Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Check the Box

When a company has a position it needs to fill, there are several criteria that the job candidates must satisfy before they can progress through the screening/interview process and be hired. Employers want someone with relevant experience and a record of success. Frequently, particular skills are required and education minimums must also be met.

Employers prefer to avoid hiring candidates that will later become problem employees. In order to identify these individuals before they become employees, they use a number of tools. One of the most frequently used tools is a criminal background check. This type of check will most often result in a database search for criminal records related to the applicant. Occasionally, researchers can be sent into the courthouse to manually review and verify the records.

But is that enough?

The criminal background check is, by definition, a review of an individual's past for criminal activity. While this is certainly a good thing to check, what about the offenders who have not yet been caught and prosecuted? What of those whose personalities and psychological well being put them at risk to themselves and your employees who would be their coworkers, your clients with whom they might come on contact, and vendors or partners with whom they might interact?

The recruiting, selection, and onboarding of a new employee is a well defined process in many companies. The process may have been defined by the head of HR or by a consultant who specializes in the HR function.

The steps included in the selection process were designed to identify the desirable candidates and separate them from those who are not what the organization is looking for in a new employee. The group or individual who designed the process had this primary goal in mind when they designed the process. However, those whose job it is to execute the process are not always trained on the purpose of the process but instead on how to follow the proces. They are frequently not given much latitude in making decisions about what types of background checks to run. They are instead instructed on how to follow the process, to know which checkboxes need to be checked, and which actions to take in order to get the box checked.

The perverse consequence of this "check-the-box" approach is that organizations can hire the wrong sort of employee and consequently experience the very negative consequences they had sought to avoid. To illustrate the point, let's look at a recent news event.

You may have missed it with all of the news covering terrorist attack by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, TX; but there was another event in Florida involving a former (fired) employee who blamed his former coworkers for the difficulties he was encountering in his life. He returned to the location of his former employer and shot six people killing one of them.

Bear in mind that the shooter was not a recently fired employee, but instead had been let go over 2 and a half years earlier. His life had not gone well after being let go in 2007 (divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy, periods of unemployment) and he not only blamed his former employer and coworkers for his troubles, but exacted his revenge on them.

There are not any news reports of any prior offenses, so a standard criminal background check (although necessary) would not have revealed his capacity for violence and what may result in a conviction for murder. More and better tools are needed to give light to these possibilities. That's why tools like our very own Tescor Survey should be used more widely as they can provide the opportunity to gain insight into the propensity for violence that a job candidate might have.

Identifying these troubled individuals (and not hiring them) is one of the primary goals of this type of diagnostic tool so that events like the one this past Friday in Orlando can be avoided.


SammieB said...

"Checking the box" is the current standard of due diligence. It's wrong, it's shortsighted but it is the current standard.

Few things have the power to reshape behavior like new legislation that makes employers culpable and/or losing some high profile lawsuits brought by former employees (or family members of deceased employees) that will change that behavior of organizations and their attitude.

Until then, most will be content to "check the box".

Kari DeMoss said...

We don't do that anymore. We just can't afford to. Our company hires (and out processes) about 2,500 positions each year. Recruitment is not just an HR function but an entire department here at our company.

Because we inprocess/outprocess so many positions each year, our expenses related to these activities are quite high ("King's ransom" is the term our CFO uses). You might think that when we asked to spend more money on candidate screening that there would have been great difficulty in getting that proposal through.

While it's true that the CFO's initial reaction to our proposal resembled my cat coughing up a hairball; he became our most ardent supporter. What we did was to show our senior team what it cost us (on average) to replace a person. We accounted for all of the direct costs associated with both the voluntary and involuntary terminations and the direct costs of recruiting and onboarding the replacement. We shared with the team that it cost us about $4,200 per position to go through that exercise each time.

When we multiplied that number by the number of positions replaced annually we got to $10.5 million (there were a few audible gasps and some muttering under the breath). We heard groans when we shared with them that the direct costs were only a small part of the picture that that the indirect costs (lost productivity and other opportunity costs) were much higher (we had an outside consultant help us with the estimate which was just over $6,600).

The estimated full cost (direct and indirect costs) of replacements on an annnual basis was $27 million. Since these were costs that we were currently incurring we used that as a baseline.

We asked for more and better screening tools to use in the recruitment process. This request was not well received in the current economic climate but we persevered and demonstrated that our proposal could not only be cost neutral but could actually produce cost savings if implemented.

Not surprisingly we got a lot of skepticism. Our consultant helped us prepare an estimate of the impact of the implementation of the proposal (we expected to reduce the churn by 2.2% in the first year and shorten the replacement cycle time from 28 to 25 business days).

The financial figures were very interesting (saving $2.9 million in the first year and more thereafter). Our management team was interested but hardly convinced that we could deliver on the promise of maintaining a cost neutral position much less the anticipated cost savings. Consequently, the team settled on a "show me" approach.

We ran the program as a pilot with a test group and a control group and evaluated the results. The decision called for an interim evaluation at 6 months and a final evaluation at 12 months.

We not only hit our numbers at 6 months but exceeded them and the managment team decided to forego the 12 month final evaluation and adopt the proposal with the recommendation for immediate implementation.

We are at 10 months now and have finished rolling the last employee group into the new program. We continue to exceed our target numbers and those who were most skeptical are now our greatest supporters.

We, from our experience, know all too well the costs of not doing a thorough job of screening our candidates. We'll never go back to the old way of doing things. It just doesn't make sense.

Eric Hayden said...

Let's not underestimate the value of having on-site security personnel to help avoid just such an unhappy incident. This might not have happened if security guards were present.