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Lessons in employee trust from Edward Snowden

By - Last modified: June 14, 2013 at 12:41 PM
Hope Stephan
Hope Stephan

Who do you trust? How do you know you should?

In hiring, it's easy to get wrapped up in whether a person has the skills to do a job or can explain mysterious gaps in work history (Was he staying home to help raise the kids, we wonder? Was she in jail??). Most of us then try to assess "fit" – the question of whether this person will assimilate well into our workplace culture or even be someone we want to interact with every day.

When it comes to trust, though, we tend to fall back on assumptions, whether it's because the applicant does have a continuous job history, looks us in the eye during the interview or just leaves us with a gut feeling that says a person is solid.

In the end, though, you give your trust because you have to.

Employee trust in its most profound sense has been in the news since a Booz Allen Hamilton employee two weeks ago pulled the curtain back on NSA activities that – though legal and had court approval – were pretty unsettling for most Americans.

You can bet Booz Allen is doing some deep soul-searching on Edward Snowden, their black-sheep contractor (who, by the way, the firm took care to announce it had fired. Since the man had basically walked off the job and fled to Hong Kong, you'd think that was a given.).

Snowden had security clearances, and it's likely that Booz Allen is among the segment of employers that require pre-employment psychological testing.

Testing, though, aims primarily at predicting whether a person will succeed in a job through aptitude or, that word again, "fit." So-called integrity tests tend to focus on low-skill jobs and whether a person is likely to, literally, steal – goods, money or time – from you.

But all indications are that Snowden does not view his actions as criminal but moral. A University of Maryland professor who studies whistleblowers says most people who consider themselves in that light are idealistic or naïve -- and never quite fit in. It's easy to look back now and decide Snowden fits the profile. He never finished high school; he took classes off and on at a community college; he joined the Army Reserves but did not complete training; and even in the intelligence community, he bounced from job to job.

You'd think those facts would be red flags for any employer.

Interestingly, Edward Snowden had been a Booz Allen employee for fewer than 90 days, according to the firm. A study published in 2010 by the Society for Human Resource Management notes that the first 90 days on the job determine whether you hired the right person. How well you "onboard" them in that period will increase the chances of success for both employer and employee.

The key is to make them feel welcome and prepared for their jobs. The goal is to enable them to feel connected and committed to the organization's goals.

What do you do in your company now to help new hires – and current employees -- achieve a high level of engagement? How would you know whether you've succeeded, or whether you have employees going home every day secretly unhappy, disgruntled or outraged?

If you're relying on your gut, it's time to rethink your personnel strategy.

The week ahead

Popular Whiteboard columnist Richard Randall has some common-sense advice on safeguarding your company's proprietary interests – starting with what you should be telling employees on day one.

Also along the lines of protecting sensitive information, we'll have a story on just how far you can go with noncompetes in Pennsylvania, should key executives or other employees leave.

A good number of the CPBJ staff will be at our Small Business Week kick-off event Monday at Clair Brothers Audio in Manheim. I hope to see you there – it's going to be like nothing we've ever done before. Small business really rocks in the midstate!

Here are other Small Business Week events slated for the week. And you can find a really detailed list of other networking opportunities coming up on our website.

The rewind

Back in March, I gave a plug for auditions slated in April in Philly for the ABC reality show, "Shark Tank." Last week, I learned that entrepreneurs who go on the show pay a price whether they win over a shark investor or not. This story also has some interesting insights into what can happen after an episode airs, even if a pitch succeeds. Reality ain't what it's cracked up to be.

On a final note, it's hard to avoid all the Daniel Ellsberg/Edward Snowden comparisons going on in Pundit-land. I ran into a younger, very puzzled acquaintance over the weekend having no luck figuring out why the NSA leaker was being compared to a 20th-century poet he remembered reading in college. I guess schools today are doing a better job on literature than history, though my friend's association is not totally unreasonable.

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