KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to [management professor] Adam Grant from the Wharton School [at the University of Pennsylvania].
Adam, how can we be better at choosing who we hire?
ADAM GRANT – One of the mistakes that many of us make is we are really focused on keeping the right people on the bus, and oftentimes we are looking for people who are going to be generous, helpful and put the organization’s mission above their own individual interests.
That’s a nice idea, but there is only one problem with it, which is, you don’t really need to get the right people on the bus – what is critical is to keep the wrong people off the bus. So, I have studied this in terms of the difference between givers and takers, givers being the really generous, helpful people, and the takers being the ones who are all about me.
It turns out that the negative impact of a taker on a [company’s corporate] culture is typically double to triple the positive impact of a giver. So one bad apple can spoil the barrel, but it is not so common that one good egg makes a dozen.
If you want to get good at hiring, what you want to do is identify the most selfish candidates and make sure that they don’t get to walk into your organization. And there are a bunch of interesting ways to do that.
KARL MOORE – How can you tell who are going to be the more selfish people?
ADAM GRANT – One of the techniques is to look for a pattern of “kissing up and kicking down.”
A lot of takers are very good fakers when dealing with powerful people, but then they discover that it is a lot of work to pretend to care about everyone you interact with, and so they let their guard down with peers and subordinates who get to see more of their true colours.
That means that references from bosses, when it comes to character, are actually more flawed than if you were to get a lateral or downward reference on somebody.
Another way you can look at this is to focus on people’s accomplishments and failures. Oftentimes, when we do a behavioural interview, we will talk through what have you achieved in your career, what have been some of your stumbling blocks. Those are nice to know, but what you really want to dig into is not whether the person succeeded or failed but how they explain their successes and failures.
So the takers use more “I’s” and “me’s” when talking about success. The givers are much more likely to share credit generously with other people, and then that pattern, of course, reverses when we talk about failures.
The takers will tell you about all the bad things in their careers, but it is always somebody else’s fault, whereas the givers will say, “Here is the mistake I made, here is how it has caused me to let people down to some extent, and here is what I am doing to improve in the future.”