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Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is the New York Times Bestselling author of the leadership books Hundred Percenters, Hiring for Attitude, and HARD Goals.

Mark is a renowned speaker on leadership and has lectured at The United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

Mark’s award-winning research on leadership has been featured The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Washington Post. His media appearances include CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC’s 20/20, Fox Business News, CNN and NPR.

Mark created the training company Leadership IQ to provide webinars, e-learning, speaking and assessments to radically improve the performance of today's business leaders.

Woman: Mark Murphy is the founder of Leadership IQ, a New York Times bestselling author, a contributor to Forbes and LinkedIn, and rated as a Top 30 Leadership Guru. Mark's reputation as a leadership training expert is also why he's lectured at The United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, IBM, MasterCard, Merck, and more.

Mark has written some of the most practical and insightful leadership books ever. And his leadership technique and research have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Inc., CNBC, CBS, Market Watch, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and more. He has also appeared on ABC's 20/20, CBS News, Fox Business News, CNN and NPR. Now, please welcome to Elevate 2015, Mark Murphy.

Mark: Welcome to Hiring for Attitude. When I first coined this term, I didn't do it just because it was kind of a neat phrase. Hiring for attitude. I did it because we conducted a study of over 20,000 new hires, and we found two things. Number one was that a lot of new hires fail, which I think we all pretty much knew, right? But what we found was that when we tracked the people that failed and why they failed, what we discovered was that 89% of the time when a new hire fails, it was for attitudinal reasons, not for skills.

Typically, we have thought, "Oh, well, people fail because they just can't do the job." Well, no. It turns out that's not the case. That's 11% of the time. 89% of the time, when somebody fails on the job, it's for things like coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation, temperament. It's all of these attitudinal issues. So as I said, when I coined the phrase, "hiring for attitude," yeah, it's a neat phrase, but it's really because this is the thing that we tend to miss in hiring situations. We miss the attitudinal piece.

Now, how do you go about hiring for attitude if the old way we've been doing it, hiring for skills, doesn't really work? And it's not that skills aren't important. It's just that we're really good at it. And skills are pretty easy to assess for. It's a very black or white thing. You either can code in Java, or you can't. You either can auscultate the lungs in a hospital, or you can't. It's a very simple issue.

Attitude, a little trickier, so how do we do it? Well, we have to do three basic things, really, to hire for attitude. Number one, we obviously have to figure out what attitudes we want to hire for. Number two is we're going to have to build some attitudinal interview questions and really build an interview that assesses attitude. And then third, third, we're going to have to do something that almost nobody ever taught us about, and that is we're going to have to create some answer guidelines. Because judging attitudinal interview questions is trickier, it's more difficult. We're going to have to exert a little extra effort ourselves and actually build an answer key.

All right. Well, let's jump in. Let's get into this. Number one, developing and discovering the attitudes. There is not one recipe for success when it comes to the right attitudes. I get people, thousands of people every week call up and say, "Can we hire people like they do at Google or Apple or Southwest?" And, you know, it's lovely, but unless you are Google or Apple or Southwest, no, you can't. Because Google and Apple, both great, great companies, but their attitudes, what makes their cultures unique, are very different. Southwest does great service. Well, so does the Four Seasons. So does the Ritz Carlton. And yet, their cultures are as different as night and day. Do they do great service? Yes. But do they define great service radically differently? Well, yes, they do too.

And that's the neat thing about hiring for attitude is that, you're really hiring for your attitudes. The attitudes that make you unique, that make your company so special and stand out. The way to think about it is not to just make up a list of all of the attitudes you'd loved to hire for. "Well, we want people that are teamwork-oriented and have integrity and blah, blah, blah." That's nice, but that's not really your attitude.

The best way to think about the attitudes that make your company special and that make you stand out and make you successful, are to think about the differences between your high performers, your middle performers, and your low performers. So if you thought about the differences between your high performers and your middle performers. What is it that makes a high performer high, makes them A as opposed to B? That's one set of attitudinal characteristics you need to know about.

The other set of characteristics is what makes your low performers low performers. What separates your low performers from your middle performers? So, ostensibly, your low performers are doing things that, well, let's be honest, that kind of drive you nuts, right? These are the characteristics that if you could not hire again, you would gladly not hire again. By the same token, your high performers, the people that you wish you could clone, as the phrase always goes, they are doing something that is different from your middle performers.

So the best way to think about finding your attitudes is actually to go inside your organization. Look at your high performers. What separates them from the middle? Look at the low performers. What separates them from the middle? And that's going to give you two categories of attitudes, the ones you can't live with and the ones you can't live without.

Another simple way of thinking about this, I sometimes call it the 3-3-3 exercise. Take your three best people and your three worst people over the past three months, and what makes them them? What separates them? What defines your best people? What defines your worst people? That's going to give you a whole bunch of insight right there.

Now, I want to take this one example for a second, because this is going to lead us into how do you actually interview for attitude. All right, let's imagine that I've done a little exercise. And I've actually asked, "Who are my best people in the past three months, 30 days, whatever? Who are my three not so good people, and what is it that separates them?"

Well, okay. If I look at my positive characteristic, we sometimes call them our "brown shorts." I know it's a really weird phrase. It's sort of an homage to Southwest Airlines, because they've been one of the great organizations in hiring for attitude. So it was part of their summertime uniform was brown shorts. So what are the unique characteristics? Well, our positive are brown shorts. Let's say that we looked at our high performers, and we discovered that high performers are really collaborative, they support each other. You don't have to ask them to help out. They just jump in and help out. Let's say they are also really self-directed learners. When they're asked to do something they don't know how to do, they just go learn how to do it.

All right. Now, let's imagine that those are the characteristics of our high performers. What about our low performers? Well, imagine that our low performers are very "me" oriented. And again, by the way, this would work great in a lot of organizations.

But let's just pretend, for the sake of argument in this fictional company here, we've discovered that our low performers are not collaborative. They're very selfish, they don't step outside of their role, they don't help each other out, and they're not self-directed learners. When they're asked to do something they don't know how to do, they kind of throw up their hands and go, "Hey, not my job. Ask somebody else. I do what I do. I don't know how to do that. Go find the person that does know how to do that."

All right. Very simple little exercise, but we've just learned something about our culture. We need to build an interview that is going to help us reveal, is somebody collaborative or individualistic, and are they self directed learners or are they sort of static in their learning? That is, they know what they know, and they're not going to learn anymore.

Now, let's imagine we've done this. I want to now show you step two. How do you actually elicit these characteristics in an interview? How do you figure out if somebody is collaborative or individualistic? How do you figure out if somebody is a self-directed learner in a job interview? All right. Well, the first thing we're going to do is we're going to take a look at what we call differential situations. These are basically real life situations that would show a difference between your high performers and your low performers.

For example, when I think about being a self-directed learner, what's a situation where somebody, a high performer with evident self-directed learning, and a low performer, would throw up their hands and go, "I don't want to learn that." Well, okay. One very simple example would be if you ask somebody to do something they don't know how to do. High performers, who are self-directed learners, they're going to say, "Well, geez. I don't know how to do that. I guess I'll go learn how to do that." Low performers, by contrast, will say, "I don't know how to do that, go ask somebody who does know how to do that." So that's one situation right there.

What's another one? Well, maybe your company is implementing new technology, and so all your high performers are going to be like, "I don't know this new technology, but hey, guess what, I'll go learn it." Your low performers are going to look at that new technology, and they're going to say, "We did this three years ago. This is stupid. I don't want to do it. They're going to change it out another year anyways. I don't need to bother learning it."

Maybe your industry regulations changed. High performers are like, "Well, geez. The regulations have changed. I guess I'd better go learn those new regulations in our industry." The low performers will say, "I don't want to learn the new regulations. It's stupid. I'm just gonna sit here and blame the government." Okay. So you've got all of these characteristics. Now, all of these situations that, in real life, high performers are going to react one way, low performers are going to react a very different way. Okay. So that's situation one. All we have to do is figure out a situation that is going to showcase the differences between high performers and low performers.

The second thing we're going to do then is I'm going take any of those situations, and I'm going to turn those into an interview question. All I'm going to do is I'm going to take that "Could you tell me about a time when your company implemented new technology that you had never seen before? Could you tell me about a time when your industry had a major change in regulations? Could you tell me about a time when somebody, a boss, asked you to do something you didn't know how to do? Could you tell me a time when a customer asked you to do something you did not know how to do?"

I'm just going to take any of those situations that I just came up with, those differential situations, and all I'm going to do is take that situation and add on the words "Could you tell me about a time when you fixed that situation?"

Now, side note, most interview questions begin with the phrase, "Tell me about a time when..." You'll notice that when you ask the question, "Tell me about a time when..." It's not actually a question, it's a command. Notice that it ends with a period. To actually make it a question we have to begin with the words "Could you tell me about a time when...?" Every so often, somebody will say, "Well, Mark, that makes it a closed-ended question, because it can be answered with a yes or no. Yes, I can tell you about a time."

Okay, a little caveat to open-ended, closed-ended questions. When you ask somebody in an interview, "Could you tell me about a time when you faced XYZ?" Nobody treats it as a closed-ended question. Why? Because they know what they did. The interview is over. You're pretty much done at that point. So when you ask it, "Could you tell me about a time when...?" You're making it psychologically more gentle. You're making it more relaxed. You're making it easier for the person to actually answer the question. And that's important, because in attitudinal interviewing, you cannot approach this like an interrogation.

You could sit there in a skills-based interview and approach it like an interrogation, not in attitudinal interview. It does not work. So in attitudinal interviewing, what you have to do is to create a more relaxed, open environment.

So "Could you tell me about a time your boss asked you to do something you didn't know how to do? Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?" Any of those will work just fine. Now, once you've done that, there is one other little important hook here, and it is this, don't ruin the interview question. Many, many people ruin their interview questions by adding on little phrases to the end of it. Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment, and how you overcame that?

Okay. Here's the problem. These are the little words that ruin interview questions. What we've just done when we asked them, "Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment, and how you overcame that?" What we're doing is we're saying to the person, "I'm presuming that you did overcome it."

In an attitudinal interview question, you want to leave it so open-ended that the person has the freedom to say to you, "Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?" You want to leave it open enough that they can say to you, "Geez, happens all the time. I hate it over there. That's why I'm interviewing with you guys." You want to give enough space for them to actually tell you that they didn't solve it, that they didn't have a solution to it.

There are two kinds of people in the world, problem bringers, problem solvers. Problem bringers, when you ask them about a problem, they tell you about the problem. Problem solvers, when you ask them about a problem, they tell you about the problem and how they solved the problem, which means you never ever have to ask somebody how they solved the problem. Ask them about the problem, and they will automatically tell you whether they are a problem bringer or a problem solver. It's one of the secrets of hiring for attitude, is to not give away the right answer in your interview question.

So if you take a look at some common interview questions, things like, "Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a difficult situation. What did you do?" Well, okay. First, we should begin at, "Could you tell me about a time?" Second, when we ask the person, "What did you do?" We're presuming that they did something. What if they didn't do anything? We want to know that.

Also, little tricky here, the word "adapt" ruins this interview question. They adapted. We're presuming that they adapted. What if they didn't adapt? If I instead ask the question, "Could you tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation?" And then, I went like this, and I just stopped talking, and I didn't ruin the interview question. Now, "Could you tell me about a time when you face a difficult situation?" Somebody might actually say, "Oh, man, I had a difficult situation last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. That whole company is nothing but difficult situations. I hated that. That's why I'm quitting." Thank you. Wonderful, wonderful answer.

Now, you probably don't want to hire that person, but they just revealed themselves to you, and that is the trick in an attitudinal interview. Take a look at the question, "Tell me about a time when you had to balance competing priorities and did so successfully." All right, "Could you tell me about a time you did so successfully?" No, I don't want to presume that. And "balance competing priorities?" No, no, no. "Could you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities?" And that's it. Stop talking. That's the interview question. That's how you do attitudinal hiring.

Now, the interesting thing with hiring for attitude is that when you leave the questions open-ended enough, and people who have done this before can tell you that the things that come out of people's mouths in interviews will shock you. It's truly mind-blowing sometimes, what people will say in an interview. But that's great, that means you're doing your job as an interviewer, because you're leaving it open-ended enough for them to paint their personality into it.

"Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?" "Oh, it happens all the time. I told them to go find somebody else." People will say things like that, and that's not the mark of a bad interview question. That's the mark that you're doing it right, because if your interview questions will actually give you a wide range of responses, they actually differentiate high performers from low performers, that's the mark of doing this whole thing right. That's exactly where you want to be.

So if you take a look at some of our sample questions here, these are some sample attitudinal "hiring for attitude" kinds of questions. If you wanted to know, for example, that somebody would not tell you, "That's not my job." If you want to assess for that attitude, you could ask a question like, "Could you tell me about at a time when you were given an assignment that didn't really fall within your role?" Leave it very open-ended.

If you want to know if people bring solutions as opposed to problems, you could ask, "Could you tell me about a time when you identified a problem your boss needed to know about?" Some people will say, "Oh, my boss is never interested in knowing about problems." Great.

If you want to know whether or not people quit before the job is actually done, you could ask something like, "Could you tell me about a time when you were given an impossible deadline?" "Oh, my life is nothing but impossible deadlines. Nothing ever gets done over there." Again, wonderful. This is what you're going for with attitudinal hiring.

Now, the final piece of this is making sure that you know how to evaluate those answers. You need an answer key. As I said, when you're hiring for skills, it's usually pretty clear that they either have the skill or they don't have the skill.

Attitude is much, much trickier, so you need an answer guideline, an answer key, basically, that will tell you whether this is a good answer or a bad answer. Attitudinal hiring is much fuzzier, so you need to clarify this before you start the interview.

All right, let's take this little example here. Imagine I asked somebody the question, "Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?" And this is the answer I gave. This is the answer that the candidate gave, rather. Okay. The person said, and by the way, this is an actual answer that somebody gave. They said, "Well, my last job, I was inundated with requests that were outside my area of expertise or influence.

I'm always pretty cautious when it comes to stepping outside my comfort zone, so most of the time, I just turn the situation over to someone experienced. After all, I want to make sure I'm protecting the company's back, because I don't want to touch a project which I'm unqualified, and then have it do damage to the client. The client's interests are always of paramount importance, and it's critical that an engineer adhere to accept the practices and the proper processes. If I'm in a situation where I don't know those processes, it's better for me to pass the request to someone else that does."

Okay. Now, that's the answer that a real, live person gave. Now, how do we evaluate that answer? Well, one of the things I always do when I'm teaching a group of leaders on hiring for attitude is I put up a little answer like that, and then I gave them a little rating scale. And I say, "Okay. I want everybody in the room to rate this answer. One, being a poor fit. Seven, being a great fit. You tell me. Is this a great fit, is this a poor fit?

Now, here is the thing. I don't honestly care what you rate this person. It doesn't really matter. What matters is whether or not your entire company gives it the same score. Just last week, I was teaching a group of about 500 leaders. Did the same kind of exercise, put it up, and there were a group of folks that gave this person a one. Group of folks gave them a two, gave them a three, gave them a four, gave them a five, gave them a six, gave them a seven. There was a perfect spread, and they were all from the same organization.

Now, it doesn't matter. If the company looked at this and said, "We agree, as a company, that that answer is a seven." Wonderful. If they all agreed and said that answer is a one, also good. It doesn't matter, as long as everybody is in lockstep as to what they're calibrated, they're aligned, as to whether or not this is a good or bad answer.

And that's the thing we have to work through with hiring for attitude, is we've got to get on the same page. Because people who love that answer, they say, "Well, if they're focused on the customer, they're adhering to engineering protocols, etc." People that hate the answer, they say, "Oh, well, they never step outside of their role. They don't like the word inundated," whatever. There's lots of reasons to like it, lots of reasons to not like it. The critical piece, though, is that everybody in your organization is on the exact same page as to what constitutes a good answer or a bad answer, and that's the calibration exercise.

So what we can generally recommend is that for every interview question you ask...and you're not going to ask that many. When doing attitudinal hiring, five or so interview questions is sufficient to get at the issue. But you're going to put together some sample answers that are bad, some sample answers that are good. We call them warning signs and positive signals. Warning signs say, "Something doesn't smell right here." Positive signals say, "Yep, this person is probably a really good fit."

What you want to do is make sure that before you go into the interview, every manager knows exactly what good answers sound like and what bad answers sound like. That they literally have a cheat sheet sitting in front of them that says. "This is good. This is not so good." When you do that, what ends up happening is that people get on the same page.

So if we take our question, "Could you tell me about a time you didn't know how to do something that a boss or a customer was asking you to do?" And we took a look at some bad answers. Maybe a bad answer, a warning sign, sounds something like, "Well, I had one boss who was terrible at communication, and a lot of times it negatively affected the procedures that weren't fallen on our department. I know it really impacted my work and made my life pretty miserable."

Okay. If we hear an answer that sounds like that, that's probably going to be a red flag in our fictitious company here. But what about a good answer? Well, we take the same question. Maybe a good answer would sound something like, "Could you tell me about a time the boss or customer asked you to do something you didn't know how to do?"

Maybe a good answer sounds like, "I was honest with a customer and explained that I wasn't familiar with what they were looking for, but that I would connect them with a person in our company who was the expert. I'm in this connection within the 24-hour window, and then I kept in touch with the customer and our expert so I could go back and learn everything I needed to learn, so that the next time I was asked, I knew how to solve it." Okay. Maybe that's what a great answer sounds like in our little company.

One thing we have found in listening to tens of thousands of good answers and bad answers is that there are a couple things that usually typify bad answers and usually typify good answers. And it's weird, I don't want to get too technical here, but if you pay attention to the grammar that people use, grammar and pronouns, basically, high performers give lots of answers that use first-person pronouns and past tense verbs. Low performers give lots of answers that use second and third-person pronouns and present and future tense verbs.

Let me give an example. A high performer might say something like, "I, me, personally, I called the customer on Tuesday and asked them to share their concerns." A low performer might say something like, "Well, customers need to be contacted so they can express themselves." Or "You should always call the customer so that they can share whatever is going on with them."

Notice, high performers say, "I did this." Low performers tend to say things like, "You should do that." Pronouns and verb tenses become important. High performers will often say things like, "I had a customer who was having issues, and we did the following." A low performer is likely to give an answer like, "Well, when a customer is upset, what one ought to do is..." or "I would calm an irrational person by saying the following to them." Notice, they're not saying what they did. They're saying what they would do. When somebody gives you a hypothetical answer to a very specific past tense question, it's not a guarantee, but it is a pretty good sign that we've got an issue here.

One final note, remember I said at the very beginning that coachability was the number one reason why new hires failed? One thing to bear in mind is that you can test every single person, every single role for coachability, and you're going to do it in five simple, quick parts. You're going to ask them first, "So what was your boss's name at a previous job?" You don't have to take their current job. You can take the one before that, works just as well. So "What was your boss's name at that job?" "Oh, Pat." "Pat what?" "Pat Smith." Great. "Could you spell that for me?"

That one simple little technique flips a switch in their brain that makes them go. "Oh, boy. They're gonna call Pat Smith, S-M-I-T-H, even if I don't give them Pat Smith's name. And what that does is it provides a little honesty check that ensures that you're going to get a really truthful answer. It may not always be a good answer, but it's going to be a truthful answer.

Part two, you then ask them, "So tell me about Pat Smith, S-M-I-T-H, as a boss? What was Pat like?" And they're going to say whatever they're going to say. Here, if you hear something that sounds like you, and it doesn't sound good. If they say something like, "Well, Pat was great. A bit of a micromanager, that was tough. But otherwise, really great," and you know you're a bit of a micromanager, they probably just told you this is going to be a little dicey.

Part three, "What's something you could have done or done differently to enhance your working relationship with Pat?" The reason why this is such an important test of coachability is coachable people, high performer types, there's always something that they could have done better. When you hear somebody say, "Nothing. They were good as... nothing more we could have done." You know that that person is not striving for the next big thing. It doesn't matter how good they are. Tom Brady can go out in the NFL and throw for 400 yards, and still they said, "Boy, that was a perfect game, Tom." And he'll still say, "Yeah, but there are two throws I'd like to have back." That's the coachability mentality.

Part four, when I talk to Pat, what is Pat going to tell me your strengths are? That's a softball question that leads into the final coachability test, which is, "Now, everyone has areas where they can improve. So when I talk to Pat, what is Pat going to tell me your weaknesses are?"

Now, I would never ask somebody, "What are your weaknesses?" Because they are going to give me a canned answer. But when I ask them, "What's Pat going to tell me your weaknesses are?" Very, very different, because here now, what I'm going to hear is something like either, "Well, here's what Pat would say." Or I'm going to hear something like, "I don't know, you'd have to ask Pat." And when they tell me, "I don't know what Pat would say my weaknesses are. You'd have to ask Pat." What that tells me is they're not super coachable. Why? Because I don't need to get the feedback from my boss to know what my boss is thinking. I anticipate.

Coachable people anticipate what their boss is going to say about them. So this is one other big, attitudinal check, that if you think about asking some maybe five or so really great attitudinal interview questions like we talked about, and then you throw in this other five-part coachability question. It's one question, just has five parts. You throw that in, now all of the sudden you've got a giant leg up on hiring for attitude. Again, remember, when I created this whole thing, I didn't create it because it was a catchy phrase. I created it because attitude is really what separates people in the workplace. It's why people fail.

To hire for attitude effectively, you basically have to figure out the attitude you want to hire for, build some interview questions around that, and make sure you have a crystal clear answer guideline, so you know how to evaluate those interview questions. And if you do that, you are light years ahead of where most other people are at. Because, remember, 89% of the people, when they fail on the job, 89% of the time it's for attitudinal reasons.

Thanks so much for watching. Loved doing this, loved being part of this great expo here. And please email with any questions.