Hire the person, not the talent

This article first appeared in Marklives.

I often see people focus so much on the experience or list of achievements on a flashy CV that they fail to think hard enough about the person who hides behind it. And this, I think, is fatal.
There’s a theory floating around on the web that a person is made up of an average of the five people they spend the most time. Although this initially sounds like the kind of vomit-inducing motivational statement found on Pinterest, perhaps there is something in it. For it is true to say that a person’s personality mirrors the people they hang out with, and good and bad habits and traits become exaggerated when surrounded and encouraged by similar behaviour.

This stands true, I think, for businesses as well.

I have seen many a culture affected — both for better or worse — by the introduction of just one person. I am convinced, too, that the addition of just one incompetent person to a pool of good talent dilutes that talent and makes everyone else just that little bit more rubbish.
I would even go so far as to say that just one bad hire may make or break a business. I have twice seen first-hand the disastrous effect that the introduction of one toxic person at a senior level can bring to a business, in both cases leading to the loss of staff, clients and irreversible damage to the bottom line.

It makes sense — clients don’t only choose an agency because of the work they have done. They have chosen it because they like, and trust, and have chemistry with the people whom they have to deal with. And, as much as employees want a good salary and to work on sexy brands, they also don’t want to be bullied or miserable or traumatised every time they sit down at their desks.

As I have said many times, we spend more time with the people whom we sit in an office with every day than our friend, families and lovers. So who wants to be miserable for the majority of their life because of the asshats whom they are forced to work with?

There a more fundamental point to this, though, than simply whether people are nice or not.
Nothing to be done with a bad attitude

Skills may be taught and people may be invested in — but there’s nothing that may be done with someone who has a bad attitude. I would choose an eager and personable junior who’s willing to learn over an obnoxious, aggressive or lazy person with loads of experience any day.
For an industry where most of us have just two real assets — our reputation and the people whom we employ — isn’t it crazy that we so often overlook the value of the second?

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.