“. . . companies don’t put their best people into the human resources department”

from Gary North . . . 

If I were the head of a human resources department, I would train my staff to look very carefully at the careers of the people looking for a job. If the person is coming in from a company that has gone belly-up, the main question I would want to know is this: “How will this person fit into the culture of my company?” Every company has its own cultural standards — ways of getting things done. Will this person fit into the company effectively?

I would ask the person about the kinds of things that he did in the company before the company went belly-up. I would want to get him talking about the culture of the now defunct company. Why did he do well? Did he like his job? I would want to find out whether this person will be a good fit in the new company.

At some point, I would ask the person what he does in his spare time. I want to know what his hobbies are. Are his hobbies related to the job? If his hobbies are associated with the job, then he is really serious about mastering the basics of the job. My favorite example of this is Capt. Sullenberger. He was the pilot who saved all the lives in the crash landing in the Hudson River. What does he do in his spare time? He flies gliders. In other words, it has to do with flying. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

My focus would be on getting the candidate to ask about the company. I want to know what he is after. Is he after money? Is he after meaning? Is he after a retirement program? What motivates him? What does he know about my company? Has he researched it? Does he know the services or products put out by the company? I would want to hire somebody who knew a lot about my company. If the person really knows what is going on in the company, he has taken time to study it. That means he is really interested in getting a job with my company, not just any company in general.

If I can get him to talk about my company in comparison with other competing companies, that would be ideal. This way, I would understand if he really knows the industry.

I would ask him about how many trade shows he has attended. If he has attended none, that is a tipoff.

I would want to know his list of books related to the industry that he has read and marked up.

I would ask how he found out about the job opening. Does he have a network of some kind? Would he be a source of recommendations for other highly competent people that the company might want to hire? I would look ahead. There will always be people to be hired. If this person turns out to be good, probably the people in his network are good. Use this guy to get access to top-performing people in his network. This is why people pay big money to go to the Harvard Business School: networking.

What websites does he read related to the field? Ask him to discuss the differences among these websites. Anybody can say he goes to standard websites. Find out if he knows the differences of outlook among the editors of these websites. If he knows the differences, he is a potential employee. This guy really is interested in the field.

Of course, this presumes that the person asking the questions knows what he is talking about. Does he know the differences of the editorial styles and focus of the major websites and magazines in the industry? I don’t think most of the people who ask the questions know much about the industry. These are people at the bottom of the totem pole in any corporate system. The companies don’t put their best people into the human resources department.

If somebody is willing to take a job at a low wage in order to establish himself in a new company, he is serious about his commitment. That’s why companies should do most of their hiring at the tail end of a recession, not at the tail end of a boom. Hire people when they are willing to take low wages for entry-level jobs. Fire them if they don’t perform well. Give them promotions and raises if they do perform well.

Reprinted here with expressed written permission from Dr. North.


Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill

If you take the time to listen to this, you will have a greater understanding of personalities at your workplace.

Why do start-ups & new products fail?

Chasing investors, not customers. 6%
Not having the Right Co-Founders. 8%
Building something nobody wants. 36%
Fail to execute Marketing & Sales. 12%
Not making sure that you have enough money. 3%
Lack of focus. 13%
Hiring poorly. 18%

1. Bring the right people on the bus, then find for them the right seat on the bus.
2. Get the bad people off the bus (Jim Collins, Good to Great; he’s also got articles).
3. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill (Crestcom Training)
Impossible to make a short but fast player a tall player.  Have to be tall first.
4. Hire a person who does not need to be monitored. This is the most important single attribute of a worker. He completes his tasks on time, within budget, and according to specifications, but in between he does not have to be monitored.  He does not require managing.  (Dr. Gary North)

Most companies have a set of noble values that are often even prominently displayed on the walls.

But in practice, hiring is seldom aligned with these values because these values are not part of the evaluation during the hiring process.

One of the company’s wanted traits is “team working” but the hiring process never discerns between candidates that are team workers and those who are not.

No wonder that these values are also not practiced within the company.

Many companies have a “no asshole role” (Professor Bob Sutton [his YouTube videos here], Stanford University), and they practice it for “incompetent assholes,” but they never practice is for “competent assholes.”

Everybody knows what an asshole is.  An arrogant person is an asshole. 
Selfish people who eat all the food in the refrigerator and don’t replace it is an asshole.
People who cut in line during lunch is an asshole. 

So what’s the company’s mistake?  Never practice policy for competent assholes.  We are not going to hire him because he is a competent performer.

“We have decided that we are not going to fire him, because he is a high performer.”
“For that one single bad trait, he has four good traits going for him.”
“[Data scientists/engineers/. . .] are hard to replace, so we will manage it.”

Graph by Dr. Cameron Sepah at the 5:30 mark.
Nice guys act according to their values. Assholes operate on values that they promote themselves.  Incompetent Nice Guys are a problem for management.  You can try to improve them, but if you have the choice of hiring them or not, then don’t hire them.  The problem is the Competent Asshole.  The Competent Asshole has some good traits, he puts bread on the table.

There is no knowledge about the deeper reasons why people act in a weird way.  Cognitive-Affective Empathy Matrix.  7:20 mark.  The range of cognitive empathy is from NORMAL TO AUTISTIC.  Funny.

COGNITIVE EMPATHY: One person who understands another person’s mental state.


COGNITIVE EMPTATHY:  Someone falls from a bicycle and you immediately think, “How embarrassing is it to fall from a bicycle!”  you understand the other person’s mental state—the other person is embarrassed.

AFFECTIVE EMPATHY is more than COGNITIVE EMPATHY.  Affective empathy is the personal capacity to respond within the appropriate emotion with another person’s mental state.  With our example of the bicycle, if one person sees another person falling from a bicycle will feel pity immediately and go to help that person.  INTACT & IMPAIRED AFFECTIVE EMPATHY.

Empathy recognizes or detects emotional dynamics and sees appropriate steps to take but is constrained somehow.

Many companies have a “fire quickly” rule (Sam Altmann), but they never practice it, because of a fear of exercising it, especially when the respective person is skillful.

Problem: exceptions should not be made, otherwise it shows that your values are merely aspirational. 

Sam Altmann was mentioned.

“We are talking about jobs that pay $12 an hour. These are people without hope”

Dr. Gary North wrote an article recently on the Amazon hirings across the country.  I saw a few ads for Amazon’s hiring in their new warehouse in El Monte, a city not too far from my home here in Southern California.  The ad advertized jobs for $12/hour.  Not great wages, but at least I’d be working for Amazon, right?  Well, right, but not such a big deal. If you’re the kind of job-seeker who believes a big name on a resume guarantees you future work everywhere, guess again.  I am, er, was of that opinion.  It just doesn’t work that way.

But there was something that Dr. North pointed out that I thought was terrific, or at least helpful to me.  Okay, so Amazon offered 50,000 jobs to job-seekers at 10 different warehouses across the county.  Dr. North says “They came.  By the thousands, they came.”  I can believe it.  Jobs for many appear tight.

North then pointed out what these applicants were pursuing, “They were after jobs that pay $12 an hour. This is $3 an hour below the minimum wage of Seattle.

Here is the report for Thursday, August 3.

“A record-breaking 20,000 applications were received on this day alone with thousands of job offers extended to candidates and more to come in the next few days,” Amazon vice president of human resources John Olsen said in a statement. “We continue to process candidates at events across the country and expect that to continue over the coming days. We’re excited to welcome these new employees to the Amazon team.”

The Robbinsville, New Jersey, warehouse alone had 1,500 jobs up for grabs, according to local news outlet NJ.com. When we stopped by, we watched as hundreds of people turned out to try to snag a role.

So lots of job-seekers across the country, folks of varying age seeking $12/hour jobs. Nothing wrong with that, right?  One should not despise work that provides real value, right?  But then Dr. North nails it,

Here is what one manager said: “We’re looking for people with a great attitude first and foremost, who are obsessed with customers—that is the most important thing to Amazon—and who are looking forward to being a part of the team.” This is great rhetoric, but we are talking about jobs that pay $12 an hour. These are people without hope. Let’s not kid ourselves. Anybody who takes a job that pays $12 an hour is desperate. There isn’t anything else available.

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been willing, nay, actively seeking low-paying jobs, like this $12/hour job.  It means that I am seeking low-level customers, customers with low-level expectations.  And who are the customers?  Amazon managers who can get hundreds of applicants in one day to interact with computerized sorters.

Dr. North gets it.  “These people are without hope.”  Here he’s not just talking about the economy at large but about a person’s prospects when weighing the opportunities in their own trade.  So don’t settle.

Vacation to Seattle, if you must, but don’t settle.

Do you want me to fail?

Yes is commitment.  No is protection.

Do you want me to fail?

[Well, that answer is clearly a no, and now we have to talk about what the terms are that are necessary for success.]

He knew they were going to underpay him and not give him enough authority.  So he asked them, “Do you want me to fail?”

They said “No,” and they renegotiated their deal.

Questions like that can make a really big difference.

The fear of loss in our head is huge

from Investopedia

Prospect theory assumes that losses and gains are valued differently, and thus individuals make decisions based on perceived gains instead of perceived losses.

Perceptions of Gains & Losses

People put a value of losses twice what an equivalent gain is.  Losses are twice as heavy as gains.  5 to 7 times.  Losing $5 stings at least twice as much as gaining $5.  Skewing in our brains over loss.

Prospect theory: if you think what you’re offering is worth $100 and only charging $80, they’re not going to make that exchange.  Paying $80 for something, it’s got to be worth $160 in our heads.

An accusations audit?

People are more likely to do things to avoid losses.

What’s going to be lost if this isn’t done?

Taking people hostage to the future.  If I can convince you to do all this work for me for nothing, all this business will come your way as a result, which is actually done a lot in the business community.   Come and do this business at a cut rate, and we’ll introduce you to all this business and you’ll be fabulously wealthy as a result of our referrals.  Well, if you can buy into getting all that money, now you’re being taken hostage to the future abd you’ll do the business for nothing because now you’re afraid of losig those referrals.  Common and people catch onto it.

Not doing this deal, costs you everyday.  If you do nothing, you lose.  If you don’t address this issue, it’s going to cost you.  If the status quo becomes loss, then people are more likely to make a decision to make a move.  Because of prospect theory.  The fear of loss in our head is huge.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

My notes . . .

“What?” & “How?” should be the form of any question where you’re gathering information.

No is “How am I supposed to do that?”

Got a problem.  Forced empathy.  You want the other side to see our position, constraints.  How am I supposed to do that?  You’re right, you can’t.  they felt she said I can’t do this anymore.  It establishes a limit that doesn’t back the other side into a corner.

If they reply “Because you have to!!!” [is not them terminating the deal or giving you an ultimatum; it’s them saying, no, I’ve got no more room to give without the negotiations breaking off] what you’ve just found out is that they’ve just been pushed as far as they have been on that issue about as far as they’ll go.  That’s good information.  What do you do with someone who’s been pushed?

Have I gotten everything I could from what is on the table on that particular term?  So while giving the other side the Illusion of control while signaling limits, is a great way of staying in the conversation and not leaving anything on the table.

How am I supposed to that?  “If you want the house, that’s what you’re going to have to do.”  Which is a confirmation that they’d gotten as much as they could out of that term.  It’s a great way to give the other side the illusion of control.  Many people need to feel like they’re in control in a negotiation.  If they feel like they’re out of control, then they’re impossible to deal with.  If the other side feels like they’re in control the more amenable they are to collaboration.  You really don’t want people to feel out of control.