Paul Borawski recently blogged about Feelings and Quality Culture and he had some pointed questions for quality professionals around the world. The crux of the questioning was tying quality culture to personal attributes and feelings contributing to that culture. "What do you look for in the people you hire into the organization?" and "Are the personal attributes universal, or do they in your experience differ around the world?" are some of the questions that he asks. These questions strike at the heart of quality as they focus on the key differentiators in any business activity: the people doing the activity. Any activity. Not only on the production floor but, more importantly, in the halls of management. I'll post my answers here.
These are the main attributes that I look for in someone to hire: passion, brightness and a willingness to learn. I also look for these attributes in my subordinates, colleagues and superiors....
Passion meaning a certain amount of zeal in their behavior, not only in their speech or on their resume. Many people can show passion by talking but very few can show passion by their behavior. Even simple things like how the person gets out of a chair after a meeting. Their body language after accepting an assignment. Their body language when dealing with ambiguity or conflict. I am not an expert on these things from an academic standpoint but I've observed people's behavior in such situations and then noted their overall performance over time and I've seen a correlation here, obviously anecdotal and qualitative (which doesn't mean "bad" or "invalid"). People with passion show it in everything that they do, even when they disagree with someone (or disagree with you). I want to be careful to explain how I define "passion" as that is one of the unfortunate buzzwords bandied about over the years. The best way maybe is to state what passion is not. Passion is not yelling at people, passion is not smiling all of the time, passion is not being overly rude or overly nice or overly aggressive or even overly optimistic. Passion IS showing an interest in life that automatically spills over to the work life (a subset of life). Things like hobbies, outside interests, and the like can also give a window into passion (e.g. racing pigeons in China as the hobby of a very passionate CEO that I met on a flight from Shenzhen) but the day-to-day small behaviors of work life are the best indicators. If you're honest with yourself when you look around the office tomorrow you'll probably be able to see the people who truly have passion, don't be surprised that there may be very few (if any!).
Brightness is simply basic intelligence. I'm sorry but I've met too many people (especially, unfortunately, mid-level managers) who are simply not very intelligent. Not "intelligent" like "book smarts" or "street smarts" but intelligent like being able to follow the flow of a conversation and participate in it in an appropriate way at an appropriate time. I can't count how many times that I've stopped breathing during a customer meeting when the dimmest guy on the call opened his mouth to say something inappropriate or not matching the conversation. These are the people who, after doing so, are either completely ignored or, if in a higher position, carefully pooh-pooh'd back into silence. Fortunately, there seem to be relatively few of these types of people out there. In an interview a good way to know this item is to ask some relatively complex questions about the person's history or explain the job opportunity and then ask questions that will demonstrate that the person can make connections between several items that you described. Unfortunately, an interview is a stressful event for most people so it may be hard to judge. Look around the office again and you may see this type of person (maybe not though...) and don't be too surprised if he/she is a manager.
The last item, related to the second and first items, is a willingness to learn. This takes not only an amount of passion and brightness but also a dose of humility. Only people who can admit that they don't know everything can also be willing to learn. I've met many people over my experience who made it clear in their demeanor and conversation that there is anything much that you (or anyone else) can teach them. Unfortunately, they are mostly top managers in different companies. Everyone can learn something every day. Not everyone can pursue a doctoral degree or learn a fourth language but they can still learn each day, even in small ways. I see this many times when I am walking around the production area and giving advice to the managers and engineers. Some people tag along because they feel they have to, never making eye contact or busy with their phone. Other people listen and when you look at them you can see a twinkle in their eye, maybe even a small smile, and you can see "they get it". Of course I'm not saying that I know everything either, I do most of my learning in the production area, but it's such a huge difference to see those people who are willing to learn (even WANT to learn) and those who don't. Just like the other items, you'll see a mix of these people in your office also, although there may not be too many of them.
Finally, I would say that these three items are indeed universal. I have experience with all three while working on a daily basis for years with German, Chinese, Japanese and American colleagues. I've seen them also in my frequent dealings with Mexican, Korean and Romanian colleagues. Around the world, in different companies and different industries. I've seen them in person, I've heard them in phone calls, I've even seen them in emails and meeting minutes. I'm sure that you have also. These three items are the personal attributes that I look for in any colleague whom I meet in my work life. I've seen all three and a lack of different ones at all levels of the 30+ companies in my work/audit/partnership experience.
Have you seen these three attributes in your experience?