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How to instil the right attitude in your new recruits

By Andrew McMillan

Recruitment seems to be a real challenge for many businesses in the automotive sector and to support the strategy described in my previous pieces, some organisations may need a significant shift in their approach.

As we near the end of this series, hopefully it has become clear that you can’t pick and choose which elements of the strategy you deploy. Nowhere is that more apparent than with new members of staff.

It is critical that recruits are not ‘tarnished’ by negative behaviours that may exist in the business, nor do you want existing employees working to develop a culture that their newest colleagues don’t seem to support.

One of my favourite approaches to recruitment comes from Rita Bailey, formerly of Southwest Airlines in the US, who had a simple mantra:

Hire for attitude, fire for attitude.

The question that prevents this becoming operational strategy is: What attitude?


Andrew McMillan spent more than 20 years with John Lewis Partnership, developing industry-leading customer service across the department store division, before becoming a principal partner at consultancy Engaging Service.


Now you may start to see why the statement we developed earlier to define the businesses’ aims and behaviours is so much more than just a ‘mission statement’.

If well articulated, the statement will provide a clear definition of the attitude, and therefore type of person, the business is looking to attract and recruit. Of course, some roles require specific qualifications or substantial experience, but these attributes should only open the door to the selection process – it’s the person you are recruiting, not their qualifications or experience.

It’s impossible to prescribe a generic recruitment process as that should be tailored to the scale and culture of the individual business. One generic feature, though, is that it must never be a straightforward one-to-one interview. Initial screening should be done from the application form and accompanying letter, but there are variations here that can start to identify attitude over experience.

One business I know asked applicants to draw their greatest achievement on the back of the application form which proved to be very revealing while being wholly relevant to their business.

The next stage may be a brief one-to-one interview, especially if appearance is important in the role you are recruiting for, alternatively it might be a telephone interview if the role is in a call centre.

Ideally, if there is any team working involved in the role, the next stage should be a half-day group assessment. It doesn’t matter too much what you ask the candidates to do, what you should be looking for is evidence of openness, collaboration and ability to relate to others.

A hotel I once spoke to told me they started their assessment mornings by bringing in a trolley of tea and coffee and then leaving the room. The candidates who jumped up and asked who would like tea or coffee were almost invariably the ones offered jobs at the end of the process.

That may sound like a trick, but it’s a very clever way of separating those candidates with an inbuilt service ethic from those who are there for any job they can get. It’s certainly more revealing than a one-to-one interview, where a clever candidate can make themselves appear to be exactly what the business is looking for.

That deception is easy to achieve in an hour’s interview, but much harder to maintain over a half-day, activity-based assessment.

Competency interviewing is one of the most effective ways I have seen of predicting future behaviour based on past evidence and represents another technique to identify any facade a candidate may be using.

For example, if a sense of fun at work is central to the desired business’ culture a question might be: ‘Describe an occasion on which you made a group of people laugh, what happened and how did you feel about it?’

That is likely to be so much more revealing than a more standardised approach, which could be: ‘Describe how you deal with customer complaints.’


100% honest, 100% kind

Many organisations have great recruitment processes, but then fail to provide on-the-job support and follow-up. A great mantra for this is: 100% honest, 100% kind.

In other words, talk to new recruits at a very early stage about their performance in an honest, direct way and be kind in giving them support to adjust if necessary.

Finally, think about your reward model and its effect on the sort of people it attracts to the business. I have been fortunate enough to meet some outstanding individuals working on the traditional basic salary and commission model, but equally have seen some businesses for which it just doesn’t work anymore and is limiting their ability to attract the sort of people they want to recruit. In the next and final piece I shall look at some alternatives. 

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