Hiring for Attitude: A book review by Bob Morris

Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting Star Performers with Both Tremendous Skills and
Super Attitude

Mark Murphy
McGraw-Hill (2012)

With rare exception, attitude determines altitude

Long ago, I became convinced that most human limits are self-imposed. This is what Henry Ford had in mind when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” In this volume, Mark Murphy is convinced that attitude usually determines how much a person can increase her or his “altitude” (i.e. how high one can ascend to higher levels of personal growth, professional development, performance improvement). As he explains in the Introduction to this book, “Most new hires do not fail on the job due to a lack of skill. My company, Leadership IQ, tracked 20,000 new hires over a three-year period. Within the first 18 months, 46 percent of them failed (got fired, received poor performance reviews, or were written up). And as bad as that sounds, it’s pretty consistent with other studies over the years and thus not too shocking.”

He goes on to point out, “What is shocking, though, is why those people failed. We categorized and distilled the top five reasons why new hires failed and found these results [i.e. deficiency]:

1. Coachability (26%)
2. Emotional Intelligence (23%)
3. Motivation (17%)
4. Temperament (15%)
5. Technical Competence (11%)”

Murphy wrote this book primarily to help those who read it “to select the high performers that will fit with and excel in [the reader’s] unique culture.” He does expect his readers to replace “the traditional, and generally failed approaches to hiring” with what he recommends. That will require them to make various changes (“both mental and physical”) as they work their way through the narrative.

There are frequent references to a metaphor, “Brown Shorts,” throughout the book whose meaning and significance Murphy explains as “the unique attitudinal characteristics that make your company different from all others. They are a list of the key attitudes that define your best people, but they also describe the characteristics of the people who aren’t making it. When you ask your candidates to ‘wear’ your Brown Shorts, you’re going to learn a lot from how they respond.” All this is explain thoroughly in the book, and I agree with Murphy that Brown Shirts “is a crazy name” but its relevance to his key points is direct and substantial.

I was especially interested in what he has to say about two categories of candidates that he discusses: Bless Their Hearts (“great attitudes but lousy skills”) and Talented Terrors (their exact opposite). Most candidates possess a combination of attributes of both in varying proportions. Murphy explains what desired candidates possess and offers a quick three-part test to assess whether or not sufficient Behavioral Specificity is being obtained during a “Brown Shorts Discovery” interview. In fact, he provides a wealth of information, insights, and recommendations. Whenever doing so, he reiterates two key points: (1) that each culture is unique and (2) that the selection process should therefore seek the best fit of candidate with the given culture.

There is one other portion of Murphy’s material that also needs to be noted: Word Pictures, a technique that he thoroughly explains in Chapter 7. Briefly, “it can be used to turn what you learned in Hiring for Attitude into a method for teaching attitude in orientations and onboarding and as a foundation of performance appraisal, coaching discussions, and so much more.” Details are best revealed in context. However, I feel comfortable when  suggesting that mastering the skills of using Word Pictures effectively will indeed provide the “revolutionary approach” to which the book’s subtitle refers. The potential applications of that approach are almost unlimited.

Although Murphy’s focus is primarily on the hiring process, I think the same core values and principles that guide and inform that process should serve as the foundation of an organization’s HR policies and procedures. Ultimately, the success of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, and talent management/ development depends almost entirely on first understanding – I mean REALLY understanding – one’s culture and its unique defining characteristics.


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