Employing a Checks and Balances System in Your Hiring Process

Whether you’re hiring a CEO, an employee, or a subcontractor, you always take a risk.  Unfortunately, there are times when people will go to great lengths to misrepresent themselves and thus create the need for background check resources and references.

In attempt to avoid the deception trap the next time you interview a potential candidate, keep these 5 key factors in mind:

  1. Prepare comprehensive histories from vague or misleading responses
  2. Filter fact from fiction and deal with dishonest interviewees
  3. Deal with legal issues including which questions you can and cannot ask
  4. Make a confident, well-researched hiring decision
  5. Use waivers that protect you legally during the background check process

Personal References

A personal reference could be anyone whom the candidate happens to know but most likely has never worked for.  Nowadays, personal references have become one of those overused catchphrases that disguises the real work of responsible, effective reference checking.

Background Checks

The term background check is another catch-all phrase that means checking the accuracy of basic information provided by a candidate for employment or similar.  It’s an important step in the employee selection process because it’s a relatively painless and inexpensive way for the prospective employer to whittle down the pile of applications to only those candidates who are, at least, who they say they are.

While determining whether or not the candidate is whom he or she claims to be is an important first step, it should ultimately lead into real reference checking.  There’s so much more to learn about a candidate for employment before the final decision can be made, and the only way to learn that is by talking to people who have worked with or received service from the candidate in question.

Job Application Issues

There are several things employers can do to increase the likelihood of receiving honest responses to job performance questions:

  1. Always ask the job seeker to provide a resume that contains a complete work history, including dates of employment for every job held.
  2. Ask the candidate to provide the name of the person to whom he/she directly reported.
  3. Employers should always require candidates for employment to fill out a formal job application that asks for the same information.  One way or another, even if you have to ask for it during the first interview, you’ll get a description of the tasks for which the job seeker was responsible at each position held.

If the list of references doesn’t include at least one of the people to whom the candidate reported directly, a red warning flag should appear in the prospective employer’s mind.  Some job seekers will suggest they didn’t list a previous supervisor as a reference because the two of them didn’t get along and that’s understandable, but throughout an individual’s entire work history, there has to be at least ONE supervisor who can be a reference.  If it’s true the candidate has never gotten along with any supervisor ever, then it’s best to look for another person for the job.

No, every job doesn’t result in a happy ending but with the above precautions in mind, one can reduce the possibility of getting burned or hiring the more suitable person for the job.  Having more information about a job seeker is always better than having less.  It’s through working with other people that we reach most of our goals so choosing the right ones is therefore, essential.

A Leader’s Roadmap Part 9

(Intro from Part 1: Businesses are becoming more complex. It’s harder to predict outcomes because intricate systems interact in unexpected ways. 

Staying on track is much easier with a guide or checklist. Michael Useem, a professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of The Leadership Moment, has published The Leader’s Checklist to create a clear roadmap for navigating any situation. I will present in the blog in condensed form, with sample questions accompanying each principle.)

9. Convey Your Character: Through storytelling, gestures and genuine sharing, ensure that others appreciate that you are a person of integrity.

For some, integrity simply means telling the truth, but it goes deeper than that. Integrity has more to do with living the truth than merely telling it. Since integrity is intimately linked with each of our own unique set of core values, we alone are the best judges to determine how well we are adhering to our internal moral code

a. Have you communicated your commitment to performance with integrity?
b. Do others know you as a person? Do they know your aspirations and hopes?

Complacency Is Rampant – Avoid The Big Error

You would think bad business results are enough to shake people out of complacency. But approximately 50 percent of companies fail to establish a sufficient sense of urgency to succeed in their transformation efforts, according to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency.

People in organizations are entrenched in maintaining the status quo, even in the face of devastating news such as:

  • Shrinking margins
  • New competition
  • Decreasing market share
  • Flat earnings
  • Lack of revenue growth
  • Declining competitive position
  • Global economic recession

In spite of bad news, getting people to change and motivating them to participate in change initiatives are major problems. Starting a transformation program requires full-bore cooperation from many individuals. And without sustained motivation, people won’t stay with the program long enough to get results, so the effort goes nowhere.

Executives underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones, even when these  zones lack security. Management also overestimates its success in creating a culture of urgency—the element that may, in fact, be the most important contribution to transformation efforts.

The Big Error

When you fail to create a sense of urgency, your people will be unwilling to take the critical leap toward an uncertain future.

Here are some questions to test the effectiveness of your company’s change program:

  • How high is managers’, peers’ and workers’ sense of urgency?
  • How do you know this?
  • If it’s too low, why?
  • What exactly are you doing to change this?
  • If you cannot change the level of urgency, what are the consequences for your organization? How about your career?


At the beginning of any change effort, of any magnitude, leaders fail when the organization’s sense of urgency is lacking. This leads to a variety of difficulties, pain, disappointment and that distressing 70 percent statistic.

Complacency Is Rampant


Complacency is much more common than we think. People gravitate toward doing whatever alleviates their anxieties and worries, and they will go to great lengths to avoid discomfort.

Often, complacency is invisible to managers and leaders, as well as the employees in its grip. You, too, may be complacent and not even realize it. That’s because success produces complacency and, for peace of mind, we often focus on success instead of our failures or gaps.

This problem is augmented by our tendency to replace a true sense of urgency and purpose with frantic activity and unfocused anxiety—what we call a false or misguided urgency.

False Urgency

When organizations suffer from a false sense of urgency, they experience a great deal of energized action, but it’s driven by anxiety, anger and frustration. There’s activity, but little focused determination to win—and to do so as soon as possible.

With false urgency, you will frequently witness:

  • Running from meeting to meeting
  • Sending lots of emails
  • Writing unnecessary reports
  • Juggling lower priorities
  • Compulsively making lists that are never completed

The danger here is that participants and observers actually believe their increased activity is productive.

Communicate for Urgency

Communications are critical to creating engagement and building a true sense of urgency. To that end, here are four steps for creating buy-in, courtesy of John Baldoni (Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders).

1. Inform. Explain the situation in general and specific terms. Generality provides context; specifics provide expectations. For example, make the case for your initiative, ask people to support it and tell them why it’s necessary.

2. Involve. Once people understand the facts and what’s expected of them, they will decide whether to participate. Critical to gaining commitment is communicating “what’s in it for me?” (WIFM). You must make the specifics clear and demonstrate what people will gain by supporting your initiatives.

3. Invite. Once people understand what’s expected of them, ask for their support. Never assume people will follow you until you ask them to do so. Be specific and persistent: “Can I count on your support for this initiative?”

4. Ignite. This final step is not always possible, but it separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. You must try to take individuals’ commitment and transform it into a collective willingness to work toward a cause greater than themselves. Excite their imaginations by talking about what will happen when your initiative is a success.

Beware of Barriers to Change

Familiarize yourself with these five common barriers to change so you can stay on track:

  1. Ownership: It’s easier to pass the buck than to stand up as a leader and take over responsibilities that may not even be yours.
  2. Time: Change always takes longer than estimated. Add 50 percent to 100 percent more time to your expectations.
  3. Difficulty: When a task appears to be easy, you may set yourself up for disappointment and frustration if you miscalculate the time required to complete it. Anticipate troubles, and give yourself credit for small victories.

  4. Distractions: When the going gets tough, as it will, it’s easy to be distracted by competing goals, other interests and priorities. Anticipate how easily you can become distracted; you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to regain your focus.

  5. Maintenance: Once you expend all of the effort needed to achieve a change goal, be willing to face reality. It takes time for the new to become habitual. Give up too soon, and you’re back to square one. Maintenance requires vigilance and perseverance—more than you may think.


Would your employees fire you?

Part One of Two

The No. 1 reason why most Americans leave their jobs is the feeling they’re not appreciated. In fact, 65% of people surveyed said they received no recognition for good work in a previous year, according to Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, authors of How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life (2004).

According to newer Gallup research, what employees want most – along with competitive pay – is quality management. When they feel unappreciated and disapprove of their managers, they leave or stop trying.

Almost 25% of U.S. employees would fire their bosses if given the chance, and about 50% of actively disengaged workers would follow suit.

A Gallup Management Journal survey found that, of all 24.7 million U.S. workers, roughly 18% are actively disengaged. Gallup estimates the lower productivity of actively disengaged workers costs the U.S. economy about $382 billion.

Because of current economic realities, people may not be leaving their jobs. Instead, they join the ranks of the disengaged and become “missing in action.” It rests upon managers to learn better ways of interacting with the people on whom they depend.

3 Steps to Positive Leadership

In 2005, results of a Gallup research study concluded managers play a crucial role in employee well-being and engagement.

Five years later, most leaders are acutely aware of the costs and benefits of engaging their workforce at all levels. Active employee engagement has strong linkages to key business outcomes, including retention, productivity, profitability, customer retention and safety.

But the Gallup research didn’t study what managers did (their specific behaviors) to elicit positive responses from employees.

That’s why Margaret Greenberg and Dana Arakawa put the theory of positive leadership to the test. Greenberg is president of The Greenberg Group, an executive coaching/consulting practice in Andover, CT. Arakawa is a program associate at the John Templeton Foundation of West Conshohocken, PA. Both are graduates of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Greenberg and Arakawa wanted to know if managers who apply positive leadership practices have teams with higher project performance and employee engagement, as compared to teams led by managers who don’t apply these practices.

Based on a great deal of previous research, positive managers practice these three leadership behaviors:

  1. Use a strengths-based approach
  2. Provide frequent recognition and encouragement
  3. Maintain a positive perspective when difficulties arise

Past studies have shown these practices have a direct effect on employee engagement, and each is an observable and testable behavior.

None of these characteristics are innate, but all can be learned. Very few executives intuitively know:

  1. How to work with people’s strengths
  2. How to automatically give frequent credit where due
  3. How to respond with your best game face when the going gets rough

Tomorrow I will focus on each of these areas.

Are Your Employee’s Engaged? (Part Two of Two)

Handling “dis-engaged” Employees

Efforts to raise levels of engagement are worthwhile for those in the not-engaged range. Not engaged employees concentrate on tasks and want to be told what to do. They focus on process, not results. Managers who only provide tasks to an employee reinforce “not engaged” behaviors and move away from engaging the heart, mind, and soul of that person.

Employees who feel disconnected emotionally from their coworkers and supervisor do not feel committed to their work. They hang back and do the minimum because they don’t believe anyone cares. The way to get people to become a part of an organization is through relationships.

First, managers need to demonstrate a sense of really caring about employees and what’s important to them. The manager who takes the time to have a dialogue about an employee’s strengths and how these can make a difference forges essential ties and connections that lead to employee commitment.

Expectations, Clarification and Measurement

Managers must provide expectations, clarification, and measurement.  A good place to start is with conversations about expectations for the person in a given role. Get the individual to view his or her role from a broader perspective instead of from a narrow task-oriented point of view. Encourage the employee to see how his or her work contributes to the organizational future by asking:

“What are the outcomes you are supposed to achieve?” 
”What were you hired to do?” 
”How do you contribute to making this a great place to work?” 
”Are you creating engaged customers?”

Next, managers can help employees clarify how they can achieve outcomes. Sometimes they can help employees change their roles to fit their talents better. A person who is not adept at written reports and details can collaborate with someone who is. Measurement is crucial to an employee’s feeling of success, as long as the measurement focuses on outcomes, not steps. Good measurement aligns with outcomes and matches the expectations for the role.

How to Keep an Employee Engaged

Engaged workers produce more, make more money for the company, and create emotional engagement and loyal customers. They stay with the organization longer and are more committed to quality and growth than are the other two groups of not-engaged and actively disengaged workers.

  • Employees must have a strong relationship with their manager
  • They must have clear communications from their manager
  • They need a clear path set for concentrating on what they do best
  • They need strong relationships with their coworkers
  • They must feel a strong commitment with their coworkers so that they will take risks and stretch for excellence


Engaged employees tend to get the least amount of focus and attention from managers, in part because they’re doing what they are needed to do. Great managers spend most of their time with the most productive and talented people because they have the most potential. The challenge for managers comes when the first signs of disengaging appear from an engaged worker. The symptoms need to be addressed immediately or else the disconnection is most likely to continue.

What Employees Want a Manager to Do

For great managers, the path toward engaging employees and keeping them engaged begins

with asking them what they want and what is important in order to be effective in their roles. Here is a summary of what workers responding to the Gallup Q12 survey say they what they want from their managers:

Focus me          Equip me
Know me Help me see my value
Care about me Help me grow
Hear me Help me see my importance
Help me feel proud       Help me build mutual trust
Help me review my contributions Challenge me

Are Your Employee’s Engaged? (Part One of Two)

According to research, only 29 percent of employees are motivated and energized. What, then, is happening to the other two-thirds of the people working in organizations?

This is an even worse scenario than the old joke in which a manager is asked how many people work in his company and he responds, “About half of them.”

The statistics on workforce engagement are shocking.

What is cause of this loss of enthusiasm and commitment? Most people join an organization with engagement. What is it that extinguishes that initial engagement after the first few years of working in an organization? Here are some possible causes:

  • Little or no feedback or guidance from those in charge
  • Lack of opportunity to discuss problems or provide input
  • Lack of resources to solve problems or to do a job well
  • Little or no reward or recognition
  • Little opportunity to develop one’s potential
  • Pressure to perform and achieve more with less
  • Lack of opportunity to interact socially
  • Interpersonal conflicts left unresolved
  • Little joy or humor except for office gossip and cynicism
  • Stress in balancing work and home responsibilities, leading to energy depletion


Measuring Employee Engagement

Since 1997, the Gallup Organization has surveyed approximately 3 million employees in three hundred thousand work units within corporations. This survey consists of 12 questions—called the “Q12” — that measure employee engagement. Results show that those companies with high Q12 scores experience lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of truly “engaged” employees at 29 percent. A majority of workers, 54 percent, fall into the “not engaged” category, while 17 percent are “actively disengaged.”

Here is how the Gallup Organization defines these three types of employees:

  1. (29%) Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  2.  (54%) Not-engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting in time—but not energy or passion—for their work.
  3.  (17%) Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.


While leaders of organizations focus intense efforts on building shareholder value, they generally cannot control the stock market. What they should be worried about are the two-thirds of their workforce who are just going through the motions, putting in time at work without commitment. In fact, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees—the least productive—cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity.

Tomorrow I will present Part Two – Handling Dis-engaged Employees.