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Shouters and Screamers

By Chuck Violand

July 18, 2016

The barbequed brisket we were having for dinner that night was outstanding, but the dinner conversation I was having with Frank was even better. Frank was the recently retired Chief Administrative Officer for one of the largest and most respected orthopedic practices in my hometown, and he was relating the story of his hiring interview.

Fourteen of the doctors from the practice conducted the interview. Fourteen doctors! They told Frank he was one of five finalists for the position. “We’re looking for someone who can improve morale, repair the culture, and develop leaders within the organization,” they told him. “Is that something you think you can do?”

Frank responded by saying, “That’s nothing new. Every company in the world wants to do those same three things. I have one question for you before I answer.” They were surprised with his directness. “How many of you in this room are shouters and screamers?” he asked. The silence in the room was deafening, and seemed to continue for hours. Then, slowly, one hand, and then more hands, began to rise. “If you’re not willing to change that behavior then, no, I can’t help. Nor can anyone else. But if you are willing to change that behavior, then we might have a shot at it.”

Frank’s interview experience is loaded with business lessons, regardless of what type of business you run.

As business owners, many of us feel we have a corner on asking all the questions in a hiring interview. Oh, sure, we extend the usual invitation to our candidates to ask questions just like the doctors did with Frank. In return, most of us expect soft questions like, “How long have you been in business?” or, “What’s the dress code?” But how many of us could field hardball questions like the one Frank asked in his interview? How many of us would even tolerate a question like Frank’s?

Imagine if a candidate said, “Tell me how business decisions are made that will affect my ability to do my job well, or to advance within the company” or, “Tell me what I need to know about you, your character, and your behaviors before I agree to hitch my career to your company.” How many of us would tolerate, much less even be able to answer, questions like these?

How many of us even know whether we’re a shouter or a screamer in the first place? We don’t always have to raise our voice; marginalizing or completely ignoring employees who happen to rub us the wrong way has the same result.
How many of us would be self-aware enough to question our own behaviors and how much they play into why we’re having to fill an open position in the first place?

When justifying our management style, we’ll make comments like, “That’s just the way I am. If they don’t like it, they can work someplace else.” Then, after the good ones leave, we complain about not being able to find good people who want to work.

Questions like Frank’s are tough to take for a business owner, and they frequently lead to very short interviews. But, we could solve a lot of our own employment challenges if we had the fortitude to ask these questions of ourselves first.