Why to Hire for Attitude

A yellow bucketHiring the right people is one of the most critical decisions for every company and every team. Many different approaches have been invented and tried. Probably most of them work, ... well sort of. In this post I would like to direct your attention to attitude, also because I have quite good experiences with people who I hired also based on their attitude.

Sir Peter Blake was one of the most successful yachtsmen in the world. Talking about attitude. For many, many years he wanted to win the Whitbread round the world yacht race, one if not the most challenging race in professional yachting. Today this race is called the Volvo Ocean Race. It took Sir Peter 18 years and five attempts to win the trophy. And in his fifth attempt he used a rig configuration that others, including some people in his own team, said wouldn't be competitive. However, Sir Peter’s team not only won the overall race. They also won each of the six legs. It was total domination. The key lesson to learn from him is that it was his attitude and the attitude of his team that ultimately helped to secure the win. He persevered and never gave up.

Some time ago I saw an interview with Sir Peter. In it he described how during a race he was noticing how one of his crew members fetched a bucket and a sponge to clean out some bilge water. Remember that the racing yacht was about 34 tons. A few liters of bilge water doesn't really make a big difference. Does it? Well, the way Sir Peter looked at it was different. While in reality a few liters of water don’t make a huge difference, Sir Peter saw the attitude of this crew member. Peter’s thinking was that if this crew member was going to such great length to get the last bit of weight out of the boat, how dedicate would he be on all other tasks that would make a bigger difference? I remember that in the interview he said that people with this particular attitude, that is the sort of people you want to have in your crew.

Now you wonder how that matters in the context of software engineering. The point is that with techniques such as lean startup, continuous deployment and devops, the quality requirements for all the software itself but also for all other aspects has dramatically increased. For example, tools, design, technologies, processes, and many more need to step up their game. So do the people involved in these processes. Next time you hire people for your team or your company, perhaps it is even more important to check on their attitude. It doesn't really matter to a compiler where a developer puts the curly braces, or whether indents are 2, 3 or 4 characters. However, if a developer goes through her code to make sure it is on only well written but also well formatted, then it will tell you a lot about her attitude.

These are just three examples, and only one is from a software engineering background. However, I’m sure you can see how they are transferable to pretty any team that is working on achieve the “bhag” (big hairy audacious goal). Next time you hire for your team, perhaps it might be worth to consider hiring for attitude as well.

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014 8:52:00 PM UTC