How do You Determine Integrity and Attitude?

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Determine your Candidates Integrity and Attitude Before you Hire

How do You Determine Integrity and Attitude?

Integrity and attitude may be difficult to define but we sure know it when we catch an employee in a lie, throws a temper tantrum, is immature, quits after being trained or fails to show up. And the more one understands the basic parts of this subject, the easier the job becomes to spot good and bad attitude indicators in an applicant. In many cases, applicants with poor integrity and attitudes will only show subtle indications of their negativity during the interview. When you become more experienced with this subject the subtle will become obvious.

Most hiring managers I have worked with have believed their job in interviewing was to find people with the skills and experience to do the job—they were “qualified.” They tended to forget the poor integrity and attitude subordinates they had the most problems with. They may even think of these people as having bad days or, “That’s just Fred”. They hadn’t quiet realized that those who were difficult to confront about performance improvements had poor integrity or attitudes and were hiring mistakes. Hiring good people requires finding those who are qualified, have the right personality for the job and have good integrity and attitude.

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The first thing to understand about integrity and attitude is its relationship to competence. Competence is made up of appropriate personality traits, ability to learn, education, experience, skill, ability to get things done, awareness, alertness, ability to focus, motivation (also an attitude factor), ability to communicate, self-confidence, friendliness, quickness, general intelligence and so on. The more competent and productive the employee is, the more important it is for him or her to have a good integrity and attitude. For example, an influential employee with poor integrity and attitude may successfully organize union or employee unrest. If they were incompetent they couldn’t get anything done so they wouldn’t be a problem. These problem employees may be referred to as unmanageable employees or loose cannons. The real value of an employee is a balance between competence and integrity/attitude.

The relationship is like the relationship between the helicopter’s rotor blades. The main rotor blade is the helicopter's competence, and the small blade at the back is the attitude. If the small blade can’t steady the helicopter, no matter how powerful the main rotor blade is, the helicopter is useless or even destructive.

Here is a true story of a "super" salesperson who was making most of the sales in his company while three other salespeople were producing much less. The problem was that this salesperson was not a team player. He took personal advantage of every situation. He also caused so many problems the employer fired him, even knowing that sales would surely drop. After this person was let go, the other three found out something interesting. That “super” salesperson had been taking the best leads. The business owner was right, sales did drop off a few percentage points. However, after a couple of weeks the sales bounced back. The company hired another salesperson, and soon the sales team was breaking sales records on a regular basis. They determined that the "super" salesperson had limited the company's overall ability to produce sales.

In studies I have done on motivation it seems that a motivated employee will produce 41% or more than an unmotivated one. It can be much more than 41%. Bad attitude employees help lower general motivation from the top down.

Sales departments are not the only places where this occurs. It happens with engineers, managers, accounts people, marketing people, production workers, and many others. A good employee is not only personally productive, but contributes to group production as well. Therefore, you must have both a high competence and good integrity and attitude to have a successful employee. You can determine how valuable an employee is by multiplying the employee’s integrity/attitude by his or her competence. In order to do this exactly all you need to do is establish a rating for both integrity/attitude and competency separately. This is done by considering the employee’s integrity/attitude and giving it a rating out of ten, with ten being the highest. To rate integrity/attitude accurately you’ll need to look at the basic components of integrity/attitude covered in this chapter. For competence, you’ll need to look at the profile Must Have and Nice to Have items (see chapter 4 of my book “How to Hire Super Team Players”) that relate to competence. Or you can have a look at the skills, knowledge, experience, and success the person has had on the job. Then you would rate the person’s competence with ten being the highest. From experience, most managers can give a pretty accurate off the cuff guess at an existing employee’s integrity/attitude or competency rating. (The general competency rating is given on each assessment report).

With the numbers out of ten for both integrity/attitude and competence, you will now multiply them together. For example, a Prima Donna may rate nine out of ten for competence, but only two out of ten for integrity/attitude. Multiplying nine by two is eighteen, which indicates this employee is usually not worth the trouble he or she causes. An employee with six for competence multiplied by five for integrity/attitude equals thirty, which is much higher than eighteen and a much more valuable employee. If you added the numbers together for each person, the number would be eleven for each one, but most employers would agree the six competence and the five integrity/attitude person would be a much better employee than the nine and two employee. The nine integrity/attitude-two competence person, known as the "yes" person, is just as bad as the Prima Donna. Multiplying integrity/attitude by competence will give you a more accurate picture of who should be hired, who should be laid off and a more accurate predictor of future performance and who will make the company money. The Wimbush Assessments always do this multiplication and give an overall prediction if the candidate is hired.

There are obvious exceptions to what I am talking about, such as a famous movie star that is very popular and makes the movie profitable. In such cases, you may have to become skilled at handling the integrity/attitude and put up with the crap. But these cases are much more the exception than the rule. Even talented sports figures with poor integrity/attitudes sometimes have marginal value for their team or their sport. With salary caps these days the owners may do much better spending their money on more balanced players with good integrity/attitudes.

Before I get off this subject, you should know that interest in the job should be included in the competence and attitude formula. You could rate interest and multiply it too, but this may not be practical. I have found it is better to decrease the competency number by two when the person doesn’t have interest in doing the job nor has the wrong behavior personality for the job. A strong interest in the job should be expected.

The more knowledgeable you are about rating competence and integrity/attitude, the more accurate your numbers will be. As a rule, a total of twenty-five or less is an unmanageable employee or an incompetent one, and certainly not profitable. Thirty would be the minimum score, and even then you would only hire someone like that in a tight labor market. The higher the number above thirty the more profit that employee will make.

There is another reason the competence times integrity/attitude formula is very helpful. It forces an employer to look at both the integrity/attitude and competence and their combined value. The formula assists an employer from swaying too much to competence or to integrity/attitude by keeping them both in clear view. Then the only other factor to keep in mind is the applicant’s interest in the job.

The common denominator of a good integrity/attitude is a genuine, unselfish support of others and willingness to be corrected. The common denominator of a poor integrity/attitude is the “what’s in it for me right now,” “no one else matters,” “Don’t try to correct what I am doing” approach. Because an infinite number of good or bad integrity/attitude traits could exist, integrity/attitude is broken down into the following basic categories:

Supportive Versus Not Supportive

The major indicator of integrity/attitude is supportiveness (you could also replace this word with respectfulness) or cooperativeness of the team effort and the team leader. Supportiveness is the willingness to follow a leader’s intentions or cooperate with another. Most employees with bad integrity/attitudes believe it’s not necessary to support a satisfactory manager, and once the job honeymoon stage is over (1month to a year); these people overtly, or sometimes subtly, demonstrate their lack of support. Bad integrity/attitude employees tend to want to do things their own way and ignore the leader, customer or the team. Supportive people are seldom offended when corrected, when asked to do something extra or do something outside their job description. Supportive people are willing to go the extra mile and stay late without complaining.

One way to detect an unsupportive integrity/attitude in an employment interview is to find out how applicants refer to their past supervisors. If the applicant says mostly good things about eighty percent or more of his past supervisors, that is a plus. If the applicant has many petty complaints or really harsh complaints about previous supervisors, this applicant will most likely turn out to be unsupportive.

Thinking of Others Versus "What's in it for me?"

Another sign of a poor integrity/attitude is the "what's in it for me?" approach to life. In existing employees, this negative trait shows up when they make an extra effort to be sure they are paid for every minute that is due them or to nag their supervisor to do employment evaluations to get a pay raise. The “what’s in it for me?” employees also want more paid time off, interesting jobs already being done by another, and extra benefits regardless of their productivity. The managers will find themselves spending uncomfortable amounts of time and effort explaining to this type of employee why he or she can’t have the better office, more interesting tasks, bigger or undeserved bonus, company car or first-class travel arrangements. Unfortunately, these symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg of the problems this type of person causes. These people are like icebergs, you only see about 10% of the problems in the present. The other 90% only shows up with other team players and in the future, especially after they get fired.

The “what’s in it for me?” integrity/attitude shows up in the hiring process when an applicant pays more than an average amount of attention to how much money and he or she will be paid. It could also include what functions he or she won’t do and how many benefits the job offers (this is a subtle but useful indicator of integrity/attitude). Also important is how quickly the candidate brings up questions about the benefits package. The sooner the applicant brings it up, the worse the integrity/attitude.

Hard Worker Versus Lazy Worker

This category could be either an integrity/attitude or competency issue. Lazy employees can also be referred to as the “clock watchers.” They can also be lazy in other ways, on the internet all the time or who are always at the water cooler or trying to beat your systems or on the phone chatting about their personal concerns. The lazy types will leave before their shift is over or exactly when their shift is over, even when important work needs to be done. For example, you have inside salespeople who are supposed to answer the phone and take orders. The lazy ones might leave their desks even when customers are waiting to talk to someone or they may not check their work after completing it. They won’t go the extra mile, and will do things begrudgingly.

Hard workers usually have a history of working long hours. Some will work forty five to fifty hours per week. During the course of most interviewing, the hard workers will usually bring up that they are comfortable working long hours. When you don’t hear that, you should become concerned about their work ethic. I am not suggesting it is good to be a workaholic, in fact when I did my assessment research I found the workaholics to be rated lower by their supervisors for competence. But a hard worker is an indication of good integrity/attitude.

Positive Versus Negative

Negative people have trouble understanding the good and will spread the bad. These people see the glass as half empty. Employees who are more upbeat have better attitudes.

Appreciative Versus Critical

The person who is critical of others wants to immediately change aspects of your company or how you do things. All employees will disagree with their boss from time to time, and you should consider that normal, but it’s how and when the employee disagrees that indicates integrity/attitude. For example, an employee who stands up and criticizes the boss in a general employee meeting would be considered quite negative by most bosses. The positive employee is more likely to criticize the boss constructively to his or her face and behind closed doors. You can detect critical job applicants by how they speak about their past supervisors and the world in general, or by how easily they get bored. Any real negative statement about a boss, such as, “He was a real jerk,” almost always indicates the person is too negative to hire.

Positive people seem to have only good things to say about eighty percent of past employers and are able to get along well with almost everyone. Even when applicants like this had problems with past bosses or peers over philosophical differences, they still worked hard to get along. When these good integrity/attitude people do have a criticism, it’s usually pretty specific. For example, “My boss would tend to micromanage me when I would fill out reports,” not, “My boss was stupid!”

Responsible Versus Blame

Blamers in an organization really believe the problems they have are caused by someone or something else. Even when you try to point out how they can fix a problem they’ll get upset with you for being unreasonable and mean.

Detecting the blame trait is often the biggest challenge in an interview. You have to listen carefully for indicators of this trait because they are very subtle. Testing for blame on the assessments is the most efficient way to uncover it.

Truly responsible people realize that if a customer or a boss is upset with them they are likely to have had a role in it. Or they feel responsible for a customer’s job that keeps getting messed up in their department. The truly responsible will get to the root cause and do something to prevent it from happening again. They don’t cry or blame or get defensive when a risk they took went bad.

Open Versus Defensive

Being defensive is another way of displaying blame. Defensiveness is over-rationalizing, justifying or denying a perceived personal attack. Defensiveness is the response of taking something personally that is not personal, or the inability to be objective about a situation. The defense is usually immediate, unprofessional, combative and emotional.

A person can become defensive in an interview. For example, an applicant may display it when asked how he or she handled a problem on their last job. Also, you should know they might not show how upset they are by covering it with a smile or acting pleasant. Defensiveness is best detected other than from assessment results (based on the defensive questions, humble and attitude traits), by observing the candidate become defensive in the interview when asked a question.

Honest Versus Dishonest

Dishonest people, even though they are competent, can’t be relied upon and are therefore of limited value. All applicants, if asked, will say they are honest. To get around this, one should give the applicants situations that put them between a rock and a hard place and see how they respond. Give them situations where feelings could be hurt if the truth is told or where honesty might cause embarrassment or where they may look poorly to a potential customer. For example, give them a situation where they may need to lie about a delivery date to get a sale and ask them what they think about that. Don’t try and manipulate them but almost ask it in a way that has them say they would lie to get the sale. In this way the applicants might not realize you are checking for dishonesty and their response will give a more accurate response. Truly honest people won’t lie even if what needs to be said might hurt another’s feelings, cause embarrassment or necessitate extra effort to avoid financial loss.

Those who Steal

Those who steal will not admit it in an interview. You can check a person’s criminal record or give them an integrity/attitude assessment.

Loyal Versus Disloyal

Loyalty is like support, but in a different way. If employees are loyal, they will stay and support their supervisor, company and leader through thick and thin. Disloyal employees are concerned about their immediate gratification, and if that should falter, they’ll leave for “greener pastures.” This is why people who move from employer to employer, especially more than Three times in five years, usually lack loyalty and have poor integrity/attitudes. There are some situations, though, where more than three times in five years is acceptable, such as unstable lines of work, the existence of medical problems, and so on.

When asking people why they left or are leaving their past jobs, the interviewer should be listening for integrity/attitude indicators. Several of them I have already mentioned but also for disloyal reasons, such as leaving for a little more money.

Principled Versus Stubbornness

People who argue and won’t give in despite good reasons may be a problem. People who are inflexible or who dig their heels in just because they didn’t like the way they were addressed are a problem. On the other hand, those that stick to their principles, as long as they align with the goals of leadership, are an asset. In order to detect this integrity/attitude indicator you will need to differentiate between stubbornness and adherence to principles.

Long Fuse Versus Temper

The importance of this trait rests in how bad this temper got and how often. If the person threw an object across the work space, this is too destructive, even if it only happened once.

This is one of those traits that applicants will rarely admit to, and references you contact will be too afraid to mention for fear of legal consequences. The best indicator of this trait will be problems they’ve had with past supervisors, not being able to get along with people, and speaking of others in highly negative ways.

Long Fuse Versus Temper

The importance of this trait rests in how bad this temper got and how often. If the person threw an object across the work space, this is too destructive, even if it only happened once.

This is one of those traits that applicants will rarely admit to, and references you contact will be too afraid to mention for fear of legal consequences. The best indicator of this trait will be problems they’ve had with past supervisors, not being able to get along with people, and speaking of others in highly negative ways.

On Time Versus Late

People who are habitually late usually have a bad integrity/attitude. Lateness is also usually indicative of other negativity. When a person shows up late for an interview, even with an excuse, it could indicate the person has a bad integrity/attitude. The later the person shows up, the worse the integrity/attitude, unless there was a misunderstanding of the appointment time.

People are on their best behavior during the interview process. You’ll never see them act better when they come to work. Therefore, lateness in the interview process means they’ll be even later when they come to work.

Conclusion

A person with a good integrity/attitude may show some of the above negative indicators, but a person with a bad integrity/attitude will show many more negative traits. The bad integrity/attitude person may even have some great positives, like being extremely loyal. The only true indicator of an integrity/attitude problem in the hiring process is by finding a situation which clearly shows the person has an integrity/attitude problem (swears at customers or very hateful toward some past employers) or by tallying the negative and positive indicators.

The subject of integrity/attitude is also well covered in my book How to Hire Super Team Players.