Tag Archives: technical skills

How to Hire for Attitude: 5 Steps

What do companies like Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton and Zappos have in common? They hire for attitude and train for skill.

It’s a simple mantra but one that has a profound impact on how to successfully recruit and select new employees.

Prioritizing Soft Skills

During their hiring process, these companies weigh “attitudinal” characteristics very heavily.

These are personal attributes that it’s difficult to train employees on — such as being a people-person, having an upbeat personality or possessing a keen ability to learn.

While these firms won’t ignore technical skills (Southwest doesn’t put unqualified pilots in the cockpit, no matter how bright and cheery they are) they nonetheless look very carefully at these soft skills — far more than most employers do.

These companies gain a lot from this hiring strategy. By focusing on attitudinal characteristics that align with their company brand, these companies reinforce their distinctive company culture with each new hire.

And because they’re hiring people whose values align with that culture, the result is a workforce that’s happier, more engaged and less likely to turn over.

But the benefits of this hiring process don’t stop there. When a workforce embodies the company brand (think how Southwest employees exude “fun”), it differentiates the customer experience where it counts most — in consumers’ one-on-one interactions with your staff.

If you have any doubt about the power of that dynamic, just consider how Southwest, Ritz-Carlton and Zappos have dominated their respective markets.

Five Steps to Hiring for Attitude

So how should you go about hiring for attitude, seeding your workforce with true brand ambassadors? You could run your applicants through personality tests and behavioral assessments — but that can be pricey, time-consuming and onerous for the candidates.

Fortunately, there are other approaches you can employ to put this strategy in practice. Here are five simple, low-cost ways to hire for attitude:

1. Be clear about expectations.

Take advantage of candidate self-selection by clearly broadcasting what qualities you look for when bringing on staff.

For example, if you tell the world that you’re in the market for extroverts – fewer introverts will apply (and that’s a good outcome for you and them).

By defining what personal qualities you’re searching for up-front, you make it more likely that candidates with those attributes will throw their hats into the ring.

2. Be aggressive.

Don’t just wait for people with the right attitude to apply for a job – spot them in the marketplace and make your pitch!

When you see someone who clearly embodies the qualities you want on your team, give her your card and invite her to apply for employment.

As any great recruiter knows, that extremely attentive waiter, remarkably patient sales associate or well-spoken repairman could be your next great hire.

3. Focus on the person behind the paper.

Gauging attitude from a resume requires insight and vision. Consider how the personal qualities you seek would manifest themselves in a candidate’s resume and background.

For example, individuals who are adept at overcoming adversity may have demonstrated that spirit in how they responded to a layoff. People-oriented extroverts may belong to a variety of business associations and community groups. Skilled communicators will likely design and organize their resume content in exceptional ways.

In addition, your interview questions can also reveal attitudinal characteristics. Looking for someone with customer service in his DNA? Ask about the most over-the-top service he ever delivered (the best service people never forget such stories).

Looking for someone with a sense of humor? Ask about the time she laughed the hardest.

Whatever attitude you seek to hire, the key is to look beyond the words on the resume and search for more subtle clues about a candidate’s character.

4. Observe applicants when they think no one is watching.

Want to see a candidate’s true colors? Then see how he behaves when he thinks no one is watching.

How did the applicant treat your receptionist? Did he strike up a conversation with other applicants in the waiting room? Did he eat alone in the cafeteria or introduce himself to a table of strangers?

What the candidate says and does outside of the hiring manager’s view can give you a glimpse into her true personality (which may differ from how she presents in an interview). Use these clues to help judge if the applicant will really be a good fit in the culture you’re cultivating.

5. Enlist today’s stars to spot tomorrow’s standouts.

Toward the end of the hiring process, see if it’s possible to have your job finalists spend some time shadowing existing employees.

This serves two objectives. First, candidates get an unfiltered look at the job they’d be performing, so there’s less chance of unpleasant surprises and post-hire buyers’ remorse.

Second, by pairing these finalists with the best employees (the ones who embody the desired attitude), your existing staff can help identify those applicants who have the right stuff.

Hiring for attitude is about building a distinctive workplace culture and company brand that, unlike skill sets, can’t easily be copied in the market. It’s what gives Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton and Zappos their unique character — and competitive advantage.

Follow the lead of these legendary firms as you look to recruit great candidates. Don’t just hire for skill; hire for attitude. It makes all the difference.

This article originally appeared on monster.com.

What Socrates Says on Customer Insight

Are you and your Customer Insight team too often frustrated that you’re not making a difference in your business? Do your internal customers ever criticize what they receive from your team, asking, “Where’s the insight?” Sometimes this is because of technical skills or barriers that need to be addressed, but very often it’s because of poor communication. Do you need to get a better brief?

What I mean is this: Marketers or other stakeholders within your business can come to Customer Insight and ask for a piece of data/analysis/research. If the analyst just gives them what they asked for (or a version of that based on their understanding of what they heard), it’s often a recipe for disappointment. Analysts can feel limited by work that’s not creative or using their technical skills. Your internal customers can be disappointed, to receive something other than what they meant, and that doesn’t meet their real need.

This communication challenge is of, course, well-known in the field of project management. This tree swing example normally helps to illustrate this dilemma.

But there is more, beyond the challenge of documenting requirements clearly, in a good brief. Have you also found that what your internal customers doesn’t ask for is what they really need? Is what they want not what they need? That’s my experience, too. So, to help analysts improve their questioning skills in this area, I’ve been borrowing a technique from the world of leadership coaching.

Trained coaches will likely have come across Socratic questioning. It is a style of inquiry, aimed at helping the one being questioned to critique his own thinking, assumptions and viewpoint. Working with both experienced and junior analysts, I’ve found that the principles of Socratic questioning can help them in questioning what they are asked to provide, to get to the real need.

Here’s a very brief intro to this style of questioning, as proposed by the great Socrates himself:

Conceptual clarification questions: “What exactly does this mean?”; “Can you rephrase that, please?”; “Can you give me an example?”

Probing assumptions: “You seem to be assuming…?”; “Please explain why/how…?”; “How can you verify or disprove that assumption?”

Probing rationale, reasons and evidence: “Why is this happening?”; “Would it stand up in court?”; “How can I be sure?”

Questioning viewpoints and perspectives: “Another way of looking at this is…, does this seem reasonable?”; “What would… say about it?”;

Probing implications and consequences: “Then what would happen?”; “Why is… important?”; “How does… fit with what we learned before?”

Given previous advice on being action-oriented throughout any customer insight work, I find it helps to add another line of questioning to this model. That is to explicitly ask what action is going to be taken as a result of this request. This is important, to avoid precious analyst time being taken up with questions that are just out of curiosity. You need to know what action is planned.

None of the above is intended to be used word for word, or imposed without intelligent interpretation, in the language and culture of your organization. However, applied sensibly, I’ve seen that it can help empower analysts to question more and to improve their skills in eliciting real business needs.

When the real need is understood and captured in a clear brief, then you stand a much better chance of getting real insight.

What have you found works? How do you get a better brief?

Who Is Your Chief Customer Officer?

In my role as market connector, I constantly meet people with all kinds of job titles, many of which did not exist even a few years ago. Some reflect a “cool” factor more than substance. Others signal strategic intent translated into an organizational decision. Recently, there’s been a burst of senior-level titles speaking to a new view of the customer. These include chief customer officer, chief customer experience officer and variants.

What are these roles about, and what value can they bring?

I’m not one to believe that titles by themselves matter much. In fact, I think the hierarchical behavior and entitlements that titles convey can be destructive to the collaborative environment needed to nurture enduring, customer-centric results.

But I also think it’s worth any executive’s time to contemplate the value of an empowered chief customer or experience officer and why other companies might be going down this path. Is it right for you? Is it real or is it window dressing? What can it potentially accomplish? Who should wear this hat to generate impact?

Why have a chief customer or experience officer?

Last month, I wrote about marketing myths and truths in an age of technology disruption and customer empowerment. Any leader should look at all of her resources – including people, dollars and infrastructure – and drive the changes required to attract and win the loyalty of target customers. For the vast majority of companies, the status quo is not the answer.

The chief customer or experience officer defines and steers the transformation by defining the execution plan aligning resources to deliver on the customer needs that matter. The plan should link customer priorities to a business’ financial objectives. He mobilizes employees, and his appointment can be a powerful signal from the CEO that the customer must be at the center of everything the company does.

Why won’t status quo work?

Traditional company structures were not built around the customer. Companies were organized for efficiency, control and predictability. The problem is that these priorities by themselves end up constraining the agility fundamental to delivering a productive, positive customer experience – one that motivates trial, purchase, recommendation and other behaviors reflecting loyalty to a brand.

The chief customer or experience officer provides leadership to help the company embrace agility as key to a customer experience that is managed to deliver business results – top and bottom line. At the same time, she must partner with peers to ensure the company does not lose sight of the basics of efficiency and control, especially to meet regulatory mandates that are “lights on” needs in the insurance sector.

What’s going on in your organization?

Start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • When decisions are being made, are employees at all levels and functions contemplating the impact on the customer? Do employees shape their actions around delivering value to the customer? Does anyone ask, “What’s the impact on the customer?” And, do other participants in the conversation care?
  • Does your organization act as though the right experience will deliver business results, or do people express the belief that doing what the customer wants is a tradeoff to financial results? If the latter is the case, you are likely receiving a strong signal that your journey to a great customer experience may require a sharp pivot.
  • Do you measure customer satisfaction across the entire experience? Does your methodology gather only customer service feedback for the subset of customers who are reaching out, or do you look at channel results holistically?
  • Are you using a methodology that connects customer satisfaction to the end-to-end experience of doing business with you all the way through to how satisfaction levels directly affect financials? A “yes” to this last question means you are closer to best-in-class practices.

What’s right for my organization?

If you want to steer your organization toward being truly customer-focused – if you believe this is a must-do in today’s economy – a chief customer or experience officer provides one approach that can be a mobilizing force for change.

As with any business goal, the buck has to stop with an individual, and that individual has to be someone below the CEO for day-to-day actions toward results. The title matters less than the accountability, leadership profile and empowerment of whoever is given this mission.

Be aware that merely appointing someone to a role accomplishes little. Driving customer metrics requires the same kind of ownership as any result you are trying to achieve. But such an appointment does not absolve the CEO or the rest of the C-suite from taking accountability for the transformation to customer-centricity. The rest of the executive team must align with the chief customer or experience officer’s plans and engage to drive action among the people they lead.

What does it take to set the role up for success?

This role is not for the faint-hearted. Frankly, the technical skill background can be just about anything. The make-or-break will be the leadership profile: an influencer, a collaborator, a team-builder and someone who is a dot-connector, a naturally customer-obsessed person who is curious enough to always ask, “What would our customers want/say/think/do?” And an astute observer who recognizes that great experiences come from deep understanding of people’s behavior – how they complete tasks and go about solving life’s daily problems.

Then there are the must-dos for any role to be taken seriously and set up for success – real resources to get the job done, shared expectations of time-to-impact and metrics that link your customer strategy to bottom-line impact along with the IT capability to get at the metrics with accuracy on a routine basis.

What’s the downside?

The chief customer or experience officer is a change agent. As in any change agent role, there are above-average risks to carrying out the mission with success. As in any transformation role there will be conflict. Make the conflict a stimulus for constructive steps forward, and see it as a way to achieve big breakthroughs, but be ready for conflict to happen. Strong leaders know how to convert conflict into opportunity.

The bottom line

Even exploring the value and impact of a chief customer or experience officer means you recognize the need to boost your organization’s customer focus.

Remember, being customer-focused doesn’t mean giving customers anything they want. It’s about:

  • Zeroing in on the audience you want to serve
  • Being able to identify audience members so you can establish and build authentic relationships
  • Inspiring them to see your brand and offerings as relevant to their lives
  • Achieving win/win outcomes for these individuals as well as for your business.

What business does not want to make this happen?

So, what are you waiting for?

‘Core Transformation’ May Not Be Enough

In the 1920s, Hollywood had a pretty good grasp of what it took to be a leading lady. She had to be able to use exaggerated gestures and facial expressions to convey what was going on without the benefit of sound, and she had to look attractive onscreen. Nobody cared what her voice sounded like – and then came the talkies.

Suddenly, the established actors and actresses had to learn brand new skills and adapt to a new paradigm, because no movie studio was going to continue putting out silent movies when the other studios were putting out talkies. Some stars did well, like Mary Pickford, a silent film star who won an Oscar for her first speaking role. And then there were actresses like Jean Hagen, playing Lina Lamont in “Singing in the Rain,” who sounded like someone stepping on a rubber ducky that had a head cold. Even for the film stars who successfully made the transition, moving from silent movies to talkies was a challenge unlike anything faced before.

Every industry encounters these moments, although some are not as obvious as the talkie revolution. The good news is that insurers, as a whole, are starting to execute on their transformation paths. Customer service is improving, business models are morphing, products are becoming more sophisticated and the core systems that support the full breadth of the company’s business are changing – and all these changes continue to accelerate. As I mentioned in our last core blog, SMA’s recent research on policy administration systems found that 94% of insurers require robust configuration capabilities from a new PAS, because these capabilities provide the foundation for the ability to increase speed to market and speed to service, and solution providers have gotten the message. There are more and more systems on the market that are adopting these dynamic configuration capabilities. In fact, they have now become table stakes when core systems are replaced.

But there needs to be a transformation of the full core, including people and processes – not simply a system replacement project. The full core transformation includes modern policy, billing and claims systems, advancing business capabilities and an adaptive and agile organization.

Among the important ingredients for organizational transformation are the ability to adjust to required new skills, to determine where these skills will be located in the organization and to decide how the delivery of product changes will occur. For example, will you rely on the technology alone to create the differentiation, or will you adjust the organization and the skills? The new configuration capabilities can be used by people who have been trained as business analysts – and these resources are often in short supply at most companies. I have experienced demos where I hear that the configuration capabilities can be used by the business professionals to expedite product deployment. The assumption is that there are resources available in the business to perform this work. In many cases, the reality is that the business does not have the skills, processes or time to perform this work.

Often, the technical areas do have the process and some of the necessary resources, but, if the work shifts to the technical side of the business, then the IT pipeline is just being filled with the same volume of change requests that existed in the past. This is the Gordian knot that must be worked through. Insurers that have previously dealt with forms and rating engines have figured this out – they have a handle on reality and how to manage it. Many have reorganized to centralize the resources that will perform these services. They have architects that understand the hazards of configuration and can help create the “bumper guards” that are necessary to ensure success.

In SMA’s research note, Policy Administration: P&C Plans and Priorities, 52% of insurers stated that it was difficult to find the right mix of business and technical skills to work on the configuration capabilities provided by modern policy, billing and claims systems. New skill sets are required to fully capitalize on the advantages of responsive and agile product development – new hybrid skill sets that include a combination of business analyst skills and an understanding of technical principles. Some insurers use business analysts. Others turn to IT users who have a strong understanding of business capabilities. In today’s environment, there are not many resources that meet these qualifications. Companies that are investing in training are advancing quickly.

A certain flexibility is inevitably needed to cultivate these truly skilled configurators. Insurance companies are organized around yesterday’s capabilities. Insurers need the ability to shift staff between departments – to create new working groups, to manage new priorities, to adapt to new business processes and to engage new skill sets. This flexibility equips an insurer to seize opportunities in the market, establish new modes of customer service and build business models that deliver value-added services that extend well beyond reaction and restoration.

The whole point of core transformation is that changes at the micro level can be used as a stimulus for changes at the macro level. Organizations able to address the technical and business capabilities that transformation demands can also make organizational shifts with enormous impacts. The key is to recognize that you must use some creativity and be willing to take some risks by challenging long-established traditions.


There is a happy ending to “Singing in the Rain,” and it is not through the solution that Jean Hagen’s studio recommends – that being traditional diction training. Jean finds that what she does best, using her unique voice, leads her down the road to success in the new world of the talkies. In the transformative new world, insurers can also find their own road to success, heading toward the ultimate goal of becoming a Next-Gen Insurer. Core transformation, with its combination of synergistic organizational, business and technical capabilities, is a key ingredient to getting there.