Using Talent Assessments to Build an Ethical Corporate Culture

April 22, 2020 Achim Preuss

This article was first published in HRZone


There are 128 companies in the world recognised for exemplifying corporate citizenship and standards of integrity, according to Ethisphere. Those on the most ethical list include Capgemini, T-Mobile, Hasbro, LinkedIn and Visa, based on elements like leadership, reputation, culture, corporate citizenship and governance.

Good Ethics Is Proven to Make a Difference to Business Performance

Ethisphere tracked stock prices of publicly trading companies, finding that the World’s Most Ethical Companies have a stronger financial performance - an impressive 14.4% over five years.

But the advantages don’t stop there, other stakeholders, especially employees, respect an employer that shows integrity and growth through improvement. More than ever before, people value meaningful work where they can make a positive impact. They want to work with like-minded people and with leaders who prioritize a vision of social awareness.

For the business, ethical behavior has a knock-on effect, building employee motivation, engagement and productivity. Indeed, with companies competing for talent, some are building an ethical culture in part to help stand out. Both consumers and job seekers have the luxury of choice, and therefore are more likely to choose a company which has backed an ethical mission.

Ethics and Leaders

To maintain an ethical corporate culture, employees need to buy into it at all levels. For HR, that comes down to who you hire, not least at leadership level. No business can thrive if it has insensitive, volatile, manipulative and abusive leaders who ignore the consequences of their actions and use others to their own advantage. That’s bad enough in itself but it also creates an unpleasant and detrimental culture, setting a poisonous example which can cascade down and affect the entire organization.

Be warned too – some people may have ‘Dark Triad’ traits, bringing together Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy. Astonishingly, studies show that high levels of these traits are evident in CEOs.

Dark Personalities

Although each of these is a distinct trait, we all have elements of them in our personality. However, in 2002, researchers Paulhus and Williams highlighted that these traits can overlap and combine to form a ‘dark personality’. Individuals who score highly in all three of these traits are more likely to engage in deviant or counterproductive behavior in organizations. They are more prevalent in men than women.

Psychopathy is the most malicious of the three, characterized by a lack of empathy, impulsive behavior, selfishness and an absence of conscience. Those who score highly on this trait are antagonistic, have little regard for the emotions of others and are prone to bullying. Machiavellianism is a willingness to manipulate and exploit others, while focusing on their own agenda. People can be unprincipled, self-interested and cynical. Narcissism is characterized by entitlement, superiority, pride, disdain for others and self-enhancement. High scorers on this trait are egotists who seek to influence and dominate others through their appearance and charisma.

Understanding Risks to Ethics Platforms

Counterproductive behavior at any level can come from fraud, corruption, sabotage, betrayal of company confidentiality, theft and destruction of property. It can also include harassment and bullying of colleagues, aggressive or other harmful behavior, illicit absence or malpractice.
These behaviors can stem from excess pressure, greed, hubris, opportunism, recklessness, boredom or simply from trying to cut corners on quality or maximize short-term returns.

Pressured circumstances can bring out darker sides of individuals and because an individual’s personality is difficult to change, someone with high levels of negative traits will not be easy to coach or train to behave differently.

So with any hire, it’s important to identify candidates’ values and motivations as a way of understanding risk to ethics platforms.

How HR Can Make an Impact

HR should first gauge the level of risk needed for the company’s circumstances - some jobs will require different personality traits, including elements of negative or dark triad ones. It’s important to complete a thorough job analysis and look for opposite traits of integrity, empathy and teamwork capabilities.

Using a range of talent assessments to screen applicants is wise. Use a personality questionnaire, a values questionnaire and a motivation assessment. Choosing reputable tests that focus on the job requirements and are not easily faked. The right assessments will measure required competencies, identify any Dark Triad traits and predict whether individuals will suit the role and fit the values of your organization. The best personality questionnaires will reveal the person-job fit for each individual and will also give you a score for each desired competency.

Online situational behavior questionnaires can now more accurately assess a candidate’s integrity, reliability, credibility and the degree to which they’re vulnerable to counterproductive behavior.
These instruments reveal a candidate’s ethical awareness (are they empathetic, honest and reflective?) and their impulse control (are they disciplined, conscientious and cautious?). If someone scores low on these factors, they’re more susceptible to impulsive behavior and may have a greater tendency to be distracted or to act irresponsibly. Essentially, it means they’re more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior.

Darker Traits in Interviews

At interview stage, remember that candidates with darker traits will often try to outsmart an interviewer because they think they are superior. These candidates might be charismatic and they may shine in one or two areas of an interview, creating a ‘halo effect’ which can fool an unsuspecting interviewer into appointing them.

To avoid this, hiring managers should be trained to conduct thorough, competency-based interviews that cover all aspects of the role and enable them to keep control of the dialogue. Some personality questionnaires generate an interview guide which provides hiring managers with probing questions that they can ask to check and verify the suitability of each candidate’s competencies and behaviors.

Situational Aspects of Counterproductive Behavior

Remember too that counterproductive behavior is an interaction of situational aspects and personal attributes. Employers can select the right people to minimize risks, yet to change situations, existing staff may need training and organizations adapting.

In summary, whether a company’s ethical platform centers on giving back to the community, minimizing environmental impact, ensuring employees become the best ambassadors or ensuring fair supply chains, selecting the right employee fit in terms of corporate values and motivation is a key challenge. By understanding a candidate’s motivations and values it is possible to assess the cultural fit between a person, a company, department and team.

Do you want to learn more about why personality and behavior matters? Read our handbook "Why Behavior at Work Matters"!

About the Author

Achim Preuss

Dr. Achim Preuss is a renowned pioneer in the assessment industry and a visionary practitioner. As Head of Global Solutions at Aon's Assessment Solutions, he is responsible for the company’s global product development and its best practice innovations. Achim co-founded cut-e Group, a global talent management and assessment specialist, in 2002 and was its Chief Technology Officer when the company was acquired by Aon plc in 2017. cut-e and Aon, as Aon's Assessment Solutions, undertake 30 million assessments each year in 90 countries and 40 languages.

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