Kritical Edge

I am not sure when exactly did the shift happen but when I reflect, I feel that it surely must have been a gradual process and I am much wiser and thankful for the change. And every time I notice that my opinion about some subject has changed, I am reminded of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s famous saying,

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” 

But let’s forget about Heraclitus and his famous saying for now and move to the issue at hand. The trigger was a recent comment by a close friend. While discussing a particular aspect of the lockdown, he said, “Yahan to har ghar main Vibhishan hai”. Translated to English, it means, there is a Vibhishan in every home. In Ramayan, Vibhishan is the brother of Ravan, and passes on the secret of how to kill Ravan to Shri Ram, which ultimately leads to Ravan’s death at the hands of Shri Ram. 

As it happens, I have been interviewing candidates for a few open positions in the team and recently rejected a couple of candidates for their attitude. And when I say attitude, I am not necessarily referring to it in the negative sense. I felt strongly, that the value systems and what they were looking for from their careers did not match what we, as an organisation, are trying to strive for. The Vibhishan analogy may be a bit strong but it fits perfectly. Here’s how!

Remember, the shift that I had mentioned at the beginning of this article. When I started my career, it was with a strong belief that knowledge and skills are most important for the success of the individual as also key determinants of her/his contribution towards the goals of the organisation, they work for. Frankly, at the beginning of my career, I did not pay much attention to how attitude can be a key determinant for individual success or a key criterion for selecting a team member. I have always been a dedicated worker (I am not boasting. I have not received any adverse feedback on this aspect in my career.) and believed that I have contributed to the success of the organisations that I have worked for. 

Fortunately for me, I started managing teams pretty early in my career and at some point, realised the importance of having people in the team with the right attitude. More than 90% of the time when I have hired people who have the right attitude, I have observed that they have not only performed very well, they have lifted the team’s performance (that they work in) to a new level. They are also a very good cultural fit and hence do not require high maintenance. 

Despite giving importance to attitude as an element to consider while recruiting, for a very long time, I continued to give much more weightage to skills and knowledge. I imagine that was how I was wired at that time. However, as time progressed and I acquired more experience in managing teams, I realised that having a person with the right attitude is more important than having someone with great skills but not a good cultural fit. The primary reason that I did not choose any of the candidates was that they were in a different stage of their life and would not have been a good cultural fit. They had excellent skills. 

Persons who are a good cultural fit for an organisation are generally happier as they are in their element, which improves engagement and hence performance. Another example of a wrong fit is when persons, who are either risk-averse or those who do not prefer constant change, join start-ups.  I am sure they quickly realise their mistake as life in start-ups changes almost constantly. Being risk-averse is not wrong – one could be risk-averse by nature or be at a point in their life where they want a stable job. However, it is equally important for people to know what kind of organisations would they be a good cultural fit in, before applying for a job. However, if you make a mistake, cut your losses quickly. If you find yourself in an organisation where you do not fit, start looking out almost immediately and move out as soon as you can. It is easier said than done but it makes a lot of sense to not prolong the suffering.

I have now reached a stage where the weightage that I give to attitude is far more than what I give to both skills and knowledge. I think that it is easier for people who have the right attitude to acquire new skills or enhance their existing skills. Also, given the VUCA world we live in, skills can become obsolete very quickly, and with the right attitude, one can adjust to the constant churn. The ideal scenario is if we get a great mix of attitude, skills, and knowledge bundled in one person. However, if I have to choose, I will choose Attitude over Skills any day.