Hiring for Keeps Seminar
When Mike Davidson (left) presents “Hiring for Keeps,” he performs a live interview at the end of the seminar that demonstrates what you learn. During the presentation for AkzoNobel, he demonstrated a mock interview with Drew Holdren (right), Services Consultant Acoat Selected Services for AkzoNobel.

When Mike Davidson started his first day on the job at a car dealership in Arkansas, the business owner asked him to stand aside and watch him fully detail a GMC S15 pickup truck.

It was a cold day in November, and 19-year-old Davidson recalls the owner demonstrating exactly how he wanted the job completed. That experience, which he refers to as “Wash the Truck,” has stayed with Davidson his entire career. Not only does the industry veteran ensure he gives his employees a clear understanding of his expectations while on the job, but he also takes the time to hire employees who fit the culture of his business.

Davidson, president of the American Skilled Labor Association and owner of Parkway Automotive in Little Rock, AR, recently spoke to shop owners and managers at an AkzoNobel Acoat Selected performance group meeting held in September in San Diego, CA, about how to improve their interviewing process. The presentation was part of the company’s early bird training sessions offered during the week-long event, which was attended by more than 200 body shop representatives, distributors, AkzoNobel employees and guests. Held twice a year, the performance group gives shops the opportunity to take time away from working in their business to work on their business. 

During his presentation, titled “Hiring for Keeps,” he shared examples of what he learned over his 35-year career in the automotive industry, as well as the specific hiring process he developed after setting out to discover how he could improve the way he hired staff.

Part of this was based on his learnings from Leadership IQ, an organization that focuses on leadership training. After reading books and completing video training over a one-year period, he found that one of the common themes with successful companies, such as Southwest Airlines and Chick-fil-A, was the similarity in the employees’ attitudes, no matter where they were located across the country. As a result, he incorporated what he had learned and put it into practice at his business.

“No matter who we are as business owners, hiring the right people makes a big difference with the internal customers---our employees. We hire people for what they know; we fire them for who they are!” he said. “Some people, no matter how hard you try, just don’t fit the job.”

The key, according to Davidson, is to hire employees who fit your culture rather than hiring someone primarily based on their skills.

“I believe the people you hire are the people who are going to create consistency within your organization,” said Davidson. “Consistency creates your brand.”

Although having excellent skills is very important, he also recommends owners/managers determine if prospective employees have the ability to get along with staff, understand the company’s strategy and structure, and share the same values.

“If you have someone working on a customer’s car who doesn’t share your values, he or she is going to take shortcuts you don’t want, and is going to put out a product that you don’t want to be put out. Every time,” he said.

Davidson discussed the interviewing techniques he uses on a regular basis.

“You have to have a process in place and you have to have a system that will help you determine if the person is the right person for your organization,” he said.

By altering the traditional interviewing method and listening to an interviewee’s answers, Davidson said it’s easier to discover if a person is the best fit for the business.

He advised shops to eliminate what he referred to as “hypothetical” questions. Some of the examples he shared included: “What song best describes your work ethic,” “What kitchen utensil would you be,” and “How would you rate me as an interviewer from a scale of 1 to 10?”

“None of these questions help determine who the person really is,” said Davidson. “Questions should have different responses from different candidates. If the answers are the same for everyone, you have the wrong question.”

Other questions to be avoided include those that lead the interviewee on how to answer them. For example, rather than asking someone to talk about a time he or she had to adapt to a difficult situation, he recommended asking about a time the person was in a difficult situation.

“Then, pause and give them an opportunity to think and let them answer the question,” he said.

Davidson said the ultimate goal is to ask questions that reveal what every business should be looking for---a high performer.

“There are two types of people who walk into an interview---the problem-bringers and the problem-solvers,” explained Davidson. “Your job is to decide which one of those people is sitting in front of you.”

He classified them as low performers and high performers.

He described a low performer as someone who will hear a problem and do nothing more, whereas a high performer will offer a solution to the problem at hand. To tell the difference between the two, Davidson said that shop owners and managers need to change the way they listen during a job interview.

A good first step is to interview your current staff to learn more about your culture. Not only does it allow you to identify the actions you want to see in your business, but it also helps you figure out the ones that you do NOT want in your business culture and that already may be there.

Once you have figured out the characteristics for your culture, you can begin the interviewing process. Davidson said there are many benefits: You’ll deepen your hiring pool, discover untapped talent, reduce the risk of hiring the wrong people, and cut turnover.

“It’s not easy work, but it’s important work,” he said.

He advised owners to put on their “attitude eyes.”

“We need people who can handle problems with the right attitude,” he said. “You have to find attitudes in your organization that identify the low performers and high performers.”

Every question, according to Davidson, should be a cliffhanger.

“It must be open-ended and conversational,” he said. “You must allow them to think.”

When deciding where to hold an interview, Davidson recommended creating an environment that fosters dialogue rather than a monologue. It might mean meeting at a comfortable place like a Starbucks couch or sitting side-by-side in the conference room.

“Avoid sitting across a desk, which is a physical barrier,” he advised.

Davidson shared examples of interview questions he has found to be helpful when determining low performers versus high performers, and offered insight about each one.

“Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?”

It fosters openness and encourages conversation.

“Can you tell me about a decision you made that felt risky or you might fail?”

Low performers always seem to play it safe, and high performers take a risk even if it means failing.

“Tell me about a time when an organizational rule created a barrier to achieve an outcome you wanted?”

Low performers, for the most part, do not like playing by the rules whereas high performers respect the rules.

“Can you tell me about a time you didn’t have the information you needed to complete a project?”

Low performers need constant hands-on attention, and high performers excel at getting the information they need to work independently.

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to think outside the box?”

Low performers recycle the same thoughts over and over, whereas high performers generate unique ideas.

“Can you tell me about a time you received negative feedback from a boss?”

Low performers find ways to blame someone else for their problems, and high performers choose their words carefully and help solve problems.

“Could you tell me about a time you were given an assignment outside your role?”

This question helps determine if the prospective employee is a team player.

Davidson said that no matter what questions you develop with the assistance of your team, there is a five-part question he always recommends including during the interview process. He calls it the “coachability question,” and stressed the importance of listening to each response carefully to help you get to know a prospective employee:

1) What is your boss’s name and can you spell it for me?

2) Tell me about xx as a boss.

3) What is something that you could have done differently to enhance your relationship with xx? 

4) When I talk to xx, what is he going to say about your strengths?

5) When I talk to xx, what is he going to tell me about your weaknesses?

Davidson also offered interview tips to consider:

  • Count to three before you speak to give the interviewee time to respond.
  • If you need clarification, ask questions such as: “Were others involved?” “Can you give me specifics?” “What was the timeframe?” “Where did this take place? Tell me more about what made you choose that action.”
  • Look for the warning signs of low performers: They want individual recognition, make excuses for why it won’t work, are quick to blame and eager to escape accountability, throw up their hands, have a negative disposition and are highly sensitive.
  • Look for character traits of high performers: They are highly collaborative, help one another without being asked, are self-directed learners, ask questions to gain greater clarity, and go out of their way to support their peers.
  • Pronouns can often tell you a lot about a person. High performers will always talk about themselves and what they learned. Low performers talk about other people.

The ultimate goal, according to Davidson, is to find and hire employees with the right attitude and who fit the culture of your business.

“You can’t do it quickly,” said Davidson. “You must do it methodically, have a process, assimilate the information, and then you’ll wind up making a really good decision. Hire the wrong person, and you just hired your weakest link.”

As a result of his learnings over the years, Davidson developed a step-by-step process that he now shares with other small businesses across America. He said his seminar can be applied across any industry:

1) Prescreen Document: First, the prospective employee is asked by the office manager or service advisor to fill out a 10-question document with the absolute requirements of the company (e.g. driver’s license, do you smoke, how many driving violations in the last three years).

2) Application: A job-specific application is filled out.

3) Interview: The prospective employee is interviewed using questions developed by management and staff that will help determine if the candidate will be a good fit for the business culture.

4) Interview with staff: If the first interview is successful, the candidate is given an opportunity to talk to the staff and ask questions about the facility and how the business is run. Once that is complete, the staff meets to determine if the job applicant is a good fit for the team. Davidson said that at his business, it has to be a unanimous decision in order for the candidate to be hired.

5) Job offer: A thorough job description is prepared at this stage and compensation is discussed.

6) Tech report card: All staff members fill out a report card about the new hire after 30, 60 and 90 days to gain feedback about his/her performance. The new employee is also asked if there is anything the business is doing that is keeping him/her from doing a really great job.

This article was based on the presentation “Hiring for Keeps,” held during the AkzoNobel Acoat Selected performance group meeting in September in San Diego, CA.

For more information and to schedule a presentation, contact Mike Davidson at 501-993-6121 or email at miked@parkwayautomotive.net.

For more information about the AkzoNobel Acoat Selected program, visit www.acoatna.com.

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