Should We Judge Attitude While Hiring?

Attitude is increasingly heard to be one of the points to be measured, or appraised or judged while assessing the utility or skills or potential of a person. A number of hiring managers as well as line managers swear by this dictum. A person with a positive attitude is a tremendous asset, and can be far more effective that one with a bad attitude. The statement above is spot-on accurate, and is a manifest truth. A person with a positive attitude is also more receptive to ideas, can think of solutions to problems with a much greater degree of alacrity, that is also a fact. Should we then measure or judge the attitude of an employee or candidate? Or there are pitfalls in doing so?

My experience has taught me otherwise... attitude is easy to fake, and easier to destroy for a boss. Fact. First of all, attitude is not a fixed and defined item that is carved in stone. Attitude changes as a response to situations, and a negative attitude is no certain judgement of ability to perform; it has to be seen in the light of the persons' circumstance. Quite often, a change of circumstance can lead to a sea change in attitude. Of course, outliers will be there : cases with extreme negative attitude, for example. But these are exceptions, and are relatively easy to spot in most cases.

All too often, "negative attitude" has been used as a one-size-fits-all solution for people in your team you do not get along with. It is ridiculously easy to manufacture a bad attitude through targeted tactics; for example, withholding approvals on some borderline aspect {which can be achieved by provision of additional data, or building a case. In place of such advice, the boss just rejects the approval - either deliberately, or due to a blind spot as he anyways does not like the guy}. This, done enough times, along with other "harmless" practices - like excessive follow-up with an employee who hates being distracted, for example - will manufacture a bad attitude where none existed. 

This in no way implies that a bad attitude is permanent; that it cannot be changed. Attitudes can and do change as per the circumstance the individual is going under, the stresses he or she is operating under both at work as well as at home. Far more pertinent is the observation that why focus on other aspects in a competitive world, when attitude measurement, when taken in conjunction with a basic cut-off of skills and experience is a good judge of a prospective great employee? When you have 3 people applying for each job, it is easy to focus on attitude after initial screening for basic eligibility criteria. Or when picking the ones to keep in a team, and laying off people - why not just let the bad attitude person go?

First, the prospective great employee. That creature doesn't exist, for starters, Each new hire has to be inculcated and developed into the system such that his potential is realised. Second, attitude is no guarantee that the skill-set needed for the task completion is adequate; positive attitude or not, you will still need skills to achieve your KRAs. Third, by judging attitude, in my humble opinion, the manager is creating a blind spot; in place of judging attitude, the manager's core task is to select people who can perform the task at hand. The task is more vital than anything else. It is far more pertinent for the manager to create a shortlist based on skill-sets, ability and intelligence, and use attitude only in the case of a tie-breaker, as it were: to finally select in case you get 2 or more with similar or comparable skills.
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If there is a superior,or a suited person whose bad attitude can be logically explained, its makes sense to go in for that person. It is a risk worth taking; trusting the ability of the human being to evolve and adjust to a positive situation is not such a bad idea. As a matter of fact, a down-on-his-luck person, as an example, might actually put in a much greater effort in his or her job if given the chance, as he or she is feeling gratitude at being given a chance, and hope that in this new supportive atmosphere, performance will be rewarded. As I said, the risk might just be worth it.

Next, retention of team members. This is a minefield even in the best of times, and possibly the worst thing you can do is look at attitude over and above everything else. Bad attitude or good, each employee has  a reservoir of knowledge and skill-sets, and is performing a function. As we saw in the examples above, it is easy for a bad boss to create attitude issues in employees. Further, genuine problems and hindrances can also be confused for bad attitude. For example, a Sales Manager complaining of pricing problems is often taken as a person with a bad attitude. In reality, it is within the bounds of possibility that a competing brand has actually launched a test marketing initiative or a local promotion that is undercutting your brand, leading to his feedback. Why brand the guy as a loser, when he is merely stating the absolute truth? 

Why does that guy have a bad attitude? And is it possible to turn that attitude around? If so, we get an asset! Most importantly, if the bad attitude is due to internal politics or vicious targeting, you as a leader will be actually re-inforcing the bad but carefully camouflaged behaviour of the perpetrator, keeping the door open for serious problems in future! That is why, when trying to judge attitude, it is vital to go into the background of the person - why does he or she have a bad attitude? Can it be turned? Under what level of stress is he or she operating? Is there is a personal problem that person is facing? Is it an issue with someone in the team? Asking the right questions can actually lead to unearthing some serious issues, or other pertinent learnings that can be of mutual benefit, as well as ensure that further more serious issues dont arise!

This is why measuring for attitude is always a bad idea - all the time, every time. You have to look at it in totality : the employee's personality, his circumstances, his achievements, and achievements under what situation, what was the precise individual contribution {all too often, the credit is taken by the wrong person}. There is no shortcut; the supervisor has to know the employee inside out. I have personally seen careers destroyed because some boss screams "that guy has a bad attitude", without asking one critical question : Why does that person have a bad attitude?

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