What An Ancient Philosopher Can Teach Us About Recruiting, Hiring And Training Employees

by Larry Benz, Forbes

Employers are faced with a myriad of challenges in the current workforce. Unemployment is low. Millennials have a reputation for job-hopping with no loyalty. Resume reviews and interviews are only somewhat reliable.

Every company wants to recruit and hire A-plus, best-in-class, top talent. As a health care organization, my company isn't any different. After years of trying everything from third-party psychological personality inventories to job shadowing, we recognized that there was no substitute for teaching, emphasizing and creating a culture around developing a few high-yield traits in order to develop our own top talent. In growing from 200 to 2,100 employees, this approach has helped my teams overcome potential deficits that are often missed through imperfect hiring practices.

Practical Wisdom Creates Top Talent

Aristotle said, “The greatest virtues are those which are most useful to other persons.”

To Aristotle, perhaps the greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers, the most important virtue by far was practical wisdom. He taught that if this single virtue is present, all other virtues will follow suit. So, what’s the “practical wisdom” of hiring and onboarding?

Practical wisdom means emphasizing and teaching emotional intelligence (EQ), or the ability to manage oneself and others. For example, our providers are wonderfully trained in the hard science of medicine, but their success with patients and colleagues is reliant on the very human skills of empathy, compassion, positivity and kindness — not exactly textbook material.

Humility: The One Virtue That Unleashed The Rest

Humility is intentionally emphasized as the most important ingredient of emotional intelligence, simply because I find that if humility is present, most other features of EQ will be as well. Leaders should teach it and reinforce it continuously throughout the onboarding processes and across as many levels of the organization as possible. Humble employees who are most interested in listening and learning create an overall better experience for the client, customer or patient.

Emphasizing humility yields tremendous value that cascades in the following ways:

• Employees committed to humility acknowledge that no one knows it all. When employees are encouraged in this way, they access curiosity. There is permission to ask questions and seek clarification with confidence.

• Research suggests that when employees demonstrate vulnerability by asking authentic questions or seeking help, they appear more competent or behave with greater competence.

• Vulnerability breeds connection, which in turn enables empathy, perspective, kindness and compassion. Together, this creates the ultimate service environment.

The Evidence Behind Humility

Employees who can access humility demonstrate a few reliable behaviors, in my observation:

• They realize their knowledge and understanding is limited, are open to new ideas and are able to revise their beliefs in light of new evidence.

• They are grounded and realize they are not the center of the universe, but rather contributing to it.

• They want to learn and improve. They embrace ambiguity and the unknown and like getting new information. I see these employees get joy out of finding out when they are wrong and be more likely to accept help when they are in trouble.

• They do more for others, build connections and tend to be more helpful, tolerant, sensitive and accepting of differences.

• They tend to be more ethical and honest during negotiations and less likely to sabotage their workplace.

Conversely, those who are low in humility and curiosity often overreact during conflicts, double down, retrench and, when angered, plot their revenge.

Putting It Into Practice

By emphasizing and adopting humility, employees spread positivity and a windfall benefits to those they serve and to each other. I've also seen humility embolden employees by giving them the confidence to behave with courage.

Adopting a practice and culture of humility is not easy, but it reaps more benefits than spending endless efforts on refining hiring practices. An environment where employers teach, live, measure and reward for positive behaviors like humility begets far more ROI than the mistaken belief that hiring practices always get you the best employee.

This approach can begin to be implemented through a few basic actions:

1. Clearly define the behaviors that demonstrate and support curiosity, the foundation of humility. If your employees can’t understand what it looks like on a video camera, they won’t know what to do.

2. Link these behaviors back to the values and culture of your organization to ensure this doesn’t live as something separate or outside of previously established norms.

3. Create the spaces, like town halls, where people can ask questions and gather questions in advance.

4. Employ the clear understanding that humility and curiosity are not only hallmarks of a flexible and innovative culture, but are also the hallmarks of great businesses that are committed to serving their customers.

Lastly, per Aristotle, “We also must acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.” And what better occasion is there than the one where we spend a significant part of our life — at work?

Read the article: Benz, L. (2019, March 18). What an ancient philosopher can teach us about recruiting, hiring and training employees. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2019/03/18/what-an-ancient-philosopher-can-teach-us-about-recruiting-hiring-and-training-employees/#5d7b24b54ffb



  • Ron Krumpos said:

    Larry, you wrote "...success with patients and colleagues is reliant on the very human skills of empathy, compassion, positivity and kindness." I entirely agree.

    When my companies hired new employees they were more concerned with the candidates as a person than by their prior experience. You can teach someone to do a job, but seldom change their personality.  


    April 10, 2019 2:07 PM
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