Do You Really Want “Attitude” Over “Aptitude”?

How Has “Attitude Over Aptitude” Played Out in Your Organizations?

I’ve heard people say they would prefer to hire for attitude over aptitude, because they can teach the person how to do the job-but they can’t teach someone how to have a different attitude. This is a very absolute statement that sounds good on the surface, but perhaps isn’t as useful in practice.

Here’s a question:  How many times have you worked for a company that hired and promoted individuals that were good at everything but the job they were appointed to do?

During the course of my career, I have seen this so many times I have lost count and I suspect you are no different.

These candidates who are revered for their “attitude” are good at being the “yes” man or woman. They may be good at throwing others under the bus. They excel at focusing on details in every situation that don’t require any attention at all. They come early and stay late. Quite possibly, they are good at being a poor leader and the list goes on and on. What seems like deficiencies from a reasonable person standard has now translated into a coveted management position with a generous salary and everyone is asking “how and why”?

What good does it ever do to put the wrong person in the wrong job? It does no good. Not only does it make the people reporting to the person and working with the person resentful- it just doesn’t make sense. Hires and employees that lack the knowledge, skills, and abilities to the job they are tasked with negatively impact productivity, morale, and engagement.

The companies that take training and development seriously are the minority these days.  Since that is true, it also means that not only are we hiring and promoting the wrong individuals based on “attitude” but it probably means they are never truly going to be developed up to meet the aptitude requirement anyway.

The right fit is something many companies strive for when hiring new staff. The bigger question is why are we so fixated on hiring someone with the “right” attitude? Isn’t our premise of the “right” attitude based on some bias anyway? Naturally, no one wants to work with a difficult person but what about all of the lesser extremes of personality?

The practice of hiring attitude over aptitude-in some cases shows us that the reality of working with someone with a different temperament than the company norm is so concerning that we would risk hiring or promoting the wrong person for the job.

We need to be mindful about setting both leaders and the support staff around them up for success. That starts with putting people that have the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities in the right positions and making sure they are duly trained and developed to carry out their duties. I don’t mind working with someone that isn’t warm and fuzzy, as long as they are respectful and can be a valued and contributing member to the team. What drives me crazy however- is working with people that fit a pre-baked company profile and are completely inept at doing their jobs.

As an HR practitioner, much of the blame for this kind of mismatch falls on us. Perhaps, the message we need to send is one that recognizes the value of personality and demeanor in selecting individuals for a particular position balanced with the need to have someone who has the acumen to be of value to the organization.


What do you think? How has “attitude over aptitude” played out in your organizations?



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