Talk About Your Brown Shorts If You Want To Hire Stars

The following is a guest post by Mark Murphy.

It’s a fascinating exercise to read your own job ads and ask: “How many other companies could say the identical thing that we’re saying?”  If your answer is one or more, then you’re probably not giving the high performing stars you want much incentive to apply for a job with your organization.

I recently logged onto a major job board and did a search for programmer jobs at some major companies.  Then I started reading.  And reading. And then my eyes started glazing over.  After a while, I couldn’t tell any of these tell companies apart because they all sounded exactly the same.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just imagining the similarities, so I clipped the key phrases used in the various ads.  Every single job ad said they had “Dedicated passionate coworkers”, “Tremendous opportunities for professional growth”, and a “Chance to make a difference.”  And of course, every ad said that their employees are the source of their strength.

I can only imagine that these companies distinguish their products and services better than they do their job openings.  After all, they have billions in sales that would suggest a competent sales message.

But when all their job ads tout dedicated passionate coworkers and tremendous opportunities for professional growth, what makes one company more appealing than another?  And what would make a high performer quit their current job to go work for one of these companies?

High performers want to know what differentiates your culture from all the other organizations out there.  But they’re not going to get that with the generic pitches in most job ads.  No matter how you slice it, recruiting pitches like ‘dedicated passionate coworkers’ or ‘tremendous opportunities for professional growth’ are bland and generic.  If you want to attract high performers to your company, you need to show them your Brown Shorts.

What the heck are Brown Shorts?  They’re the specific attitudes that make your organization different from everybody else.  “Brown Shorts” is a very strange name that pays homage to Southwest Airlines and their unique culture of fun.

The name draws from a story I heard from a former Southwest executive about a round of hiring for new pilots (typically serious folks dressed formally in black suits, etc.).  The Southwest interviewer invited this serious bunch to get comfortable in a pair of Bermuda shorts (brown in our story).

The shorts were part of the Southwest summer uniform, but it was an invitation that seemed too ridiculous for many of the pilots who immediately declined the shorts.  And that told Southwest that these folks may be great pilots, but they just weren’t going to fit a fun-loving culture.  Now, just because you put on the shorts was no guarantee of a job, but it was a good indication that you just might fit Southwest’s fun attitude.

Southwest’s Brown Shorts are fun and having a sense of humor, but your Brown Shorts probably won’t be either of those things.  But you do have certain attitudes and traits that set your organization apart from everyone else.

There are characteristics that define your high performers that will sound quite a bit different than other companies’ high performers.  For example, Google and Apple are both great companies, but their high performers are quite different.  Southwest Airlines and The Ritz-Carlton both deliver a special service experience, but their cultures are as different as night from day.

In a nutshell, your Brown Shorts are a list of the key attitudes that define your best people, but they also describe the characteristics of the people who will not succeed in your unique culture.

Are your high performers collaborative or individualistic?  Do they seek or eschew individual recognition?  Are they compliant or do they break the rules?  Do they love adventure or stability?  Are they laugh-out-loud funny or more restrained?

There isn’t one ‘right’ personality or attitude; rather it’s about finding the right attitudes for your unique culture.  And those attitudes are your Brown Shorts.

The most important lesson from my stroll through the job board is the need for Brown Shorts in your recruiting efforts.  Because Brown Shorts are the characteristics that make your culture distinct from everybody else’s.  And that’s what you want to ‘sell’ in your job ad, not some bland and generic description that makes you sound like everyplace else.

Imagine that your Brown Shorts are that your high performers are collaborative: they help each other out without being asked, and without any expectation of recognition or reward.  Now, you could write a generic job ad that says “we have dedicated passionate coworkers and tremendous opportunities for professional growth.”  But that completely misses the unique (and most appealing) aspects of your culture.

So imagine you write something unique like “Our employees actually work together and share credit.  In fact, glory hogs don’t last very long here.”  Some will resist this Brown Shorts language and say “If I’m not collaborative, I’ll be put off by that characteristic and I won’t apply.”  To which I say: “Great!”

You don’t want people who are wrong for your culture to even apply in the first place.  It means less work for you, and more time to hire the star high performers that fit your culture.

Mark Murphy is the founder and CEO of Leadership IQ. His research on goal-setting and leadership has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, Businessweek, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and hundreds more periodicals.

 Mark is the author of the international bestseller “Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your People to Give It Their All and They’ll Give You Even More“. His latest book “Hiring For Attitude” looks at strategies organizations can employ to find candidates who make the right fit for their team and organization

Some other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Finding The Right Fit For Your Organization
  2. Are You Helping Your Employees Fulfill Their Higher Purpose?
  3. Why It’s Time to Rethink Your Company Brand’s Message
  4. Creating A Culture That Promotes Problem-Solving Delegation
  5. Finding The Talent Your Organization Needs To Grow This Year
  6. Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #6 – Andrea Kates on Fostering Innovation


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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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