Is EQ the Most Important Hiring Factor?

on August 10, 2017

Do you think hiring for EQ is a must? I do. Which is why my mind was blown this morning. I was reading a recent article from the McKinsey Quarterly on using people analytics to drive business performance, based on a study they did with a large QSR. The business metrics they focused on were revenue growth, customer satisfaction and speed of service.

Hiring for EQ—A No Brainer … Or Is It?

I got to the section called “Personality counts” and was nodding my head, anticipating what was coming—of course it matters! They found two groups with high EQ (the way I’ve always thought about hiring for personality) in the front-line staff, and I waited for confirmation that these two groups drove performance. But the next sentences stopped me in my tracks: “Counterintuitively, though, the hypothesis that socializers—and hiring for friendliness—would maximize performance was not supported by the data. There was a closer correlation between performance and the ability of employees to focus on their work and minimize distraction, in essence getting things done.”

Whoa, slow your roll, people.

The article moved on to another data point (really good stuff—read the article), but I couldn’t move past this. Has my decade-plus thinking about hiring for EQ and friendliness not been valid? What about Danny Meyer (of Shake Shack fame) and his theory that businesses should hire 51%-ers—the employees whose excellence factor is comprised of 51% emotional and hospitality skills?

Was this a unique finding for this specific QSR? Or is this the beginning of a broader trend?

Hiring for EQ in Today’s Online World

Honestly, I hope it is a unique finding, as a professional shopper, traveler and eater, and as a change professional focused on CX. Now, the total here is one, so I don’t feel compelled to move away completely from the idea that hiring for EQ is key. But I certainly want to learn more.

Does EQ matter as much today, now that we are solidly in a world of online shopping and the “hurry up, go faster, I’m pressed for time” mentality? I still believe yes. I’m open to being wrong, but in my heart I believe it to still have an impact. (Yup, I said “heart” in a business blog. I’m one of those crazy high EQ people. Those of you who know me know that “high empathy” is on every performance review I’ve ever had.)

Hiring for EQ Still Matters

Here are two examples of why I believe EQ still matters today:

The only differentiator that can bring people into a physical store instead of buying online is an experience, and employee EQ can make (or break) experience.

  • I look to Apple Retail as the shining example of this. See this article by Forbes on why Apple Retail is actually not a store. One of the ten reasons is hiring magnetic personalities. “With the exception of a few roles, Apple does not hire for technical knowledge …. It hires for personality. … [I]f you can touch hearts, profits will follow.” Apple also shows us that people are willing to pay a premium for this experience.

It takes a manager EQ to recognize human beings work here, and how to tap into the uniqueness of employees to get the best of them in today’s shift and over their career.

  • For many of my clients, I’ve found that a key driver of employee satisfaction, loyalty and performance is seeing a career path. The McKinsey article highlights this too. Whew, a finding that agreed with what I’ve been saying for years! Managers with high EQ recognize they need not only to coach for performance, but also to coach for development. They need to inspire employees to think beyond this job to the next one, and the next one after that—ultimately to the point where they are taking the manager’s job (hopefully because the manager is now a district leader or killing it at corporate).

I’m now on a mission to really explore this topic. I’ll report back what I find.

What do you think—does hiring for EQ make a difference in business performance? And what have you read lately on this topic that you’d recommend?

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