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Q&A—Competence v. Character

A listener asks if competence or character is more important when running (or hiring new employees for) your business.  Clate answers, and Scott refuses to.  Listen to find out why.

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Dusey: Hello, listeners. This is Dusey, the producer of the Small Business Success Podcast. Thank you for joining us this week. Once again, I have as my special guest, our regular hosts, Scott and Clate. How's it going, guys?

Scott Martineau: Hey, Dusey.

Clate Mask: Great to be here, thank you.

Dusey: This week, we have yet another question. Please keep them coming. We love hearing questions from you guys, being [00:00:30] able to help solve your small business issues, problems, hurdles, things that we can help you keep moving on and being successful in your small business. This next question comes from Katie, who is the founder of [inaudible 00:00:44]. I hope I'm saying that right, Katie, [inaudible 00:00:47]. She's a stage one business, so one employee. I don't know if she's counting herself or if that's someone else that she's hired for her, five years in the business. Her question is, if success is combination of your competence [00:01:00] and character, which is more important for success? We are getting deep and philosophical on the Small Business Success Podcast today.

Clate Mask: Yeah. Katie, it's a good question to think about long, and hard, and deep for those that are philosophical. I think for your purposes, I would say obviously both are really important. I have two thoughts on it for you. First thought is without competence, you're not [00:01:30] going to have any kind of short-term success. Without strong character, you're not going to be able to sustain that success. You have a short-term/long-term thing there. My second thought is I think your character is what drives you to learn and develop that competence in the first place. If you made me say one over the other, I'll say character.

Scott Martineau: I am going to not answer the question because I don't think it's a question that you should be asking because I really [00:02:00] do think that you have an opportunity to create a culture in your business, and we've seen this in our companies and in others. If you get into the habit of separating the two things, we have this culture we're trying to create and we have this idea of performance which is a different idea, it ends up creating a lot of problems. I would just say that the sweet spot is you need to find both.

Really what this amounts to is that in your process of going out to find and attract people to your business, you've [00:02:30] got to be vigilant, and thoughtful, and patient in the people that you're finding. You've got to make sure that your process for bringing people into the company is looking for both aspects of this. I'd say that generally people are much better at looking for competence and are willing to sacrifice on character because we've got an urgent need that needs to be filled. That's the thing that you've got to really be careful and not rush to decisions.

Clate Mask: Usually, they don't do that consciously, or they may not admit it if they're actually doing it consciously, but [00:03:00] it does happen. You've got a need that's driving the hiring of a person, the doing of that work, so you end up compromising on something you shouldn't. I think what Scott's getting at is you bake into competency, you bake into that the character traits that you're after in your business. You get to define what that is because we can all say, "Oh, well character over competence," but what's character? What do you mean by that? [00:03:30] Most people have not stopped to take the time in their business to say, "Here's what we mean by character in our business." Those who have, they'll frequently call up their core values or their purpose, their mission, their values. That's what Scott's saying is you've got to get really clear on that, but make sure that is not a separate thing from the competency to do the job.

Dusey: I think it's easy to say that competence is something concrete and character is less so, but you can make character concrete.

Scott Martineau: Yeah.

Dusey: You can [00:04:00] take the time to define it so it's not this ethereal, "Well, I feel good about bringing this person into the business," but you have something defined.

Scott Martineau: Yeah, yeah.

Clate Mask: Yup. By the way, when you get really clear on that, you start to attract the people that help you to grow the business. A lot of times when people don't get clear on that, they are solopreneurs looking in the mirror saying, "Why can't I find good talent to help me grow the business?"

Dusey: Absolutely.

Scott Martineau: One practical tip if you're hiring, and I know your question may not have been just [00:04:30] about hiring, but one practical tip is in your hiring process, make sure you always have three highly qualified candidates that are in the last stages of the interview process. What that does is it allows you to have contrast. You can start to see both character and competency differences really well when you have people at the same time in the same process that you're comparing. If you get just one person, you'll play all sorts of tricks on yourself and convince yourself this person is the perfect [00:05:00] fit. That's a little practical advice.

Dusey: Absolutely. When I read this question, I was asking myself if it was about more hiring, bringing people on to your business, or if you're asking for yourself. I don't know, my immediate thought was, don't spend too much time questioning your own character. I don't know that it gets you too far if this is more an introspective question.

Scott Martineau: Katie, if you don't have character, you're in trouble. We'll just add that, but as Clate pointed out, not in the short-term.

Clate Mask: [00:05:30] No, thank you for asking the question, Katie.

Scott Martineau: Yes.

Clate Mask: I think it's a good point, and I think that Scott described it of combining those two things so they don't live separately, that's really the sweet spot you're after.

Scott Martineau: One more point, too. I loved your point, Dusey, about just making character concrete. I would just be careful to not confuse ... Character is very subjective, and so two quick points on it. One, you'll naturally not be inclined [00:06:00] to create diversity out of the gate because what's most convenient for you is to go find people you know and care about, and that are close and like you, they're similar to you.

Dusey: Right.

Scott Martineau: Be open to the idea that your definition of character, you need to probably expand that and think about how you can bring people in with a varied perspective, which is really powerful.

Dusey: Yeah, I've definitely firsthand seen the difference of working with a group of people that had varied perspectives. The types [00:06:30] of solutions that come up that maybe you never would have thought of, or just ways of looking at things, or questioning things that you never would have questioned, it's very valuable.

Clate Mask: Yeah, and to be clear, you want those varied perspectives, but you also want everybody to share the common set of core values that you've defined make up the character that you're after.

Dusey: Yeah, absolutely.

Scott Martineau: I heard a quote said in a meeting today. I think it was a question about the Ford turnaround. What was the secret? The answer was I taught my leaders [00:07:00] how to argue. Is that what it was?

Clate Mask: Argue constructively.

Scott Martineau: Argue constructively. The reason I bring this up is in the context of character, I think it's maybe easy to think that people of strong character are not going to say the hard things, and I think that's one of the things we had to learn very early on is Clate had the skill of being able to argue constructively. Was it constructively?

Clate Mask: I had the skill of being able to argue.

Scott Martineau: [00:07:30] I guess what I'm making a plug for is that one of your core values, and the way we phrased at Infusionsoft today, is that we build trust through open and authentic conversation. You'll find having a culture where everybody's just so nice, they're not willing to say the hard thing, actually it's a fake form of care and you don't actually end up making the progress that you need to.

Dusey: That's kind of a little creepy. You really don't trust them, but on the outside everything seems [00:08:00] like it's fine.

Scott Martineau: Yeah, right.

Clate Mask: Yep.

Dusey: Cool. Thank you again, Katie, for your question. If you, listener, have a question for us to answer, please go to smallbusinesssuccess.com/questions. You can submit your questions there, and we will answer them right here on the podcast. Hopefully this has helped you guys get over a hurdle that might be in your small business. Feel free to ask your questions so we can specifically help you on yours. Thank you again, and we will see you all next week on next week's episode of the Small Business Success Podcast. [00:08:30]

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