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Jerks at Work

As an increasing number of organizations try to force-rank their way to idealistic staffs of only the best and the brightest, a new study reveals that most people prefer working with likeable, less-skilled coworkers than with highly competent jerks. Harvard Business School professor Tiziana Casciaro and Duke University's Miguel Sousa Lobo reported their findings in the June 2005 Harvard Business Review. The researchers wrote, "A little extra likeability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with."

As Casciaro and Lobo found, workers tend to avoid seeking the competent jerk's help, and any added knowledge goes unexploited. "We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it's almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won't want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer."

This is valuable information for leaders responsible for hiring and retaining employees. While it's great to find people with the skills you need, identifying people who "fit in" is critical to building a productive team. But in their haste to attract candidates, mangers often neglect to fully explain their organization's culture. For their part, applicants must be comfortable with an organization's culture to contribute fully, so companies should very clearly spell out their values during the interview. And, when possible, organizations should include as many current employees in the interview process as possible in order to determine the candidate's likeability.

Successful companies hire people whose personalities are in alignment with their organizations. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, once said, "I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person." Invest the extra time and effort needed to find competent and likeable employees and watch your improve.
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