Ask any business leader what they have found to be the most difficult part of running a company and they’ll all tell you the same thing. I’d be rolling in some serious bank if I got paid every time I bet myself what a leader was going to tell me before I even asked the question. Every one of them tells me the exact same thing every time.


Their answer?




Finding trustworthy, dependable, loyal, industrious and drama-free employees is one of the most difficult challenges facing an employer. Employees can either make or break your company.  The right people can put your company on the map. The wrong ones can ruin years of hard work.


According to management guru Jim Collins, author of bestsellers Built to Last and Good to Great, one of the most important keys to building a great company is to get the right people on the bus.  That begins with hiring.


Several years ago I attended a leadership conference hosted by a highly qualified leader of an enormously successful organization who shared his company’s hiring paradigm. The minute I heard it, I recognized its brilliance and simplicity. It just made perfect sense to me. Seventeen years later, it has proven to be a reliable and rewarding approach to hiring great people.


As we say it around our place. We hire people on the 3 C’s.


·         CHARACTER – moral compass

·         COMPETENCY – professional aptitude

·         CHEMISTRY – personal compatibility


When hiring new employees, consider their qualifications through the grid of Character, Competency and Chemistry. It’s a trustworthy equation for hiring great people. Ignore just one of the three and you’ll probably end up kicking yourself.


In this first article, let’s briefly consider Character.


I believe every company has “a soul.” It is the moral nature that directs the energies of the entire enterprise. It runs deeper than vision and mission; this is about the character of your organization.


The service you provide to your customers is driven by a certain noble intent. It’s the compassion, trustworthiness and diligence honored by your company that pays out dividends like “credibility” and “reputation.” In my opinion, it’s the intangible fabric of your corporate integrity that ultimately affords you the opportunity to build your business.


At the heart of your enterprise is a moral fabric that holds it all together. For that reason, you need to hire people who possess a personal character that is similar to your company’s ethical compass.


(Don’t be fooled for a minute into thinking that an individual’s professional character is separate from his personal character. It is not. A person’s professional character is deeply rooted in their personal morality.)


If you want people to trust your company and the service you provide, nine times out of ten they are going to appraise your company’s trustworthiness by the people who represent it.  From your corporate executives down to your service technicians, once customers get the drift that your people are not trustworthy they’ll find another company to provide that same service.


Mark my words:


·         The character of your employees will ultimately determine the integrity of your company.

·         The integrity of your company will ultimately determine its reputation.

·         The reputation of your company will ultimately determine its success.


One of the best definitions of character that I’ve ever heard goes something like this: “character is what you are when nobody is looking.” Who are your employees when they are not on the clock?


Practically speaking, you have to ask enough of the right questions in an interview to get a good idea of what this person is like when they are not jockeying to get a job with your company. Hiring people of character is about finding employees who have a good compass when it comes to intrinsic qualities like honesty, dependability, loyalty and compassion.


Hiring people on the basis of their character is getting more and more difficult due to the legal risks of asking them certain questions in the interview process. Toss in the fact that some of the character quotient is often intuitive; a feeling in your gut or a nagging uncertainty in the back of your mind. I call it a “red flag.” I have learned to trust my “red-flag” cautions. Almost every person who I have hired (or enlisted as a volunteer) after ignoring my “red-flags” about them has later disappointed.


If you work with other team members in the hiring process, I encourage you to be very candid when discussing the “red-flags” any of you may have about a potential hire. Think of it as the collective conscience of the company. Between seasoned team members, it should be possible to discern if a candidate has the character it takes to work for your enterprise.


One simple test for character is job history. Look closely at the candidate’s tenure with previous employers listed on their resume. While there are always exceptions to the rule, an individual with a job history full of short-term employment experiences may have some character issues. They can’t hold onto a job, or worse, they won’t!


Another litmus test for character, of course, is talking to an applicant’s references. However, in nearly 20 years of hiring I have never received a resume where the references weren’t stacked in favor of the applicant. People just don’t put former employers who terminated them on their resume.  (Those who do are relying on current laws that govern what one employer can legally tell another employer on a reference check. I’m all for honoring the law, but this may be a time to go “off the record” with a former employer and appeal to their help as one manager to another.)


A person’s use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) can also be a very revealing insight into what a person is like when they are not on the clock.


The best test is the face-to-face interview process.  I highly recommend multiple interviews over time with numerous people in your organization.  Interviewing really should be a collaborative process with other key team members who have some skin in the game when it comes to the outcome of the hire.


Utilize whatever questions, scenarios, tests or tools necessary to help you get a good feel for the character of the people you are about to hire.  While a thorough process may be more time-consuming and expensive, it will be well worth it in the long run. As I tell our team all the time, “We are never in a hurry to make a bad hire.”


At the heart of your company is its character; the integrity behind what you’re doing. To build a successful company, you need to coalesce a team of people who possess a personal morality that is consistent with your corporate character. Like the links in a chain, your company will only ever be as strong as the people you hire.


Never underestimate the influence of character.


Your customers certainly won’t.