When looking to hire employees, managers often confuse talents, skills, knowledge and strengths. A talent is an innate ability, while a skill is an ability that is learned and nurtured over time. A person might be a naturally-gifted writer even while never having taken any kind of writing class. That is a talent. That same person might also take a course in online advertising and attain the Google Adwords Certification. That is a skill. If that person attends a college and takes a host of classes in business, sales and marketing, that person attains knowledge – and perhaps a degree – in business administration. If that person then gets a job in which she is using her writing talents, online marketing skills, and sales and marketing knowledge, over time this will become her strength. A strength is the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through superior performance of specific tasks. When a company recruits and hires staff, it looks for people who have particular talents, skills and knowledge.
However, there are certain qualities that are very important for employees to have which are not innate talents, nurtured skills or learned knowledge. These are often traits that are simply a part of who the person is. Over time, some of these traits can be honed, but they are generally not “learnable”. Last week, we considered five of these innate qualities: being on time every day; having a strong work ethic; putting forth maximum effort; having affirmative body language; and having a passion for work. While these might seem like things that can be learned, the truth is that people don’t generally change their work ethic, effort, passion, or body language. They can try to improve those things for a short time, but they usually revert back to their normal level of energy, their true degree of passion, their ingrained body language and their usual work ethic in time. The same is true of their attendance and punctuality. A person might do better for a while, but eventually a person who has a problem with punctuality or attendance will revert back to those bad habits. That is why screening for these qualities in new hires is so important.
Here are five more invaluable qualities that an employee should have and employer should want that require absolutely zero talent.
6. A Good Attitude
It is no surprise that all employers want employees who take the initiative and have the motivation to get the job done in a reasonable period of time. This relies heavily on having a positive attitude. A good attitude is the internal driving force to get the job done. A good attitude also motivates others to do the same without dwelling on the challenges that inevitably come up in any job. Part of having a good attitude is having enthusiasm. It is the positive, enthusiastic employee who creates an environment of good will and who serves as a role model for others.
In addition to lifting morale, an employee with a good attitude is invariably a self-starter, requiring little supervision and direction to get the work done in a timely and professional manner. Once a self-motivated employee understands his/her responsibility on the job, he will do it without any prodding from others.
7. High Energy
The kind of energy that is needed at work has nothing to do with pep or mindless activity. It is not driven by or dependent on sugar, Red Bull, or coffee. It is an energy that is born from within and fueled by personality, maturity and a genuine zest for life. A high-energy employee is one whose verve is contagious. It is the kind of person who walks into a meeting and immediately lifts the mood entirely. It is the type of energy people want to be around; that pushes everyone to work harder and be better. This type of energy is rare which is what makes it extremely valuable. People with this type of energy lift others up and initiate effective work from those with whom they come into contact. They are positive go-getters with a “yes, we can” spirit and an obvious appetite for life. This is a quality that is not easily found but invaluable in any workplace.
8. Being Coachable
Being coachable is one of the most important qualities to have in an employee. That’s because, for a person to grow, learn, improve, excel or peak in their performance, they must be coachable. A coachable person is ready to do what it takes to change, transform, improve or excel in that situation. Being coachable means being open to listening to feedback, being able to receive constructive criticism without taking it personally, and being willing to take a look at one’s own performance in order to improve it.
The way coachable people interact in the world continually helps them when they’re striving for growth, learning and success. They are generally results-oriented, looking for ways to improve the final outcome. The attitude of someone who’s coachable is easy going, open and receptive, making anything they do in life seem doable. They become an inspiration to those around them because they get results. This is the employee who is able to grow with a company and help take a business to the next level.
9. Going Above and Beyond
Most employees are focused on doing the things that they have to do for their job – the protocol, processes, policies and procedures on which they are evaluated and for which they are rewarded. It is, therefore, an employee’s choice to expend the discretionary effort needed to go above and beyond the call of duty…. to go from ordinary to extraordinary work, service or results. Work that is above and beyond often goes unrecognized, unseen and unrewarded. That explains why most employees simply don’t go above and beyond.
That makes an employee who brings that willingness to the job even more valuable. The employee that goes above and beyond is the one who believes in adding value for the company. This is the person who is willing to finish a project under an unusually tight deadline or takes on a project that encompasses work that falls outside the scope of his normal duties. This is the person who helps a coworker finish a task after hours even though no one is going to see this. This is the person who stretches himself to learn new skills simply because it helps the company, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean more income to him. It is a person who demonstrates a consistently high level of commitment, initiative, cooperation, and dedication in their job responsibilities. It is hard to put a price on the value of employees with this quality.
10. Being Prepared.
All too often, employees “wing it” doing their job. They walk into planning sessions without notes or an agenda. They go to sales meetings without researching the person or company to whom they are pitching. They negotiate contracts without having a thorough understanding of past figures or future costs. That’s because being prepared takes time and commitment.
Of course, in some occupations, readiness is a requirement, not an option. The state of extreme readiness that exists, for example, in the space program, fire departments or emergency room settings is a given. There is never a question about a fire station being fully prepared to deal with a three-alarm fire at a moment’s notice. But that same level of readiness and preparation is not held by most employees in most jobs.
American College Football player and Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said that “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Employees that embrace a readiness mentality and always seek to be prepared for every situation are better able to deal with any problem, challenge or change at a moment’s notice. Given the ever-changing business landscape, a focus on always being prepared is an invaluable quality to have in any employee, and one that requires absolutely no talent.
It is not always easy to find people with these traits, and it is even harder to screen for them. No resume is going to show if a person is coachable or is generally willing to go above and beyond to get the job done and make a company thrive. References seldom mention if a former employee had a good attitude or had a high level of energy in their job. These are traits that are generally taken for granted. One way to screen for these traits is to ask probing questions during the interview, such as:
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for your last employer.
- If I asked the colleague who sat next to you at your last job what level of energy you usually had at work, what would he say?
- How many days were you late to work last year?
- If I asked two people who reported directly to you at your last two jobs about your attitude at work, how would they describe you?
- Describe a situation in which your boss told you that you needed to improve on some aspect of your work. What was that and how did you deal with that?
- How did you prepare for the last big project you were assigned to lead?
Questions such as these will help to delve beyond skills and talents to uncover the innate qualities that the person will (or won’t) bring to a job. As Steve Jobs, the late Apple Founder and CEO, once said, “Recruiting is hard. It’s just finding the needles in the haystack. You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? I ask everybody that: ’Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.”
Quote of the Week
“In determining the right people, the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.” Jim Collins
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.