In recruiting, what really counts can't be counted

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Friday, February 1, 2013 at 6:02AM

We have discussed the fallacy of using merit alone for selecting staff and the absurdity of expecting ethical behavior when they are put to the test, when no attempt has been made to appraise their conduct and values.

We only have to trace the supply chain to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. By this I mean the universal acceptance of academic prowess alone to determine one’s worth without any regard for character and values that determine conduct.

At school, scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence. And top jobs go to the top scholars. Why? Because academic grades are measurable whereas values, ethics and morals are not. As an illustration, we discussed in an earlier post the selection of civil servants from the French École nationale d'administration. Here again we are reminded of Einstein's admonition that not all that can be counted counts, and not all that counts can be counted.

How would evaluating character help in implementing compliance and curbing corruption and fraud?

Confucius stressed the futility of imposing rules and governing by punishing those who break the regulations as they will know no shame; but if they are cultivated with virtue and a sense of propriety (ability to discern right from wrong), they will not be corrupt even if the rules are out of sight, as the right values are in place. He also warned that one must not work with those of little virtue, for they, swayed by considerations of their personal gains and losses, will resort by every conceivable means to maintain their vested interest.

Confucius emphasized the importance of cultivating virtue, moral and ethical values and using these as a measure of one’s worth. But the world has sadly come to accept the measurement of a person’s worth and success based on merit, wealth, experience, power, status etc. But these never reflect character and values, and assuming they do is a common error.

This sentiment is echoed by Warren Buffet who said,“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you”

What then is integrity and how does one cultivate it?

Integrity is a collective word that embraces many attributes and is best defined in the eight corner-stones which form the essence of good Chinese family upbringing: 孝悌忠信,礼义廉耻。

The discussion continues…………