Of course you want to hire sharp people, but before you extend an offer, get a good handle on the work ethic of a prospective employee.
You may have noticed that every badly written resume includes a claim that the applicant has “good communication skills;” that's something the resume would reflect if it were true (making the statement unnecessary). If you look at resumes before hiring, look for that particular red flag. It’s not a deal-killer in itself, but it does stand out as an incongruity. Look for others.
You can’t ask, “Do you have good ethics?” and expect to get an honest answer from an unethical person. To get an accurate answer, you must ask indirectly.
One way is to get a prospective employee engaged in a conversation about timely job completion. Then pose a question about how they would complete a job if something had caused them to fall behind.
“So you and Sam are on this job where every bolted connection you make must meet a specific torque spec using a calibrated torque wrench. But Sam drops the wrench and it hits the cement hard. What would you do at that point, knowing this violates the calibration integrity of that tool but a trip to the shop for a replacement will cause the job to run late?”
The prospective employee might accept defeat at this point and say the job would just have to be late. That’s an acceptable response. It shows an ethical choice being made.
But suppose the prospective employee says, “I’d ask the customer for help. Surely, they have a calibrated torque wrench” or something else that quickly solves the problem without cheating?
That person is a problem-solver, which is good. However, some problems defy solution. So make the problem harder. “They don’t have that wrench. There’s no hardware store within 20 miles. You have to make a round trip to the shop and be late, or just trust your mechanical skill and feel so the job is completed on time. Which choice will you make?”
If forced to choose between looking bad and doing the job right or doing the job incorrectly but looking good, what choice will this person make? Nobody wants to look bad, of course. But can you really afford to hire someone who would choose to do the job incorrectly? What shortcuts might this person take that could get a crew killed on the job?
Pose other problems. For example, the customer insists the work be completed in a manner that violates the NEC. It’s a big contract but a small violation. “What would you do in that situation?”
Of course, the correct answer is your company does not do work that violates the NEC. In the problem, state that, “You can’t be persuasive with the customer, so now what do you do? He insists on that minor violation. What do you tell him?”
A reply like, “I understand your concern. Let me have my boss call you” is a good response. A reply like, “Well, it’s a minor violation and the customer is always right” shows this prospective employee is not thinking clearly about the ethical considerations.
So much for interviewing. What about after people are hired? Do they see ethical choices being made by managers who lead by example? How do people talk about work? Do foremen say, “Do the job right, that’s our company signature” or do they say, “That’s good enough, they probably won’t notice” instead?
Of course, you want to:
• Retain good performers and even promote them.
• Invest in training.
• Reward people for bringing projects in on time and on budget.
These three efforts will produce adverse consequences if the people involved have poor ethics. For example, consider “Retain good performers and even promote them.”
How do you know performance is good? Unless your shop is really small, you judge performance based on what people report to you. If those people have strong moral character and solid ethics, you can believe them. But what if they don’t have these attributes?
Then if they run into problems, they complete a job on time only by cutting corners. Ethical people deal with the problems, and don’t try to cover things up.
Mike, who is an honest and ethical person, reports: “Sorry we ran over. Sam dropped his torque wrench, so we decided not to use it. Getting a replacement delayed completion.”
Jim and Bill don’t say so, but this is how they handled the job: “We never bothered to get out a torque wrench, so we saved time. We also saved time by quickly sweeping our job mess into a pile we left behind the switchgear instead of properly disposing of it.”
They concealed their actions, but all you see is their “superior” performance compared with that of Mike and Sam.
Which kind of behavior do you encourage? You could be inadvertently rewarding the cheaters. You don’t want such people to rise into management where their attitude produces a culture of substandard work and unsafe work habits.