Mackay: What we look for in employees

I’ve hired about 1,000 employees over the years. It’s one of the joys of owning a business — giving opportunities to people who want to work and succeed.

It’s also one of the challenges of owning a business — hoping that you have been a sharp judge of character and ability. To me, ability is secondary to character.

Granted, applicants need to be qualified for the positions for which they are being interviewed. I’m willing to hire someone who doesn’t have perfect credentials, but is willing to learn, because skills can be taught. A finely tuned training program can weed out those who are not up to the job.

Character is more complicated. Multiple interviews expose different parts of someone’s personality. For key hires, I insist candidates meet with an industrial psychologist to detect any red flags. Even then, we’ve had a few slip through.

Once that new person has started the job, it’s only fair to be very clear about what is important to your organization. If you don’t define your expectations, you can’t fault someone for failing to live up to them.

I came across this spot-on assessment that I think can apply to any organization, business or nonprofit, from the late legendary David Ogilvy, who was chief executive of the advertising company Ogilvy & Mather. He was giving a talk at the company’s annual year-end party. Speaking particularly to newcomers in the business, he said:

“I want the newcomers to know what kind of behavior we admire and what kind of behavior we deplore.

“1. First, we admire people who work hard. We dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight in the boat.

“2. We admire people with first-class brains, because you cannot run a great advertising agency without brainy people.

“3. We admire people who avoid politics — office politics, I mean.

“4. We despise toadies who suck up to their bosses. They are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.

“5. We admire the great professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence. We notice that these people always respect the professional expertise of their colleagues in other departments.

“6. We admire people who hire subordinates who are good enough to succeed them. We pity people who are so insecure that they feel compelled to hire inferior specimens as their subordinates.

“7. We admire people who build up and develop their subordinates, because this is the only way we can promote from within the ranks. We detest having to go outside to fill important jobs, and I look forward to the day when that will never be necessary.

“8. We admire people who practice delegation. The more you delegate, the more responsibility will be loaded upon you.

“9. We admire kindly people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings — particularly the people who sell things to us. We abhor quarrelsome people. We abhor people who wage paper warfare. We abhor buck passers, and people who don’t tell the truth.

“10. We admire well-organized people who keep their offices shipshape, and deliver their work on time.

“11. We admire people who are good citizens in their communities — people who work for their local hospitals, their church, the PTA, the Community Chest and so on.”

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