Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Great versus mediocre in Idaho



Finding a job in Idaho has been a great challenge. As in many small communities, most of the good jobs are not advertised. Many jobs are filled with the owner's relatives and their connections from childhood or church. What's worst is that in this tough economic environment, some Idaho employers treat applicants poorly.

Last month I got three job interviews in different cities in Idaho. None of these employers (private and government) offered to pay my expenses going to the interview. Most Idaho employers don't pay mileage, meals or even for a coffee. If Idaho employers supported applicants with their expenses, more people would expand their job search to other cities or states. Expense reimbursement not only speaks well of a company, but also makes the applicant feel valued.

While the applicant is expected to learn about the company, answer long written questionnaires and commute to the interview at his or her own expense, Idaho hiring managers are often not prepared. They don't have copies of the résumé, they don't plan the questions and don't know the qualifications needed for the position. In his book "Great Boss," J.J. Fox says the most certain way to introduce mediocrity, incompetence or indifference into an organization is to employ an average hiring manager. "An average hiring manager scores 7 on the 10-point scale of competency, ability, experience, attitude and behavior," writes Fox. "7s hire 5s, they don't hire 9s or 10s. 7s don't hire people better than themselves because they instinctively fear competence, or are uncomfortable in the presence of people that invite self-comparison."

My worst job interview in Idaho happened recently. I drove 45 minutes east of Twin Falls, and after I arrived, no one acknowledged my presence. I waited almost 20 minutes at the reception until the human resources manager arrived. She did not have the job description for the interview, and while she was struggling to find what questions to ask me, the international manager was embedded looking at his Blackberry. The only words he mentioned, taking his eyes briefly away from his device, were, "While I'm traveling through Asia, I don't want to receive any calls with questions about the business." I left the company feeling very disrespected as a professional, and as a person.

What's worse is that when I shared my poor experience with the owner, he did not reply. "If the owner allows mediocrity, the owner validates mediocrity," writes Fox. Mediocrity starts when weak hiring managers hire even weaker employees.

Finding high-paying jobs in Idaho is hard. Most jobs in the state are blue collar that require a high school diploma, little or no experience and offer a minimum wage with no benefits. According to the Job Gap Report, "In Idaho, 53 percent of job openings pays less than the $14.25 an hour living wage for a single adult, and 88 percent pay less than the $26.44 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children."

In Idaho there is a shared practice to treat employees poorly: long working hours, meager working conditions, no flexible time and dismissal without cause. My friend, a retired soldier, came to work after being sick with the flu for four days to find out that his computer password was changed and his desk was emptied. When he asked his employer what was going on, she reprimanded him for missing work, even though his wife called the company to inform his boss about her husband's health condition. My soldier friend quit his job and went back to school until he can go back to the Army, away from Idaho. The real reason he was treated poorly is because he is a 10 working in a 7 or 6 mediocre company.

The 10s are great companies that create environments where people can succeed. They are predictable, reliable and loyal. They don't see an employee as an individual to use and discard, but as a vital component of the company. They know that when an employee fails, the family fails, the community fails and ultimately the whole society collapses.

Great companies post their mission and their vision where everyone can see them. Every decision they make is according to their mission and their vision.

A great company cares. It cares about people—their employees, customers, suppliers and the society.

They value talent—the 10s. They train, coach and protect the 10s because they know 10s are an asset to their organization. They protect their assets against gossipers, backstabbers and information blockers—the mediocre people in the organization.

Great companies trust their employees in doing their job. They know the employees and workers are going to do their job after they return from being sick, a sabbatical or a family vacation.

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