Optimize For Attention to Detail

I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

“Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have.”

Fantastic piece. I’m often dumbfounded by how poorly people write. If someone interested in a job makes a typo or grammatical error in an inquiry email, NO HIRE. If there’s a single misplaced comma or misspelling on their résumé, NO HIRE. If I check out their twitter account and it’s full of ‘U’ for ‘you’ or other lazy writing, NO HIRE.

A lot has been made in recent years about ‘design’ being a competitive advantage in today’s difficult market, but I would argue that what we call ‘good design’ or ‘bad design’ is really just an artifact—a byproduct—of a company’s overall attention to detail. Attention to detail is now and always has been a massive competitive advantage, whether you’re talking about design or engineering or compensation or product management or sales or anything a company does. In fact, now that I’ve typed that out, I feel a little silly reading it back. Saying “Competitive advantage is a function of attention to detail” seems tautological, at least to me.

But tautological or not, I don’t think a lot of people get this. Or maybe they get it intellectually but it doesn’t inform their day-to-day activities. Take Apple, for example. Some common things you hear from both Apple acolytes and Apple haters is that “Apple is good at design,” or “Apple is good at innovation,” or “Apple is good at marketing,” or even “Apple is good at supply chain management.” (The haters usually insert “only” into those sentences. e.g., “Apple’s only successful because they’re good at marketing.”)

I’d make the case that what Apple is really good at is having a culture of obsessive attention to detail in all its capacities. Corporate communication? Check. Supply chain management? Check. Design? Check. Retail? You get the idea. (Haters will hold up the recent iOS 6 Maps debacle as a counterexample, but isn’t the umbrage over Maps precisely because we expect them not to fall down on this sort of thing? It’s the quintissential exception that proves the rule.)

Apple’s virtues aside, I think the smartest thing a company of any size can do is optimize for attention to detail. And when it comes to evaluating potential hires, I can’t think of a better, faster, lower-cost pass/fail evaluation of a candidate’s attention-to-detail-fitness than their writing. After all, if someone can’t be bothered to sweat the details in their communication when they’re reaching out about joining your team, how hard will they sweat the details of their job when they’re on the team?