Recruiting more clever devils

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Friday, February 14 2014

We continue our discussion on the application of the precepts of Confucius in the management of corporations, which in his time referred mainly to government and the conduct expected of leaders and civil servants, and in our discussion this can be extrapolated to include any manager or employee.

Confucius maintains that unless one’s house is in order and that values are nurtured at home, 齐家 one is not fit for service to one’s country 治国.His contention is that the country is but an extension of the home .

The first principle Confucius maintains is that leaders of organizations (like parents at home) have to be principled and virtuous in order that they can set the tone at the top. In government and corporations, leaders have to be virtuous and accountable and not merely serve their own ends, as exemplified by the Enron scandal brought about by their CEO Ken Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling. What then does one do if one is in the service of leaders who are unethical and amoral? Confucius says: resign. This naturally presumes that one is virtuous (is able to distinguish right from wrong), righteous (is able to do what is right) and courageous, to stand up to dishonest and deceitful authority. We are reminded by Warren Buffet that when we hire people we look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. Without the first, the other two will kill you. But how much attention is paid to the integrity in selecting and recruiting leaders, civil servants and staff? Intelligence often takes precedence with little or no attention paid to integrity and character.

It is timely to examine the universal sieve used in selection and recruitment, based on an erroneous management dictum that you cannot manage that which you cannot measure, a myth which was excoriated by management guru W. Edwards Deming who said “The most important things cannot be measured.” The ubiquitous emphasis on academic achievements alone without regard for character and values is the downfall of our current system. One is deemed educated if one has been schooled with diplomas and degrees to show. According to C. S. Lewis , education, as useful as it is, without values seems rather to make man a more clever devil.

If our selection criteria only takes into account one’s academic grades, are we merely selecting more clever devils? This sadly is the case. Many who have been involved in corporate crime have illustrious academic backgrounds, e.g. Jeff Skilling convicted of fraud which caused the collapse of Enron obtained his MBA from Harvard University. Confucius based his appraisal of people not on academic transcripts but values and character. It is ludicrous to think that one with academic achievements would have character and values to match.

This selection process begins even earlier in some quarters where the cream of the crop students with excellent scholastic results are awarded scholarships. These scholars are then groomed for high office. If selection is not based on values and virtues but instead on their transcripts, Warren Buffet’s warning will become a reality.

The reliance on measurement of intelligence to hire people just because it can be quantified whereas character, values and virtues cannot be quantified, is the downfall of meritocracy. Albert Einstein was right when he said "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts."