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How to Hire Engaged Workers and Lifelong Learners

How to Hire Engaged Workers and Lifelong Learners

By: Jason Jennings
The article below is excerpted from The Reinventors by Jason Jennings by arrangement with Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright (c) Jason Jennings, 2012.

Recently, I interviewed Brian Gale, the CEO of a midsize company in Cleveland, Ohio, that prints tags and labels.

I asked him the same question I ask every business owner and leader I speak with, “What about your business is keeping you awake at night these days?”

He didn’t hesitate with a response. “Without question my biggest challenge is finding the right people.”

His answer surprised me because the Cleveland unemployment rate was hovering higher than 10% so I prodded him a little more. “Why is it so hard to find people when the unemployment rate is so high,” adding, “I’d guess that you’d have people banging on your door?”

“There’s no shortage of people applying for jobs,” he said, “the problem is the quality of the people who are looking for jobs and I’m never going to fall in the trap of just hiring a body for the sake of filling a spot,” he went on to explain.

“As part of our application process,” Gale said, “job seekers are given a short math test of ten questions. The first question is, ‘There are 1,000 labels on a roll and four rolls in a case. How many labels are in a case?’

“The past week,” he said, “about twenty people have applied for jobs and taken the test and almost all of them failed, including folks who’d graduated from Community Colleges. There’s no way I’m taking a chance on any of them,” he concluded.
Recruiting for an Ability to Learn
There are a wide variety of assessment and evaluations tools available and you should use them to make certain that someone possesses — not necessarily a formal education — but sufficient intelligence to play a role in an organization that’s going to call for nonstop learning.

But basic smarts are just half of the necessary mindset. The second half is the ability to learn new things, something a surprising number of people find incredibly difficult.

Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck has been watching the behavior of bright people and how they learn since she was a sixth grader in Brooklyn. Her then teacher, Mrs. Wilson, ranked her class by IQ scores and only the best were given the prestige assignments.

Dweck noticed that many bright students were afraid of taking another IQ test, “because they might not be near the top anymore.” That led her to pursue a career in psychology analyzing the way bright people see setbacks and how that profoundly influences their capacity for learning.

What are Dr. Dweck’s conclusions? People who must look good to others, people who think mistakes make them look bad, people who have “issues” with accountability or are so desperate they steal credit from others, have a hard time learning new things.

Interviewing for Attitude
You need to know how to interview to understand how your candidates view setbacks.

Do they avoid challenges and accountability for mistakes? Are they deeply concerned with how they look to others? How recently have they accepted a setback and learned something new? Can they give others credit for their success or are they stingy? Are they lifelong learners?

Answers to interview questions like these tell you a lot.

If a person acts like they believe “mistakes mean I’m stupid,” or “the manager has to be the smartest person in the room,” he or she will have a very hard time learning in an organization focused on constant reinvention.

Plenty of bright and experienced people have a hard time learning new things.

The late Ken Iverson, credited with originally leading Nucor down the path to constant change and innovation, frequently used a phrase still invoked daily at the company: “Anything worth doing is worth failing at.”

Nucor, which doesn’t have an R&D Department, is willing to try any worker’s idea and see if it works. If it doesn’t work out the company figures out what they learned from the attempt and moves on without recriminations, long faces, punishments or embarrassment.

Read more from author Jason Jennings: How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change

Author Bio:
Jason Jennings
 is the author of THE REINVENTORS (May 2012; Portfolio) and bestselling author of It’s Not the Big That Eat the SmallIt’s the Fast That Eat the Slow; Less Is More; Think Big, Act Small; and Hit the Ground Running. USA Today named him one of the three most in-demand business speakers in the world.