When it's time to hire, look for learners

Aug. 10, 2010 | by Michael Harms

Odds are you’ve never met my mother. That’s too bad. Think Betty White with darker hair. My mom is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and her cinnamon rolls, well, they are simply life-changing. Trust me, she knows her way around a kitchen. So here’s my advice for you: hire more people like my mom.  

Now, I’m not talking about hiring a legion of septuagenarian retirees to staff your stores. It’s a little more complicated than that. If you’ve been looking to hire lately, you’ve probably been overwhelmed with applicants. With unemployment high, it remains a buyer’s market for talent and there are plenty of talented and experienced workers out there. The choice of who to hire can be daunting, so who do you choose? Look for the learner.

Sure, a good employment record and relevant experience are meaningful, but the ability and the willingness to learn are increasingly important in business today. A few years back many office jobs consisted of shuffling papers and making phone calls, or if you believe the portrayal in “Mad Men”, drinking Scotch and smoking cigarettes. To work in a restaurant you just needed to be able to flip a burger and make change. For better or worse, life’s not that simple now. From the corporate boardroom to the front lines of almost any business, technology rules the day. And technology changes very, very quickly.

While this constant barrage of technological changes can be frustrating, these tools exist to make our lives easier. The sooner an employee embraces new technology, the sooner your company will realize the productivity gains. This open-mindedness usually isn’t an accident---it’s a choice. Learning is hard; complaining is easy (and I say this as one who does my fair share of complaining). It’s far easier to blame the product than ourselves when expectations fall short. However, the ability and the willingness to learn new skills and adapt to changing environments is essential now more than ever as companies look to streamline production and increase productivity.  

Which brings me back to my 75 year old mother... she may be retired, but she’s always learning new tricks, especially when it comes to embracing technology. She lives in constant wonder at the new tools at her disposal and sees each day as a chance to learn something new.  Installing software or a new printer---no problem. Searching for replacement parts for obscure appliances---she’s all over it. She “googles around,” as she likes to tell me, and thinks she wants to try “the Facebook” one of these days. While my mother may not have the lingo down, you have to admire that spirit especially when a great many of us complain because we have a new version of Microsoft Office or some other software package which requires (gasp!) actual effort.  

We have just lived through a period which the great economist Joseph Schumpeter would describe as a wave of “creative destruction.” During this time, we have seen a clear divide between those entities who embraced change and those who refused to learn until they were forced to (that means you, General Motors... and you, Greece... are you listening, California?). While these non-learners were spared an ignominious demise courtesy of taxpayer funded bailouts, most businesses don’t have that luxury. We have no choice but to adapt and learn, or face extinction. So whether you’re looking to hire a dishwasher or a CEO, think about my mother and look for the learner. You’ll be happy you did, and who knows, they may just teach you a thing or two.

Topics: Human Resources , Staffing & Training

Michael Harms / Michael Harms is a Senior Business Analyst for People Report & Black Box Intelligence, acknowledged leaders in providing restaurant executives with financial analysis and insight into the best people practices.
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