Jim Duffy: More ‘Waldorf Salad’ attitude in workplace

Jim Duffy wants to see more of the American 'go-getter and self-starter' attitude. Picture: Ian Howarth
Jim Duffy wants to see more of the American 'go-getter and self-starter' attitude. Picture: Ian Howarth
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It’s interesting to note that in the first two years of an infant’s life, we teach it to walk and talk. Then, for the next 14 years, we tell it to sit down and shut up.

There’s a real irony here as the upbringing president Trump no doubt had was certainly different from that. I bet he was encouraged to speak, pitch, debate and tell the world he was there… perhaps.

The onus is on the employee to show they want to be developed

Sometimes, as I travel the world, I hear “loud” Americans. Only last week, as I boarded a plane, my radar was up as I heard American voices chatting loudly in the queue. And I’ll never forget the guy who played the Yank in the Waldorf Salad episode of Fawlty Towers.

There is something in many Americans that I see differentiates them. It’s a confidence and belief in their own abilities and capacities. Whilst the manifestation of this confidence can test our patience at times, I think we need more of this here.

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Don’t get me wrong, as if you read my Friday column, you’ll know that I personally love peace and quiet. But that is not to be confused with attitudes in business that enable people to do business well. As an employer, people or “human capital or assets” (as they can be termed by some) are the most valuable item in my business.

Hiring staff is not easy. And I’ve gotten it wrong on many occasions. Training them and, of course, developing them is also hugely important, but takes emotional effort and, in many cases, cash. I hire for attitude, not aptitude. If you tell me you have a degree in accountancy and have the chartered exams, then that helps if I want a new finance person. But, if I put a job spec out there for such a position, I get oodles of candidates. So, which one do I hire?

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For me, I’m going to hire the candidate who wants to get a little better every day. Unfortunately, I see so many prospective employees who ask me about the hours, the salary, the benefits, their career advancement options, the pension, the health plan and so on.

Once the interview is over, I get a litany of questions on what’s in it for them. And I’m not sure that employers nowadays should need to justify how they are going to help shape up a future employee’s career. Is that not up to them?

This is where I see we might need some of that American attitude of go-getter or self-starter in a role. If an employer works hard to create a role, then surely it is up to the employee to make it their own, shape it and get better and better accordingly over time. Then they really become an asset.

This is the kind of candidate I am looking for. An employee who has an attitude that thinks for me and learns for me. My job is to guide, lead, counsel, advise and enable. But I cannot do that if I have an employee who does not want to get better.

In business, we talk about “A” players and “B” players – delineating top talent from, well, not-so-top talent. I’m not looking for screeds of post-nominals after your name to tell me you are smart. Just show me that you really want to get better.

Show me that you care about my company. Don’t tell me that is way above your “pay grade”. Imagine a soldier on a battlefield who tells his staff sergeant: “Sorry sarge, that hill is too steep and I didn’t sign up for that.” I think that situation would be quickly resolved.

It is right and proper to look after employees or your colleagues as they work for you. But, I believe employers should be hiring for iterative growth attitude. The onus is on the employee to show that they want to be developed and that they know how. It’s an attitudinal change that employers should encourage and foster in their hires and their staff.

I just love it when one of my colleagues wows me with something. It shows that they have gone that extra mile to learn or develop or try. It takes energy and commitment. And I’d like to see more of this in the Scottish psyche. Let’s make Scotland all about self-starters and self-generators in the work place. Let’s encourage attitudinal change for more Waldorf Salad.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark

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