testing;
  • competence based interview questions to assess the candidate’s approach to problem solving etc;
  • taking the candidate out to lunch or having a chat over a coffee.

Where they are used, it’s important to ensure that personality profiling is used and interpreted correctly. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” personality, but there are traits that you would expect to see associated with certain roles. For example, a finance director who is not detail conscious, not data literate and does not meet deadlines would be something of a worry.

Going through the recruitment process is tough, but there’s no point in ruining your hard work by hiring somebody who has the right skills but not the right personal style for the role. Skills can be learnt, but personalities cannot...

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