Recently I watched a TED talk by a gentleman named Simon Sinek. Mr. Sinek is the author of a number of popular business tomes including Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why. In the presentation, there is a concept that the best businesses start with a concept of “Why” and achieve greatness when people agree with the beliefs defined in the answer to the why question.
In this talk there was ample discussion in regards to the successes of Apple, the Wright brothers, and also Martin Luther King, Jr. The talk is excellent and presents a very powerful message to any business . You can check it out below.
However, one thought stood out after watching this video:
Sure, we can run companies through belief and achieve great things in the same manner, but can we also hire people through belief and achieve success?
Let me be clear up front — this is not a tried and true method. In fact, before watching this video earlier today, I hadn’t even considered this approach. However, it is hard to find the right people no matter what method is used for hiring. Interview and whiteboard tests and personality matrices can only tell so much of a story. If someone stays at an organization for 5 years they spend roughly 10,400 hours with that same group of people. If that same person had their 25th birthday the day that they started then they would have already lived 219,000 hours.
Are you willing to state that there is an amazing process that can, in 3–4 hours, definitively understand a person that has lived that many hours up to that point and whom you will spend countless hours with going forward?
Sorry — but it isn’t happening. Every hire is a gamble. It is a roll of the dice every time an offer is made and accepted, for both sides of the equation. That is the society that we live in, like it or not.
Yet what if the talk by Mr. Sinek could be applied to the hiring process? What would that look like? How would the message be crafted to bring people in?
Sure — at the surface it appears easy. He states more than once during his talk about how to reverse the statements in order to entice people and lure them in. He talks about Dr. King and how people showed up not to hear them but because they believed in the message.
What message is being presented in a job interview?
Most of us spend a lot of time talking about the “What” part of the equation. What we build. What tech we use. What the candidate has done in the past. What they state that they are good at or interested in. Often we get deeper into the “How” questions and answers. How do we deploy, how do we promote, how do we reward.
According to Mr. Sinek the items above don’t matter. If the person that is being interviewed isn’t aligned with the “Why” then even if they answer those questions above, they aren’t buying into the necessary elements that are needed to make a company great.
A quick search produced one answer. Simon Sinek himself stated that there are two essential questions that must be asked in order to achieve culture fit during the hiring process. In a podcast interview with Gary Vaynerchuk, the two gentlemen discussed culture on: “Simon Sinek, Your Why vs The Company’s Why, & Always Being Yourself“.
In this dialogue, the following two questions are posed (paraphrasing by me):
- What are you selflessly offering this organization that we need?
- What are you selfishly looking to take from us?
While at the surface these might not appear to be that insightful, upon further review there is quite a bit to unpack here. These questions offer two sides of a balanced coin. Mr. Sinek states that “when those things match, you have a balanced relationship.” If the relationship is not built upon these two items then it becomes out of balance.
If you haven’t really examined these statements then you should definitely step back and re-read them. Candidates must offer something that we need. This is huge! It implies that someone interviewing has done their research and is offering something of value to the organization. The only way for the person to know if they have something of value in this transaction is to have some understanding of the business.
Compare this approach with the person that is just looking for a paycheck and simply recites (badly) the mission statement form the main page of the website with nothing more to offer in this negotiation.
The second statement is just as insightful. Modern day organizations are by and large driven by profit and it is not profitable to be proactive on raises and employee benefits.
It is extremely important to note the specific wording used. This question is not asking what the employee wants to get from the organization. It specifically, and purposefully, asks what they want to take. Too often many employees sit back and wait for something to happen and then when it doesn’t they start to feel disgruntled. This creates a dichotomy in understanding and leads to the same imbalance that Mr. Sinek describes.
In other words — managers and organizations always want you to give something. The best managers and organizations expect you to take something in return.
Yet even with the power blatantly on display with these questions — this is not enough. Therefore we need to add to the list of questions to ask. In order to do this we need to delve deep into the belief of both the organization and the candidate and see what can be brought to the surface. By adding just three more questions we now have a total of five key pieces to this puzzle and hopefully a better way to find candidates that will agree with our “why” and go on to choose to spend their next 10,400 hours and beyond with this organization.
Question #1 — What are you selflessly offering this organization that we need?
The answer to this question provides insight into the research and knowledge of the candidate and it offers them a way to really clarify what they bring to the table. This might not even be something that was being looked for in this process. This question also helps to see if the person across the table understands their own abilities and shows a glimpse into their confidence level.
Question #2 — What are you selfishly looking to take from us?
Employees that follow a “get” instead of a “take” mentality will struggle to feel invested in the goals of the company and will have a harder time feeling fulfilled at the end of each day at work. People that have a clear goal of what they want to achieve also have an ability to hit success for those goals. People that are simply looking to work with a smart and talented can do that anywhere — the people with specific targets
Question #3 — What are your goals for this position and if given a voice how would you influence the goals of the company?
This question dives into the concept of goal alignment. People that can set goals have a higher likelihood of following through and meeting those goals. People that have goals that align with the goals of an organization provide huge value as hitting those targets provides benefits to all involved, both personal, professional, and organizationally. A rising tide raises all ships and goal alignment makes for high tides.
Question #4 — Why do you feel that our mission statement is important to our customers and our business?
This isn’t how we do business with customers or what we are selling them. It isn’t even a clarification of who our customers are. This question attempts to see if a candidate understands why we are the best solution for our customers. Can they understand the customer’s needs and speak their language?
Question #5 — How is our mission statement important and what does it mean to you in your own words?
Here it is, the kicker. Can this person, that might end up here for a long time, share the same beliefs that we share and contribute to our success? Can we build a balanced relationship? Does this person just get it here at the beginning of the relationship? Can they convince you that they want to be a part of this idea and organization?
The analysis of a new method of hiring has certainly provided me with a new way of thinking for the next hiring process. These questions provide insights at a level that, honestly, I had never considered previous to this discussion but that will definitely make it into the general process that is followed for the next potential candidate.
The short answer is that, yes, belief can certainly add huge value into the hiring process and is one aspect that may be overlooked by many organizations. I know I won’t be overlooking it next time!
Thanks for reading!
Originally published at kevinwanke.com on January 22, 2020. Kevin’s blog focuses on advice for new Engineers and for Engineering Managers.