June 14, 2022

Thought Piece: Being Nice at Work

In the midst of an article topic brainstorm session, my coworker at Vela handed me a laminated newspaper article titled “A Deal-Breaker Question for Job Interviews”, published in the New York Times on August 28th 2011.

Nabih Haidar

This edition of Corner Office by Adam Bryant sees Andy Lansing, CEO of Chicago based Levy Restaurants discuss his rise to CEO position and leadership, while explaining the “Deal-Breaker” question he asks job interviewers.

When asked about his rise to a position of leadership, Lansing explained that it was not the end goal, but instead a product of curiosity and a desire to help. He explains, “it was in my nature, poking my nose into other areas […] I found myself collaborating with other people who didn’t report to me”.

I found this quite interesting, given that this highlights the importance of a collaborative attitude prior to attaining a position of responsibility. When considering the making of a good leader, participation and teamwork rank among the most important factors. The willingness to join in on others’ efforts point to early signs of a positive leader.

Often times, those in positions of leadership will assume that they should know everything. Yet, does this really make a good leader? Where do we draw the line between inspiring respect and inspiring fear?

“What I figured out is that what gives you power is how you treat people and how you lead. I remember when the first secretary I had at a law firm would introduce me to someone and say, “I want you to meet my boss”. To this day it makes my skin crawl. I’d say, “I’m not her boss; we work together”.

Positive leaders ignore the dynamic of status, and instead focus on the person behind the position. Lasing explains his view on management by explaining how a title itself is not enough to make of a manager a leader. Power within the workplace is not necessarily a product of rank, but can instead be acquired through positive interactions with those around us.

Lansing’s leadership entails an inclusive process, he explains: “I also learned early about a trait of good leaders […] I may have the idea, but I’m going to make you think that you came up with the idea and give you credit for it at the end of the day.”

Positive leadership recognizes that inclusion paves the way for mutual success. Attributing agency is a great way of fostering trust, potential, autonomy, and collaboration. Employees who are valued and validated will feel incentivized to perform, which in turn leads to an array of benefits for the organization.

Q: “Let’s shift to hiring, how do you do it?”

A: “I have a pretty nontraditional approach to hiring. I hire for two traits — I hire for nice, and I hire for passion […] My first question to you is going to be, are you nice? And the reactions are priceless”

When hiring, we often consider a candidate’s work experience, relevant skill sets, location, salary expectations, and other factors to find a match. We look at the professional behind the candidate a great deal, yet seldom do we look at the person behind the application.

Hiring for nice serves a purpose beyond just that. This question allows him to gain a better understanding of a candidate’s culture fit to the organization. Lansing explains: “If you think that this nice thing is kind of “that’s not me and why do they care about that, they should only care about if I can do the job,” then pull yourself out of it. No harm, no foul.”

A match between a candidate and the work culture can prove to be more important than any other factor. A candidate’s match to a company ethos plays a significant role in the retention and the success of the new hire, resulting in a closed position and a compatible teammate.

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Q: “And the passion question?”

A: If you give me someone who is nice and passionate, I can teach them everything else […] If you give me someone with these two traits, they will nine times out of ten be a great success in the company.”

Lansing touches on a recruitment conundrum here. Is it better to hire someone with an adequate know-how who does not exhibit passion, or hire someone who shows a burning willingness to learn despite lacking certain skills?

Albeit valid, Lansing’s answer is one which is relative. Different cultures require different profiles, yet Lansing’s understanding of the company culture allows him to define an ideal candidate profile matching his hiring needs.

Q: “What’s unusual about your culture?”

A:” So we have a really fun thing called ‘On the Road with Andy’ where I’ll go to one of our locations, and we’ll do a video either about a great employee […] or about an incredible food item […] that I want the rest of the company to see […] To me it’s about those kinds of fun, human things that help set the culture.”

The idea of “human things that help set the culture” encapsulates the notion of a company culture at its core. Granted that schedules, flexibilities and benefits play an important role, however the human to human interaction truly establishes a company’s culture.

You can read the article published in The New York Times here. Is there an answer that resounded with you? Let us know in the comments! Discover Vela’s peer-to-peer recruitment platform and talk to us!

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