The Right Stuff Part 2

In Part 1 last month, it was suggested that typical job-candidate selection methods may not adequately assess a prospective staffer’s internal and external job awareness--that is, the ability to recognize and rectify current problems, as well as an ability to imagine how the job may evolve. If these factors are overlooked, a newly hired staff member, while making a minimum contribution to the agency’s operation, may not strive for optimal performance. Part 2 addresses two additional under-assessed factors--respect and partnership.

Take The Time

During a standard interview, a manager likely reviews the agency’s formal structure and policies, but it is less likely that informal structure and culture--how things actually get done--are discussed. More often, a conceptual framework used to gauge a prospective employee’s past experiences in “getting along” with colleagues is not discussed..

It is one thing to talk about finding a good “fit” among current and new staff, and quite another to actually devote the time to identify and assess an employee’s existing interpersonal skills as well as compare those results to the candidate’s personal characteristics. (Each semester, my Human Resource (HR) management students conduct interviews with newly-hired staff about their respective agency’s HR practices. Rushed hiring and inadequate orientation invariably are among the most common complaints.) Some managers depend on standardized psychometric instruments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and at the other end of the scale, other interviewers rely on gut instinct.

One alternative to these contrasting methods relies on asking a candidate to describe respect--for others and for him- or herself. Figure 1 depicts the various combinations of other- and self-respect as four quadrants. The two areas comprising the left half of the figure represent the least desirable behaviors, while the two occupying the right half may be considered more positive.

During the interview, a manager listens for indications of the applicant’s attitude and behavior in interaction with others. A manipulator typically is recognized for a lack of respect for others, viewing them as mere pawns. Additionally, however, manipulation may indicate low self-esteem, as the afflicted one seeks to control others to compensate for a perceived lack of control over one’s own circumstances.

Polar Opposites

In contrast, low respect for others combined with an inflated self-respect can produce aggression, which raises manipulation from being subversively sneaky to explicitly confrontational. The polar opposite of aggression is passivity, wherein a prospective staffer defers too much to others at one’s own expense. This person avoids making decisions and looks the other way instead of offering suggestions, and supporting what the agency believes and values.

The ideal employee, of course, is one who has a healthy self-image combined with an equal respect for co-workers and the people to be served. Assertiveness is founded on the premise that what is good for the agency is also good for the staff, and vice versa; philosophy, vision, mission and goals are well-defined and mutually upheld.

Figure 2 adds a third dimension to the definition of “good fit” by refining the degree of assertiveness depicted in Figure 1 through the concept of “partnership,” expressed as the degree of cooperation. In this scheme, manipulation seeks to leverage compromise and accommodation, passivity is transformed into avoidance, and aggression is competition gone out of control. Only collaboration is strengthened by assertiveness because neither party can achieve the greater significant goal alone.

Clearly, these are complex issues, but they also explain why finding a good fit is so important. At what point does assertiveness transform into outright aggression, or when do compromise and accommodation, sometimes necessary in team work, foster manipulation? The wrong ingredients, or an improper mix of the right stuff may tip the balance, but a framework-based, thorough interview will keep your agency’s trajectory true.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation, and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at