No Entitlements Here!

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One of the most damaging mindsets in employees - and in people generally - is a sense of entitlement. Just about every culture has some turn of phrase that describes how such a person thinks, feels and acts. In a company, however, it can be toxic. Employees with a sense of entitlement:

  • Are never satisfied
  • Are less productive overall
  • Have significant swings in behaviour
  • Negatively affect the morale of their coworkers

What is a "entitlement"? It is a belief that a person deserves certain benefits - promotion, compensation, and recognition - independent of their activities. In other terms, "I deserve it because of who I am, not what I do."

One interesting way to change such behaviours is to put the person in a rainmaker role, especially as an independent. Sales numbers do not lie, either you sell or you do not. Selling consulting - the ultimate "sell yourself and skills" - can be humbling even for the best of consultants.

The question many managers ask is, "how do I prevent such employees from entering the company in the first place?"

This challenge is more acute when dealing with knowledge- and talent-intensive industries like technology. A hardware startup in Silicon Valley or enterprise software firm in NYC doesn't just hire people; it strives to hire the rockstars, the A players. These people execute at a high level, earn their rewards, and are aware of it. Yet, that confidence in one's abilities can look awfully similar to the expectations from one with a sense of entitlement. Especially in a high-talent environment, how do you filter the truly achieving from those with an inflated sense of entitlement?

Paul Harvey of the University of New Hampshire is an expert on "Gen Y", many of whom are claimed, rightly or wrongly, to have a strong sense of entitlement. He offers specific advice for interviewing Gen Y candidates, as quoted in this HuffPost article. While the article is addressing Gen Y candidates, it can be applied broadly to any candidate, especially a high performer.

Prof. Harvey recommends the you ask the candidate..

"Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?" If the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the 'why,' there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. [emphasis mine]

In truth, this goes to the crux of any good interview, recommendation or proposal: back it up with measurable specifics.

When someone asks me what I did for a global IT service centre client, I provide specific details: saved 30% operating costs with a 20% increase in customer service levels over 6 months. A cloud provider? Prevented attrition of nearly 50% of customer base towards customer satisfaction that led to 30% annual growth. No one cares what you deserve; people care what you can measurably do.

Every candidate should be able to back up specific examples of what s/he did, and precisely how it benefitted the customer/employer. The one who can speak of higher than average performance with matching specific and measurable accomplishments is far more likely to be your real rockstar.