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When Hiring, Take a Cue From the NBA and Look for Performance and Character

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The NBA draft begins on June 26, and there is a lot entrepreneurs can learn by taking a “coach approach” to talent acquisition.

Whether you’re in the NBA or the NFL or work on Wall Street or Main Street, employees are either an asset or a liability to your team in more ways than just your numbers reveal. Don’t get me wrong, production and smarts are important tangibles, but the intangible that is often overlooked is character.

How does the NBA draft relate to you as an entrepreneur? You’re potentially investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, in talent over the lifetime of your business, so you want to make sure you’re making the right personnel decisions as well. With so much at stake, how do you make the right choices? The same way a top notch billion-dollar sports franchise does.

Related: Tip the Odds in Your Favor for Finding the Best Employees

Warren Buffet, who is widely considered the gold standard of entrepreneurs, says he looks for three things when hiring people: work ethic, intelligence and character. The first two without the last one will kill you.

If you hire someone who has great work ethic and intelligence but lacks character, they will destroy your business faster than you could ever build it. They will be selfish, egotistical and jealous of their co-workers' success because they just don’t have the character it takes to be a team player.

This may seem like overstating the obvious but given the laundry list of bad hires where character was overlooked in favor of talent, it bears repeating. (Look no further than the NFL and how the Miami Dolphins signing of Ritchie Incognito blew up on them earlier this year.)

Successful talent acquisition in any industry is the culmination of a series of sound decisions. One wrong step in the process and you’ve undermined years of good work. Research indicates 68 percent of U.S. companies felt bad hires lowered productivity, affected team morale and caused legal issues. With all of this comes a significant financial cost as well -- 41 percent of companies report that a bad hire cost them more than $25,000 and 25 percent indicated it cost them in excess of $50,000.

Many companies perform exit interviews with an employee when they leave the company, I’d recommend doing the opposite. Interview the remaining members of your team to determine why that person didn’t fit and what selection criteria needs to be tweaked to ensure a better hire next time.

Success leaves clues and Buffet’s three-trait model of hiring is what every successful sports organization does. They ensure “character fit” by conducting in-depth background checks and administering personality profiles.

The Wonderlic test has become the gold standard in professional sports to reveal candidates' decision-making skills, which helps predict future job performance. While you may not have the resources or ability to go that in-depth, there are steps you can take.

Here are eight things coaches look for that you should too:

1. Enlightened leaders look beyond mere talent. They seek out character. Character doesn’t cut corners, lie, cheat, steal or tolerate colleagues who do.

Related: 30 Secrets to Hiring the Right People

2. They don’t want players who want to be successful. They want players who want the team to be successful and focus on helping their teammates become successful. Ask candidates to share a success story of how they helped a teammate succeed at work. Winners help other people win.

3. They realize the best predictor of the future is past performance. You are what your track record says about you. Go beyond the standard “call three references” and contact the references that should be listed but aren’t.

4. Confidence is a deal maker but cockiness is a deal breaker. Can the individual leave their ego at the door for the good of the team? Find examples that reveal this in the screening process.

5. One of the most important abilities is coach-ability. The best don’t need to be coached, they want to be coached. They thrive on feedback and constructive criticism.

6. The best understand that their money is not their wealth. Their relationships are emotional currency and they value that more than a paycheck at the end of the day.

7. You are only as strong as your leaders. What leadership roles outside of work has the candidate undertaken? (In their community, house of worship, civic groups, kid’s school, etc.) Hint: Weak leaders out of the office make for weak leaders in the office.

8. Resilience matters. Ask a candidate to describe a time in their life that they had to overcome significant adversity. The length of silence leading up to their answer will probably be more revealing than the answer itself.

The bottom line for sports teams is that it’s all about performance and character together. It’s the same concern the sharpest managers in corporate America have. Can he or she perform at a high level? Is the prospect of high character? These are the essential million dollar questions you need to find the answers to.

Related: Do You Have the Right Attitude to Attract the Best Talent?

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