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Work-Ethic is the Foundation of High-Performance Team DNA

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Note: This is part one of a 4 part series on the building blocks of high-performance team DNA: work-ethic, heart, optimism, and maturity

According to, disengaged employees drag a company down. But engaged employees show up more often, stay longer, and are more productive overall. Currently, though, only about 34% of the U.S. workforce feels engaged. The costs of ignoring lagging employee productivity and the underlying unhealthy company culture are steep, as the newest study suggests. Disengaged employees have higher rates of absenteeism and turnover, which can drag down profits. And it’s not just individual companies that suffer. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.

Let's imagine you are a manager who is building a new team from scratch. You have much to consider in terms of the attributes that will give you the best chance at success. You've got to consider candidate education, experience, track-record, references, and more. Luckily there is a process to interrogate these aspects in the form of the resume-based interview.

Now let's imagine you've hired the most educated, experienced, and apparently successful candidate based on their resume. But this person consistently does not deliver what is expected with the level of quality or agility you would expect. What about a team of individuals with this profile. Are you going to achieve your objectives?


And this is why sourcing candidates with the right work-ethic is almost as or more important than their level of experience and/or positive references. Work-ethic is the combination of important attributes such as reliability, dedication, productivity, cooperation, and self-discipline. People who possess these attributes walk in the door empowered because they don't require close oversight to do what is necessary to deliver high quality work on schedule. When you have a team of people who possess high work-ethic the only question is what you need them to execute and by when.

Is it possible to understand these attributes before you hire someone? Unfortunately not if you don't change your approach to hiring. The resume based interview doesn't create the openings into how someone achieved their successes. Resume interviews are built around the what of success. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend enhancing the resume screening by including specific inquiries into a candidates work-ethic.

What should you be listening for as a candidate details how they get things done? In my opinion, hard work is a combination of high performance habits (how someone organizes their work and stays focused on important and urgent tasks), diligence (how someone ensures they are delivering the highest quality work), and a right first time mentality (how someone avoids extensive rework by ensuring expectation alignment before they get down to business). So therefore I have designed a questionnaire that specifically allows me to investigate these attributes. I ask each candidate four specific questions related to work-ethic and score each answer from 1-5. I'm looking for a total score of 15 or above in this category as an indicator of above-average work-ethic.

Here are some of my favorite work-ethic questions (for the rest you can download the template in my new book Leader Board: The DNA of High Performance Teams):

  • How do you judge a successful day?

  • Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge to finish a project on schedule.

  • When you are overwhelmed with tasks and projects, how do you get it all done? Give an example.

  • Describe a situation when you had to work as a member of a team to complete a task.

The fastest way to transform your team DNA and dynamic is to begin sourcing for work-ethic in every one you hire. You will see an immediate uplift in productivity! How would you rate the importance of sourcing for work-ethic attributes in addition to experience? Let us know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article please like and share with your networks.

Stay tuned for part II of this series: Heart is the Glue of High-Performance Team DNA.

Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Please follow him on instagramtwitter, and/or LinkedIn for more information and engagement.

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