Making good hiring decisions as early as possible can have a significant impact on the success of your business. No matter what industry you work in, it’s imperative that you hire people who don't always agree with you and have fresh perspectives to share. 

As an entrepreneur, it may seem strange to actively seek people who will question you. Many founders go the opposite route, as I’ll explain, and end up in a rut that could have been easily avoided by taking on employees with “question everything” approaches. 

Here’s how to hire people who won’t be afraid to argue when necessary, and avoid the kind of associates who fail to push your business forward. 

Avoid Hiring Family and Friends

When I first started my business, I hired primarily family and friends. I thought they had the skills I needed to get things going and since we already had a previous, positive relationship, it made sense to bring them on board. It felt good to be surrounded by supportive people, especially when first starting out with my business venture. 

However, I realize that this move greatly inhibited my ability to get important feedback and make necessary changes. It’s not necessarily that family and friends are yes men by choice; instead, because they have a pre-existing relationship with you, they’re inclined to behave in certain ways--most of which are far from professional. 

Among other things, this includes refraining from hurting your feelings, which often takes the form of unqualified praise (or conversely, squashing negative news). Based on your past, you may even find such hires defensive as well: perhaps it’s an older sibling who thinks (s)he knows best, or a friend who sees you not as an employer, but as an old college roommate. Either way, you aren’t getting the constructive criticism you need to make the right call.

Build a culture of honesty and transparency

It starts at the top: as a leader, if you don’t leave yourself open to criticism, how can you expect others to be forthcoming with their feedback? And if your employees are focused on keeping you happy (and your fragile ego intact), how can you expect them to air out any festering problems?

In fact, this inability to provide candid critiques carries with it a monetary cost, as well. According to a Harvard Business Review article, any business whose employees spoke up and pointed out problems always saw better financial and operational results. For instance, middle managers at one restaurant chain persuaded senior leaders to make improvements which then reduced turnover by 32 percent, thus saving some $1.6 million annually.

Yet the same article makes it clear that building an environment where your employees are expected to come forward with concerns is no easy task. A huge number of variables are involved: the fear factor, which prevents subordinates from speaking their minds; relying on anonymous input, which paradoxically reinforces the risk of speaking up; and failing to actually address the issues which were raised.

There’s no easy, quick fix, especially if your organization has struggled with soliciting and implementing employee feedback. But the good news is that it’s always possible to start. It simply takes a lot of hard work, and a significant amount of active listening.

Hire those who excel in constructive confrontation

Confrontation doesn’t come easily to most. In fact, we’re hard-wired to avoid it, especially as social harmony could mean the difference between life and death--at least in the prehistoric, mammoth-hunting days.

But in today’s modern society, confrontation is a crucial part of everyday life, be it at the office or at home. Instead, in most situations, honesty truly is the best policy; moreover, it’s important to divorce ideas from people, and not take everything so personally.

This ability is called constructive confrontation. That’s not to say that these head-to-head discussions should be heated or tense; rather, all parties should have ground rules in place. For example, have an impartial moderator to keep things from getting out of hand; allow parties to walk out and take a breather if they feel the pressure (or anger) building up to intolerable levels; or agree to disagree without resorting to personal attacks. 

Aside from sticking to ideas rather than resorting to personal attacks, the key to constructive confrontation lies in listening. At Intel, employees understand that the ability to speak their thoughts and minds is critical to ironing out bugs or innovating the next big development. In fact, constructive confrontation was one such tool that Intel used to build its position as a leader in computer processors and chipsets.

Ultimately, the truth is this: whether you’re a massive, dominant multinational like Intel or a small, family-owned business, it’s in your best interest not to hire yes men. Moreover, you should go one step further: build and encourage an open environment, and listen to your employees when they tell you what’s wrong. Implement their reasonable feedback as much as you can, and learn to confront one another in a constructive manner.



About the Author(s)

Joel Landau Headshot

Joel Landau is the founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a rapidly expanding provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services throughout the New York downstate area.

Founder and Chairman, The Allure Group
Hire People Who Argue, And Be Wary of Yes Men