Danny Boice on Screening People: Employees and Beyond
I'm Danny Boice, the CEO of Trustify. Today we kick off a multipart series covering what we refer to here at Trustify as the truth/trust lifecycle.
In order to trust your employees, you must know how to first verify—how to find the truth. We begin with screening because this is the initial step in the employment lifecycle. If you can separate fact from fiction and know how to effectively screen prospective employees, you will save yourself from expensive issues later down the road.
Over the years, we have recognized that smart businesses plan for risk points and have an opportunity to prevent against risk. Remember that nine times out of ten, your risk is linked to a people problem. The risk starts and ends with employees. Smart businesses understand that the employee lifecycle starts before hire. At that point, you have a chance to avoid hiring the wrong person, and doing extensive vetting makes a lot of sense.
Once you have the wrong person working for you, the rest of the lifecycle can be a lot more difficult to manage. Hiring the wrong employee could mean insurance fraud, workman’s comp fraud, embezzlement, data theft, stealing of merchandise, or even other issues like sexual harassment. All of these can become black marks on your company.
Later down the road, the wrong hire could equal an employee who is more likely to act out. This employee can create problems for you at the end of the lifecycle—when they begin soliciting other employees, not honoring a non-compete clause, or sharing confidential data. Of course, you have to track the status of an employee during their employment as well. Their lives can change, or they could become upset with the company for a host of reasons. When employees leave on bad terms, they are even more likely to consider how to get back at the company.
Ignoring the truth/trust lifecycle will cause repeated problems because you eventually have to backfill the spot of the employee who has caused you all of these issues, and everything starts all over again. The lifecycle is constant for any business, and it is imperative that you understand it to avoid risk. The lifecycle is where all the money is lost.
The Problem with Background Checks
How could it be that an established business like Uber is having so many issues with their drivers? We hear of drivers attacking passengers. One even went on a shooting spree. Doesn’t Uber do background checks? Of course they do. Clearly, that “preventative measure” doesn’t do much.
Background checks have become a commoditized, inexpensive way to cover your ass. Nothing more. Running a background check allows you to check a box and say you tried, but no one actually expects to find anything. Businesses use them like an insurance policy. After Uber went through their major kerfuffle, they had to hire a Chief Safety Officer. One of the first blog posts he wrote explained why background checks don’t really matter, why they don’t work. That’s coming from a top executive at Uber. After many years of working with businesses at the screening stage, we have found that he is right.
A CareerBuilder poll from 2016 said that only 28 percent of hiring managers claimed they did background checks at all. From what we’ve seen, about 50 percent choose to do them. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Background checks have become more about perception than anything. Companies that don’t run them still want to act like they do. It’s similar to having security cameras that aren’t actually cameras. It’s a way to say you’re doing a check so people think you are, without wasting your money.
The logic behind background checks was flawed from the beginning. They revolved entirely around criminal records. The hypothesis went like this: you can know if someone is safe and trustworthy by seeing if they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. This sounds great in theory until you look one level deeper. There is no national database in the United States of criminal records. You can’t go to one place, search by name, and find a person’s criminal records. Even when a person is arrested, they are likely arrested at the county level, by county police, and go to county court. They might be handled by state police if the case is a bit more serious.
Imagine any rural county you’ve ever been to. Do you really think the clerk in that county is entering criminal records in real time? Do you think they are making them electronically available in a way that any other system can interact with them and retrieve the information when it’s needed? Of course, this information has to be manually entered; human error is also involved.
At the end of the day, accessibility of the data becomes next to impossible. Only the most advanced counties are sharing data in the correct way. Combine this reality with that fact that most background checks allow a person to have complete control over what information they share, and background checks essentially turn into IQ tests. Can you list three counties in which you haven't been arrested? Check. You pass.
Some businesses are functioning under a false assumption that a background check for $30 is some kind of silver bullet, and it never will be. This is an extremely dangerous assumption to have. We work with major law firms, accounting firms, and celebrities—people with the highest net worth you can imagine—and their jaws drop when we tell them the limitations of background checks.
In most cases, these clients will try to reach for any feeling of safety. They’ll say, “But we also do Social Security number checks.” That’s when we have to break it to them: there is no such thing. Once again, the check is almost meaningless. All you can do with a Social Security number is verify that the person’s name is attached to the number. At best, you’ll be able to verify their date of birth.
Not only are these kinds of checks limited in what they accomplish, but they can also cause issues. False positives are highly common. If you Google “background check false positives,” you will find a list of major lawsuits with some of the most well known companies. These companies were screening someone they were not interested in hiring. It happens all the time.