Category: Dollars and Sense

Character Versus Competence: Who Wins?

How do you screen potential talent during the hiring process? Do you choose second interviews based on intuition, personal preferences, or impressive resumes? Should you be evaluating potential talent based on their personal character?

The dictionary defines competence as: the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity and character as: qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity; good repute. Competence can be learned through education and work experience; character must be earned through life experience.

Dr. Tim Irwin, consultant to SunTrust Banks, Chick-fil-A, Bank of America, Corning, Inc, IBM, Gerber Products Company, The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, and Turner Broadcasting Systems, recently proclaimed that character always trumps competence in organizations. Dr. Irwin specializes in organizational effectiveness, talent management and leadership development and recently authored Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership.

When highly visible leaders fail, Dr. Irwin claims that we should take note of their fall and learn from their mistakes. “At the end of the day, you have to be competent, but character still trumps competence and the failure of it why people derail,” says Irwin. He goes n to explain that while competence is important, trust is the glue that holds an organization together. Without sterling character, trust is impossible to achieve and maintain.

In traditional hiring practices, potential employees are screened by how impressive their competence appears on a resume. If Dr. Irwin’s concept holds water in the corporate world, perhaps employers will begin to adjust the hiring process to make an initial selection of candidates based on competence, then further reduce the candidate pool through a process that digs deep enough to reveal the character of potential employees. Could this two-step process help strengthen companies from the interior by ferreting out the most qualified and trustworthy employees to build a potential corporate dream team that has the skills and the cohesiveness to accomplish industry-changing goals?

Does it really boil down to character and not merely competence in the corporate world? The difference could be described as the difference between book smarts and common sense. While formal knowledge is very valuable, it takes character to apply that knowledge effectively in the corporate world.

Questions to Ask within your Organization

  • How important is evaluating character in new talent within your organization?
  • If you reflect on the actions and reputation of the key people in your organization, how would you rate their personal character?
  • In your particular industry, how important are characteristics such as honesty, integrity, and courage?
  • What would happen if you put together a team of talented people with exceptional character and placed them in charge of brainstorming out-of-the-box ideas and implementing them?

Competence is a vital part of any team, but character could be the make-or-break trait that determines if your corporation will derail or journey on toward new levels of success.

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3 Talent Management Lessons from Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart has become one the largest corporations in the world, and hinted this Spring at plans to global in the near future. Nearly every North American citizen has shopped in a Wal-Mart at some time, and many Americans make a trip to the shopping super center at least once a week. Yet, if you take a look at the average Wal-Mart employee, you won’t find an over abundance of competence or training. So how does the corporate giant maintain such wild popularity and levels of success?

  1. First Impressions Matter. Walk into any Wal-Mart and you’ll instantly come face to face with a Wal-Mart greeter. Have you ever wondered why they go through the trouble of paying someone minimum wage just to stand at the door and say, “Welcome to Wal-Mart!”? They are setting you up for the ideal customer service experience- even if you don’t get it. From the moment you cross the threshold, the subliminal message is “we care about you- the customer”. Even if the rest of the employees you come in contact with are miserably incompetent, you still received the initial message that you matter to Wal-Mart. If you’re struggling with training new staff and finding new talent, you can still provide a quality customer experience if you pay attention to first impressions.
  2. Bigger is…well, better. Have you ever counted the number of cash registers in the front of a Wal-Mart store? Have you ever seen more than a handful of the registers open at one time?  The message is clear, “We have the potential to meet your shopping needs- even when the entire city goes shopping at once- and we expect hordes of customers to shop here regularly.” Even if you have to wait in line to check out, you always have the hope that a cashier will open up in the empty aisle next to you and speed you through the checkout process. This scenario happens frequently: A customer waits in line for five minutes, a cashier puts out a call for front line assistance, a new register opens up, and five customers who were facing another ten minutes in line flock to the cashier and speed through the checkout line in the next five minutes.  Wal-Mart responds to the flux of shoppers by meeting their need for speed. However, they do not staff twenty empty registers so that each customer spends less than five minutes on checkout consistently. They make good use of their resources by putting idle cashiers to work elsewhere in the store until they are needed. Besides, customers who have to wait a bit are much more appreciative of a speedy checkout when the opportunity presents itself. Smart and productive.
  3. Change is Good. Every few years, all Wal-Mart stores are required to perform certain upgrades. New paint schemes, changes in item placement, and even the layout of the bathrooms are all dictated by corporate decision-makers and each Wal-Mart store has a certain given time frame to comply. Was there anything wrong with putting the bread next to the milk? Probably not. But someone decided that change should take place and Wal-Mart strives for consistency among all stores. Someone within the Wal-Mart corporation knows that change is good; companies should strive to meet customer needs more effectively. Failure is okay. We can always move the eggs back to the dairy case, but we’ll never know if they sell better when placed next to the bacon if we don’t try.  Wal-Mart employees expect change because it happens often.

What can you learn from Wal-Mart that can be applied to your own corporation? How are you managing your talent? Evaluate your customer’s first impressions, your employee productivity level, and your approach to change and failure to see how your business measures up to one of the largest corporations in the world.

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