Attitudes and values trump skills and experience

Attitudes and values in the workplaceI was privileged to attend Gail Kelly’s presentation at the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum this week.  Her inspiring speech identified key personal qualities that she saw as critical for leaders:

  • having a positive attitude – that the glass is half full;
  • loving what you do and doing what you love;
  • courage – to make choices and to “give it your best shot”;
  • generosity of spirit – genuinely liking people, wanting people to grow and thrive;
  • thriving on change and ambiguity – not just coping with it;
  • self awareness – focusing and being clear in the moment, giving that person or that issue your full attention; and
  • resilience – being strong during difficult times.

Referring to Jim Collins’ work From Good to Great, Gail emphasised the importance of having the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.  To her, this meant paying enormous attention to the selection of people and to dealing with non-performance.  She highlighted the particular challenge of dealing with people who might meet job targets but who undermine the team and the organisation through their attitudes.  In recruitment and selection, her personal approach was to ensure the alignment of attitudes and values first before considering technical skills and experience.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of the work we do in recruitment, selection and in supporting managers to manage performance.  Many of our government clients use the Queensland Government Capability and Leadership Framework to guide their selections.  One of the capabilities at the senior level is “Exemplifies Drive and Integrity” which talks about (among other things) – engaging with risk, personal courage, tenacity and persistence, maintaining an optimistic outlook and self awareness.  For the Australian Government, an almost identical model is used.  There are a multitude of competency or capability frameworks and most pick up these themes.

But how much attention do these qualities really get during the typical recruitment process?  In our experience, they are assumed to be present unless there is strong evidence to the contrary.  A more rigorous approach would see the use of psychometric assessment tools designed to assess personal attitudes and values.  Interview questions would be developed to gather evidence about how applicants have demonstrated these attitudes in practice.  Referees need to be asked about the spirit that potential candidates bring to their organisation and team environment.

So, what are the steps involved to implement this approach?

1. Take organisational values from the corporate plan and translate them into practical statements of behaviour.
2. Define expected values and attitudes in role descriptions, job advertisements and performance agreements.
3. During recruitment and selection, rigorously assess all aspects of a candidate’s performance including their values and attitudes.
4. If a person does not meet the required standards, don’t appoint them.  It is better to make do with limited resources than to take on people who will drag down teams and organisational performance in the long run.
5. Pay attention to how all employees behave at work – the spirit they bring to the workplace – and pay special attention to your leaders and managers.
6. Continually coach, mentor, encourage and uphold standards regarding attitudes and values.
7. Provide immediate feedback to appreciate positive workplace attitudes  and to challenge negativity.
8. Initiate performance conversations around issues of values and attitude as well as traditional performance targets.

If we consciously focus on and rigorously assess these qualities, we are likely to build teams and organisations which thrive and deliver real outcomes for their customers, clients or shareholders as well as attracting and retaining excellent people.  Gail Kelly’s success tells us that it can be done and that results will follow.

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Merit Solutions Australia provides human resource consultancy services to the the Queensland Public Service, Local Governments and the Australian Public Service.   Services provided to the public sector include recruitment and selection, training of job applicants and selection panels, psychometric assessment, management development, organisation design and job descriptions, coaching and the development of HR practices.