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09 Jul. 2013 | Comments (0)

When I was earning my electrical engineering degree, I was a member of an elite group of five top students. We all had high GPAs, but we all didn’t have the same aptitude. Bob and Jim (names changed to protect the innocent) were brilliant — they only had to attend classes, quickly read the textbooks, and finish their homework before driving home for the evening.

I paid my expenses by teaching the accordion, a business I purchased from my retiring instructor when I was a sophomore in high school. I also put in at least thirty hours a week studying. I wasn’t as brilliant as Bob and Jim, but by putting in the hours, I was able to compete with them. Jerry didn’t have to work at a job, but he averaged the same thirty hours of studying to keep up with the rest of us.

Harry wasn’t as smart as any of the four of us, but still kept up by studying fifty hours a week. He was an excellent student and went on to have an exemplary electrical engineering career, largely because he was willing to put in whatever number of hours it took to match the performance of others who were more brilliant.

Bob, on the other hand, went on to MIT for an advanced degree, but dropped out because keeping up with the other brilliant students required too many study hours. He had superior aptitude, but had not yet developed the attitude required to succeed at that level. There was a lack of “chemistry” between Bob and the MIT culture.

Over the years, I’ve learned from that example, and countless others, to put less emphasis on a potential employee’s résumé and current skills. Instead, I’ve found success when I hired someone with a reasonable aptitude and the right attitude. With the right attitude, such a new hire might have to work over 60 hours a week to deliver the same results as a more seasoned employee. Yet, such a person would be more than willing to invest the extra 20 hours to come up to speed. (Once up to speed, the new hire could deliver the same results in the same nominal 40-hour workweek.)

Employees with the right attitude view the extra hours as their personal investment in achieving the goals they set for themselves. While you may think that employees who can achieve the desired results in a “normal” workweek would be superior to those who have to put in more hours to achieve the same results, they aren’t necessarily. When there is a new challenge in your business, or a new skill set is required for a job, which employee is most likely to rise to the occasion because he or she already has the established habit of investing extra time to come up to speed?

“People chemistry” matters

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wondered what you did wrong in hiring someone? At one of my companies, we prescreened all candidates carefully and conducted multiple interviews. We had everyone who would be working with the top candidate, Joe, talk with him and make sure the fit was right. We double-checked all of Joe’s references. I even made sure that I understood his personal goals for the next five years and was confident he could reach them in our company. After two years of trying, I finally threw in the towel and fired him – to the relief of both of us. What did we miss? In a word, chemistry.

HR professionals have told me that you need to hire three people for every two that you end up keeping. This ratio assumes that you have an excellent hiring process. Why can’t we “get it right” 100% of the time? The answer is chemistry. Until an employee is functioning in the actual job, neither they nor you can be sure of the fit.

For hiring, I recommend a 90-day “warranty” period. If the job fit doesn’t feel right within that period for you or the employee, chances are it won’t ever be right. It isn’t fair to the misfit employee or his teammates to keep trying to make it work out. “Hire slowly, fire quickly” is the motto of successful managers.

The chemistry (or lack of thereof) between all of the individuals implementing your company’s strategy can produce grand success or blow up the organization. When there is chemistry in a relationship, people can talk about anything and everything. They have the same values and purpose, and share the same long-term goals. Your people are ultimately the ones who will implement your strategy. Without organizational chemistry, they can’t or won’t hear, understand, and embrace what the strategy is. Without supportive, interpersonal chemistry, they won’t be able to develop the “how” of the strategy and be empowered to execute it.

Hire based on aptitude (having enough grey matter to master the skills), and attitude (the passion and commitment needed to put in the time to master the required skills). Once you’ve done that, you can then assess the third key factor: chemistry – the critical secret ingredient in the hiring process.


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  • About the Author: John W. Myrna

    John W. Myrna

    John Myrna is the author of The Chemistry of Strategy: Strategic Planning for the Not-Yet-Fortune 500 (Global Professional Publishers), available at, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores everyw…

    Full Bio | More from John W. Myrna


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