Garrett Miller: Hire On A WHIM - Author interview

Keynote speaker, workplace productivity coach, and President and CEO of CoTria - Productivity Training, Garrett Miller, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the refreshing and ethics based book Hire On a WHIM: The Four Qualities That Make for Great Employees.

Garrett Miller describes the four part WHIM hiring technique, based on selecting employees who display the most positive character traits.

Thanks to Garrett Miller for his time, and for the very informative and comprehensive responses. They are greatly appreciated.

What was the background to writing this book Hire On a WHIM: The Four Qualities That Make for Great Employees?

Garrett Miller: Three years ago after a series of discussions with managers who decried the perils of hiring new college graduates I began to think about my great experiences I had with hiring college graduates. How could managers in the same company, hiring for the same type of positions have such different experiences hiring the same pool of candidates? As I examined my hires and the qualities that made them so successful I began to see several threads that united them. Each of my hires, regardless of age or work experience possessed four qualities.

I coupled this with the recognition and feedback I had received from peers and managers and felt I had something unique and important to share.

What does the acronym WHIM stand for and why is it an important concept for hiring the right person for the position?

Garrett Miller: WHIM was the result of finally identifying the threads, playing with synonyms and arriving at WHIM. The acronym WHIM stands for Work Ethic, Humility, Integrity and Maturity. These qualities are unique because these are the building blocks for any great employee and the reason you must hire all four is because no matter how talented you are as a manager, you can not teach these. One manager stated that these qualities are part of someone’s DNA.

How does the WHIM principle differ from the standard hiring model?

Garrett Miller: Many of the current models focus in on abilities and skills and while these are important they don’t define a great employee. For example someone may have the ability to perform a task but they may be missing one or more of these qualities. The current battery of questions on most interview forms may ask similar questions or touch on these qualities but they don’t focus on them.

WHIM’s approach takes these four qualities and places a spotlight on them. I believe they are non-negotiable and all four must be hired.

How has the traditional hiring process failed to find the right applicants and indeed has selected the wrong person due to preconceived ideas?

Garrett Miller: One of the ironies of traditional hiring is that they do get it right sometimes, but they don’t know why or how to repeat it over and over again. If you don’t know what or why you are looking for certain qualities I’m certain you can’t get excellent results consistently. The beauty of WHIM is it simplicity and because it is simple it is easy to repeat.

One of the keys to hiring correctly addressed in the book is knowing that every hiring manager brings their thoughts, experiences and biases into the interview. Some of these biases are based on fact and are valid and some are not. Some common biases are what school a candidate attended, their accent, the way they dress, GPA or major just to name a few. We must examine our biases and prejudices and challenge them.

I have known managers that only hired athletes because the hiring manager was an athlete and found great value in the virtues of committed athletes. What is missing in this scenario is that the hiring manager may have chosen athletics for one reason and the candidates she is interviewing might have chosen athletics for a whole host of different reasons. What happens in this scenario is that not only are you passing over qualified candidates but you may be hiring candidates based on flawed assumptions.

Garrett Miller (photo left)

How can prospective employees demonstrate a solid work ethic in a resume and later in the interview?

Garrett Miller: Work ethic is displayed in many different areas on a resume. Display and communicate consistent involvement. Look for jobs, clubs and experiences that require commitment and demonstrate dedication. Being heavily involved in charities is a good sign of commitment, anyone who has worked with a charity knows the time commitment involved. I recommend hiring managers look at a candidate’s past five years and evaluate whether they have been busy outside of work or school? Can they jungle multiple responsibilities and still perform at a high level?

During an interview I look for those that have a ‘blue collar’ work ethic. Demonstrate that you are not afraid of hard work, have examples to show this. I also look for candidates who believe certain work is ‘below’ them? I look and listen for candidates who have a servant’s mentality. Do they ask, what can the company do for me, or are they asking and seeking what they can do for my organization?

When the interview has ended clean up after yourself, again this shows someone who is used to doing the small stuff and is considerate of others. During the interview make sure you communicate how many hours you dedicated to various activities. Don’t assume that your interviewer will know or will ask if it was full time or that an activity just took a few hours a week. If you are someone who has successfully juggled multiple activities and jobs highlight that as a virtue.

How can a job applicant show the interviewer that they possess real integrity and will do the right thing even in a difficult situation?

Garrett Miller: You will notice that what makes these four qualities indispensable is that they are intertwined so if you hire three of the qualities and not the forth in affect you are probably getting a diluted version of at least one additional quality. Integrity is a good example of this. One of my favorite areas to demonstrate integrity is a student who has received a poor grade or an employee who may have received a poor review. Never make excuses when asked about these situations and why it is everyone else’s fault but yours. Integrity enables a candidate to say, “Listen I wasn’t given that C- in Calculus, I earned it. I didn’t like the class, it was 8am M,W,F. The reason I earned the poor grade is because I dropped the ball it was my bad.” This is great opportunity to then share what you learned from that experience and how you have applied those lessons.

I have found that interviewers appreciate those who make mistakes and then learn from them because that is life. If I bring someone on to my team that makes excuses then I will hear those excuses until they leave my team. Take responsibility! As you can see it also takes a mature person to see the value of mistakes and be confident enough to tell the truth and embrace these learning opportunities.

Maturity is often considered difficult to assess. How can this quality be discerned in an interviewee?

Garrett Miller: The example I used when assessing integrity is a great example as well but when the interviewer is assessing maturity they are looking and listening to is how you respond. Are you comfortable talking about your mistakes or only about the mistakes of others? Another question interviewers love to ask is, what event or events helped make you the person you are today? Many times I will hear something sad or very difficult but what comes next is the key, how did you react to the event? Is there a seed of bitterness or anger and that this event is the reason why you haven’t achieved more or were kept back? Maturity is seen when someone can speak of a difficult even and say “You know Garrett, it was a very difficult time for me and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy but I’ve become a stronger person because of it.” These types of discussions are great opportunities to demonstrate maturity.

How can humility be defined in terms that point to the right applicant for the job?

Garrett Miller: I’ve defined humility as “The ability and willingness to be taught.” Have you ever tried to teach someone that knows everything? Ay Carumba! The equivalent is the classic example of a guy who doesn’t stop to ask directions when he is lost. Though we can laugh about that scenario, what happens in business when an employee doesn’t stop or won’t ask for directions when he or she is lost? Those who don’t seek direction in the workplace are a detriment to progress and productivity.

Humility is one of the most important traits of a leader, it is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

Garrett Miller: I encourage interviewers to look for examples of when candidates sought out help or times when they did not seek it. How did they react in both of those situations and why did they or didn’t they seek help?

What are some warning signs that the WHIM qualities are not present in the applicant?

Garrett Miller: I listen for people who are easily offended. People who have fragile egos often lack maturity and humility. I look for gaps or short stints on their resume. There may be legitimate reasons but I will explore those. If I ask a question like, “Can you share with me a time that you were rebuked, disappointed or failed at something” and I hear “I can’t think of any”, then I am very cautious.

If there is any lying or slight of hand in the information they provide then they are out of bounds. Corporations are loosing millions of dollars because colleagues who lack integrity.

How can utilizing the WHIM hiring procedure prevent breaches of ethics, bad management decisions that cause harm to customers, employees, and even the solvency of the company itself?

Garrett Miller: I love this question because it brings us back to where we started. Hiring ability and skills is not enough. There is more to what makes up a great employee. When you hire these four qualities there are no guarantees, but you are more likely to have an employee who embodies these qualities and will behave in a way not because it is corporate policy but because that is who they are. I know an individual who cost a Fortune 100 company over a billion dollars because they lacked integrity and humility. They are the person who told a little white lie when it was convenient but who also resisted coaching because they knew it all. Years later the little white lies catch up and so does the law.

Having a culture that possesses these qualities begins by recognizing them and then hiring them with each new candidate. These qualities invigorate a company and will improve how employees see themselves and the organization they work for.

What is the future of non-negotiable WHIM concepts in the hiring process for human resource professionals?

Garrett Miller: We have developed a Hire on a WHIM seminar based on the book. The course has received rave reviews. The most common feedback is “I wish I had this course years ago.” When we hire a poor candidate it is painful for everyone involved. It is painful for the hiring manager who now has to coach this employee up or out. It’s painful for the employee as they feel the pressure to improve, change or else. It’s painful for fellow colleagues who see this going on and finally it’s a huge drain on HR resources which instead of pouring their energies into initiatives that should be driving engagement they are putting out fires and helping managers deal with ‘issues.’

When managers finish our course they truly understand how to uncover these concepts and they know what to listen and look for. The most rewarding feedback is when I hear from clients like I did last week from a VP of sales who sent me an email stating simply that “WHIM is working” and “They are seeing the quality of their hires improve.” And that he is also using WHIM when evaluating management hires.

Wow – that is so humbling for me, but a joy knowing that company cultures are changing for the better.

What is next for Garrett Miller?

Garrett Miller: My amazing family, running my productivity training company, speaking, teaching and writing keeps me real busy.

My next book is in a similar space. It is geared towards the college student who is trying to find their way. I’ve found that many of the graduating seniors are trying to find their calling and purpose after graduating, that is too late. This book is designed to help them find their skills, strengths, likes and dislikes during these valuable years. This will help make their college experiences more valuable and focused and will have them ready to hit the working world running instead of entering it and searching for their niche.


My book review of Hire On a WHIM: The Four Qualities That Make for Great Employees by Garret Miller, with Jim Thrasher

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