You have probably heard someone use the phrase, "Make sure that you have the right people on the bus." This term comes from one of the most popular management books on the market today, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins.
Collins believes it is more important to get "the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus)" than to worry about where you are going. I would add that it is critical that those employees on the bus are not only competent, but also individuals of strong integrity.
During the hiring process, many companies emphasize things that are easy to quantify, including education, past employment, awards and recognitions. Far too little emphasis is paid to hiring integrity during the recruiting process.
Adrian Gostick and Dana Telford have recently authored a book titled, "The Integrity Advantage: How Taking the High Road Creates a Competitive Advantage in Business." In the book, they recall a presentation made by Warren Buffett at Harvard University. After his speech, a student asked him how he made hiring decisions.
"I look for three things," Buffett replied. "The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence and the third is a high energy level." He paused and then added, "But, if you don't have the first, the second two don't matter."
Dealing with fraud and theft are two of the more obvious problems that companies face when employees lack integrity. It is more difficult to measure the economic impact of employees taking sick leave when not ill, using company resources for personal purposes, surfing the Internet for entertainment during working hours or cheating on expense accounts.
The difficult question is: "How do you recognize an individual who either has or lacks integrity?"
Gostick and Telford suggest that individuals conduct a self-assessment using several statements such as: You know that little things count, you keep your word, you care about the greater good, you create a culture of trust, you stay the course and you're honest but modest. These statements represent six of the 10 questions they suggest should be answered to evaluate where you stand.
Conducting this self-assessment and developing a better understanding of the key determinants of integrity will increase your ability to recognize these traits in others.
I asked the CFO of a major U.S. corporation how his company hired integrity. He responded that it was one of the most difficult tasks his company faced. The company routinely screens its applicants by hiring a professional firm to investigate the backgrounds and claims of each individual. Additionally, the company tests the applicant on any competency claims made in the resume.
For example, if the person makes a claim as to typing speed, the company will administer a test to determine if the claim is correct. Similarly, computer programmers are given an opportunity to solve a programming problem.
More difficult is the determination of individual integrity. One method that you may want to consider is asking open-ended questions during an interview, requiring answers that must be expressed in the form of an explanation. Yes or no questions do not give you an opportunity to assess the applicant on a more in-depth basis.
Talk to a human resource professional about how you can improve your hiring process. Educate yourself and your managers about what you can ask and what is prohibited under the law. In today's environment, you will not get much more information from former employers than employment verification.
Good luck in getting the "right people on your bus!"
Gary Williams is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.