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When Gary hired Jennifer to work in his print shop some 15 years ago, he of course wanted someone who could keep the daily books, make sure jobs got out on time, issue receipts, make occasional copies, and do other things that the assistant in a print shop does.  But he wanted something more.  He wanted nice.  Sure all those basic skills were important but most important was that Jennifer represented his company.   Now 15 years later, Jennifer is still there doing all the things she did at the outset and in addition mostly managing the print shop while Gary does what he loves and why he started the business, printing.  And Jennifer is still nice, a pleasure to do business with.


Gary screened for nice.  Lots of people had the skills necessary for the job, but few of them met his more important criterion.  For many business owners and landlords, the most important thing is qualifications.  Sure, qualifications are vital to success, but qualities are what will make or break a company or tenancy.  Qualifications don’t build a company, but qualities do, at least the right ones.


Putting qualifications in second place might require a big change in the thinking of employers and rental owners.  After all, you want someone who can do the job or you want someone who will pay the rent and be a good neighbor.  But those are only part of the picture for employment or tenancy success.


Say you need a rocket scientist.  Of course the candidate you hire will know about trajectory calculations, thrust analysis, payload weights, be able to do advanced calculus, and most likely have several advanced degrees, but if he or she is a constant thorn in the side of fellow rocket scientists, support staff, and management, it will be one crisis after another, one employee squabble after another, one job vacancy after another.  Instead, someone whom people enjoy being around, not necessarily a good time Charlie or Jane, does wonders for a productive workplace.


You are hiring a warehouse worker.  Yes, you want someone who may have worked in a warehouse before and have education enough to read and do the basic math required, but if he or she is constantly bickering with fellow employees, it makes the workplace a black hole.  What you look for is, just like the rocket scientist, someone whom people enjoy being around, who is helpful and kind.


You are renting an apartment.  You want someone who is able to pay the rent, who has a history of doing so, and who has not been evicted.  There are lots and lots of them.  But if you get a not-so-nice tenant, he or she will constantly disturb neighbors and fight with other tenants. The other tenants will move out and you will have a revolving door of vacancies.


How can you create rental and employment criteria to screen for nice?  First start with the qualifications, just like you always have.  If a minimum skill level is required, then the applicants must meet that minimum.  Then comes the important part, the part that will affect the success of your business or the long-term prospects for tenants, how nice the applicant is.


You might start with the ad. I thought of this as a possibility:


“We are looking for nice people. We’re looking for people who can not only do the job but also are a pleasure to work with.  We’re not talking about a team player here but rather someone who prides him or herself on pleasant surroundings, a business where people get along and help each other.  Drive is great as long as it’s not at the expense of someone else.  We want people who realize that workplace success is a cooperative process.  We are looking for people who are assertive, who will speak up with their ideas and thoughts, but not people who are aggressive, who try to intimidate others.”


You may have worked in an organization where the politics and backbiting made it a horrible place to work.  I know I have.  You dreaded going to work every day, maybe still do.  Anything that gets done is done in spite of the politics and backbiting.  Companies with a culture like that rarely are as successful as companies that make themselves inviting workplaces.


You know the minimum requirements to do the job you have a vacancy for.  Those will be different with each job and each company.  But you also have a duty to protect your investment and that includes trying to ensure that employees are all working toward making your company successful.


What do you look for when you screen for nice?  One thing is length of time of the job.  Job hoppers often wear out their welcomes wherever they work.  It’s easy enough to check “qualifications” such as education and knowledge. But not so easy to check for nice. Sometimes a call to a previous employer will find what you want to know.  Sometimes not. Even so, the more you can find out from third-party screening, the better.


The job interview can tell you lots, too.  “How did you get along with your last boss?  How about the one before that?  How did you get along with your fellow employees?”  Now listen to the answer.  If you hear things such as they were all out to get him or her, that nobody listened to all the great ideas he or she had, that he or she was unappreciated, you might think about going on to the next applicant.


People who job hop or move often are often expert at conning an interviewer.  They know all the right things to say, and that’s why they get hired or rented to over and over.  The interview needs to cut through the pat answers and listen for the real reasons they left a job or moved.


It’s the Goldilocks effect.  You don’t want a wimp, but you also don’t want some overpowering boor who makes life unpleasant for those around him or her.  If you have a go-getter, a take-no-prisoners type person, that may fit your idea of the type of person it takes to run a successful business.  In fact, as a business owner he or she might remind you of you when you started out.  But how does that go-getter work with customers, get along with fellow employees, and neighbors?  Will a go-getter help your business?  Will a go-getter make your property a pleasant place to live?


It’s someone easy to work with, a politician without the deceit, a leader who encourages rather than intimidates.


Businesses become great with great employees, those employees people like to do business with.  Rental properties are successful when nice, welcoming people live in them.  As I heard Zig Ziglar say years ago, “You can’t make a good deal with a bad guy.”  But nice guys?  The sky’s the limit.


By Robert L. Cain

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