Hiring for Character
By Kent Stemper, CEO
My career allowed my family and I to live 4 years in Japan. When we first moved there we would email our friends with all of the interesting observations we had about a culture so different from the U.S. After about six months, our friends would say “what happened to all of the funny stories you used to send us, send some more of those.” At that point we had nothing to write about, because we had grown accustomed to Japan and life overseas and nothing seemed that unusual any more.
At BluSky we try really hard not to grow too accustomed to ourselves. By that I mean, we always try to be observant of where we can make improvements and as much as possible learn from our mistakes. We did that once by reviewing some of our past employees, in particular the employees who didn’t work out and/or didn’t fit with our firm. When we did that, we found a common thread, and it was a lack of character. And I wouldn’t want to try to define that lack of character too narrowly, but I’ll give you some examples we came across which were dishonesty, extreme selfishness, arrogance, laziness, people who wanted to take shortcuts or not follow our process or thought they were above our process. After doing this, Warren Buffet’s insight into hiring rang true: “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
- Next we said, “Well what does a person of strong character look like?” The first thing we did was look at some of our people that had done very well at BluSky and there were some common themes that came to the top.
- First and foremost, they treated people with respect, BluSky teammates, customers, owners, subcontractors, vendors, everyone really. They were ethical and fair. They were generally not selfish.
- They were team-oriented. Our people help each other out. This is huge, it’s an advantage to our firm that you can’t quantify but that we treasure – and we treat it like treasure.
- They were solution oriented and wanted to help. In our industry, it’s a basic requirement to be solution oriented, but at the end of the day all companies are providing a solution to customer’s needs in some aspect.
- They were committed or even dedicated to our customers and BluSky.
- They were confident but not arrogant.
- They were hard working, and not looking for shortcuts. This was a big difference in character between the two groups.
Breakdowns or process failures can occur at multiple times with construction, and this can be magnified working in restoration and occupied spaces. Much of construction is not automated and still has a significant human component, and you encounter a number of issues. Here’s a key defining point for our firm that makes a tremendous difference in our business: when the process is followed but something still goes wrong as it sometimes does, what does the person do? This is a moment that can make or break a client relationship. How are we going to handle the issue and how are we going to treat our customer?
At the end of the day, we want people who are going to do the right thing. That’s critical for us and who we are, and critical for our customers. Those people, are people of character, and their actions include being transparent about the issue, involving others, communicating to all, and not hiding anything, essentially – looking for what is the right thing to do.
Of course, none of this matters unless our senior leadership team exhibits the behaviors we want the rest of the organization to follow. I read a statement once that said ‘the greatest challenge we face as leaders is leading ourselves’. Our team strives to hold ourselves to a high standard in terms of our personal actions and decisions. Fortunately, on our team, we have a group who have an internal compass to do the right thing!