19th October, 2016 · Workplace Relations

The hardest call any leader must make

4 minutes to read

The hardest call to be made in leadership is to hire, promote and attract people who have the right character but don’t yet have the necessary skills.
My philosophy in this area is simple: If you want to be successful, you must always hire on character and train on skill.

While I am not for one minute saying that leadership is about looking for and having to work with people who have absolutely zero skill but have great character, I am stating that we simply cannot have skill without character and expect to get any more than short-term results, if that.

Let me paint the picture in the clearest way I can:

Imagine for a minute you are the recruitment manager for an airline company.

You are looking to fill several positions in the position of Captain/Pilot on your long haul routes. Because the role requires a very specific skill set, you cannot hire someone whose only experience in flying anything was winning their Grade 5 paper aeroplane competition at school in 1974. You are obviously looking for someone who has their pilot licence, has had several thousand hours in flight experience and is up-to-date with the latest flight controls in order to take control of the lives of hundreds of people every day.

So surely my philosophy wouldn’t apply here?

Not true…

Think about someone who has the perfect skills required to do this job, but has some major character flaws. Maybe they lack attention to detail; maybe they have a problem with alcohol or they just have a bit of an attitude problem.

Would any of these have the potential to cause massive issues when they are nine hours into a 14-hour flight? Absolutely!
So in this case we want to try and find both.

The problem is when we run an ad looking for someone who has both, and run hundreds of interviews, we can’t find anyone. So we go to other airlines, look through our domestic pilots and try to poach the perfect candidates. Fortunately, we find three great pilots with great character who are happy to come and work for us. We have, however, had to pay them over and above what we originally budgeted for, but at least we have found people. Problem: We have 10 vacancies.

So how do we fill the other seven positions?

That’s where we need to hire on character and train on skill.

We are going to look for the characteristics we want in our captains and develop and train the necessary skills for them to do the job. This process might take weeks, maybe months, or even years. That might mean it takes us longer to fill the 10 roles, but we decide to place the culture and reputation of the airline, as well as the safety of our passengers, at a higher priority than getting 10 planes in the air next week.

So how does this relate to us as car Dealers?

I continually get phone calls from Dealer principals and general managers, asking me how I attract and retain quality staff for my dealership.

I believe the problem stems from a culture that focuses only on someone’s performance, and then performance-managing out those who can’t perform in the short term, only to get frustrated by continually rehiring and refiring staff who can’t get to their set KPIs in the first 90 days. Alternatively, we put up with ‘bad apples’ in our dealership for fear we won’t be able to replace them with anyone who can perform like them.

We focus on, ‘can they get me the results I need now?’

This is a flawed strategy, as we allow characters, behaviours and culture to be corrupted in the search for now results.

So let me give you four keys to hiring on character and training on skill that will give you both short-term and long-lasting results.

  1. Have a written list of characteristic must haves and write advertisements, poach, interview for and hire only those who tick all the boxes. Let me suggest a positive attitude; willingness to learn; ability to take instruction; drive and enthusiasm towards the role; initiative; problem solving, and relational and likeable, to be some that might make your list.
  2. Have a 30-day onboarding training intensive that will focus on instilling the values, ethics and goals of your dealership, as well as the skills required to do the job at the highest level. This is applicable for any level of position you are filling.
  3. Commit to working with and developing all new recruits for a minimum of 12 months. This gives you time to develop their skills to the necessary levels for long-term success, as well as showing faith in your recruits that they will be valued and equipped with every resource necessary to do their job better.
  4. weed out those who don’t make the cut in character. This can be one of the hardest decisions, but you aren’t going to keep the good characters long if you allow it. The reality is bad company corrupts good character, so be the leader and set frameworks for standards that everyone must consistently achieve over and above performance. Inter-office politics, bad relationships, tension and negativity will stifle what you are trying to create.

While mediocrity in performance is never in my playbook, we must be slower to hire, slower to fire and be non-negotiable in our stance of hiring on character and training on skill, because the culture you allow is the culture you promote.

If you would like assistance in developing a plan for the four keys, I’d love to hear from you!

Dave Benson  
CEO/Sales Expert,
Train Retail Sell System