Beyond intelligence, look for potential employees with 'wanna' when hiring

November 15, 2008

Once you get employees to realize that their success or failure ultimately is up to them, the pressure is off you as a manager. The pressure is squarely in the place it needs to be: on the employees. Your only job then becomes augmenting their growth with the tools they need to be the hardest-working technicians you ever will have.

Key Points

In 1994, I had the opportunity to become the program director of the School of Ophthalmic Medical Technology in St. Paul, MN. I was so proud because I had graduated from that school and had been on the teaching faculty since 1983.

I believed that I had reached the pinnacle of my career, integrating my teaching background with ophthalmic technology and "making" new technologists to send into the world. It was a very heady experience.

The chief of ophthalmology at the medical center also was the medical director for the program. The first day of classes, he came to the school to introduce himself to the students and to me as the new program director. He began with a flowery description of the school and the hospital experience. I remember it like it was yesterday, and it went something like this:

Well, there had to be an audible hiss as the air collapsed out of the bubble I was resting on. My hand instinctively reached for the anatomical skull sitting on the table next to me; I was sure I could hit him squarely from where I was sitting.

And then he went on: "Dianna might not have been the smartest student in the class [by the way, I was a solid B student], but she was the hardest-working student. She studied hard, tried hard, and left no stone unturned when it came to her patients. That's what I wanted."

I began to see what he meant, and it has been the tenet by which I have managed for the past 15 years. I have called it "wanna."

What to look for

I stopped interviewing new hires a long time ago, because I don't want to know who the most inspirational people are in their lives; what their proudest moments were; or who their favorite singers are, male or female. I am not looking for a character study of the people; I want to know if they "wanna."

So instead of interviewing them, I tell them what it is I am looking for in them. I explain the whole job, the hours, the different clinic sites, and the expectations of the job. I tell them my expectations of them and their future if they choose to come work with us. Some have likened it to me drawing a line in the sand and daring them to take the job if they have the fortitude to be part of our team.

I tell them that the expectations I have of myself and their potential future co-workers are extremely high. And then I tell them that if they do not come to the classes, do not do outside studying, and do not show me they want this job every day, then they can't come here. And then I wait. I wait for them to say the sentence: "That's what I want, too."

Now I know they have no clue what they really have signed themselves onto, but I want to hear them say they want it. I also tell them that there are only four things they have to do to be successful here: come to work on time, be good to our patients and their fellow staff, have a smile or two, and then go home. That's all they have to do.

I have had techs tell me after a year that when I told them that, they thought the job was going to be cake. But later, they realized it was one of the hardest things they have ever had to do. What? Don't be late, smile, and go home-how hard can that be?

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