The Missing Link in Disposition Codes

Jun 10, 2010

Imagine you are a coach. It could be in the business world or on a playing field. What can you control: how the game is played or the final score? If you said final score, then you have probably never coached. If you said how the game was played, you probably know good skills almost always lead to good results. That’s why professionals never stop drilling, practicing, and learning. Focusing primarily on numbers is generally short-sighted and ineffective — like saving time by leaving for work at the last minute.

Developing skill sets is the best long-term strategy — like allowing time for traffic backups and learning alternate routes.

Welcome to the Audit

A few days ago, you might have listened to a webinar presented by an attorney who specializes in OFCCP audits; over 400 people did. He made some important points. For example, the Obama administration is taking a broader view toward adverse impact; computerized systems make it easier to extract applicant data (which unfortunately can be used against you); there is more emphasis on writing better disposition codes; you might soon find yourself defending against white males claiming discrimination; there is increasing government emphasis on hiring veterans and people who are disabled; and, last (but not insignificant), OFCCP audits generate substantial revenue.

It Takes More Than Creative Coding

Enlightening and timely, but while most of the attention was on better coding, I think a wise recruiter might have seen that disposition codes, like scores at the end of the game, leave a lot of questions unanswered. For example, the speaker advised recruiters to include in their code at every step the reason why a candidate was disqualified, and who did it. Sounds like a new idea, right? Well, check out this link. You will find some of the information eerily familiar to the conference call. By the way, you might want to start preparing your argument to management about why you have ignored something that has been around for about 32 years. But, let’s put on your OFCCP investigator hat. Wouldn’t you want to know: why include this step? What kind of training did the decision-maker have? What kind of scoring system was used? Was it standardized? Where is the professionally conducted study defining job requirements and business necessity? Where is the validation study showing this test/interview/exercise predicts on-the-job performance? And so forth. You might be thinking, “This is nonsense. It’s too much work!”

My response would be, “If your job is finding the most qualified candidate, with what part of this do you disagree?” Anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows first-hand that human performance varies from low to high. I won’t bore you again with the financial cost of low performance, but doesn’t it tell you something when low performers manage to get through the same screen as high performers?

Demographics and Job Qualifications

At least (as of today) organizations are not under any mandate, government or otherwise, to hire people who cannot do a job. Let’s repeat that. You are not required to hire unqualified employees. Once again: organizations are not required to hire people just because they are old, young, male, female, Asian, white, black, or any other demographic, if they are unqualified.

By now, you might note emphasis on the word “qualified.” That is where organizations of all shapes and sizes get into trouble. They fail to clearly define “qualified.” Establishing job qualifications and trustworthy measurement tools are clearly spelled out in the 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures: the gold standard for defining job requirements, establishing business necessity, choosing tests, and writing interview questions. And don’t forget the 1999 APA Standards for testing. It’s the gold standard for designing and administering tests. Never heard of them? Don’t think they apply to you? You may not know it, but if you have anything to do with recruiting, they define how to do your job!

Know Your Essential Elements

Next, a note about people with disabilities. Hiring the disabled is covered by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as the ADA. Basically, the ADA says employers should define essential physical elements of the job and be ready and willing to provide reasonable accommodations to job-qualified disabled people. It goes something like this: you define job requirements, you evaluate/assess the candidate for the job, and you ask them if they can perform its essential physical elements with or without reasonable accommodations. There is more, but you get the drift. Give disabled applicants a fair shake.

How do you establish essential elements? You have to do an ADA-type job analysis that focuses on things like vision, movement, strength, agility, and so forth.

Doing the Right Thing

Following all those pesky rules is not only the right thing to do for an audit, it’s the right thing to do for the organization, the candidate, and the profession. Auditors make sure your organization treats candidates (i.e., voters) fairly. Since, at a demographic level, not all groups perform alike on tests/assessments/interviews, it is easy for the auditors to find statistically significant evidence of adverse impact based on gender, race, age, and so forth. Imagine how your organization would function if it ignored skills and hired only on demographics. Where would your future leaders come from? How much money would you pour into training the un-trainable? How many extra people would you need to do one job? What about your competitive ability? Can you spell b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t-c-y?

Get a Grip on Hiring

There is more to hiring the right people than casting a wide net and getting to know the candidate. Read the Guidelines. Read the Standards. Read the ADA.

When you are finished, it’s OK to go outside and throw up. You won’t be alone. As I said before, you may not like what you read and you may not want to do that much work; but, you have to ask yourself what part you disagree with: documenting job requirements and business necessity; identifying essential job elements: training decision-makers; believing false vendor claims; standardizing scoring methods; or validating your interviews/tests/assessments? When the day comes you have to defend poor hiring practices, it will cost your organization big bucks. You can always hope they blame it on someone else.

In the meanwhile, you can always decide to conduct business as usual, staffing your organization with more people than you need to do the same amount of work, hiring the bottom 80% of salespeople, promoting fully unqualified people into management positions, enjoying higher turnover, spending more training dollars, making more mistakes, crippling competitive responsiveness, building a shallow succession pool, turning away fully qualified disabled candidates, and continuing to argue with line managers about wasting their time with unqualified candidates.

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