How shaping attitudes to risk starts at the job interview

An organisation’s staff can be a significant source of risk: an under-supervised admin assistant can turn to fraud, a careless developer can allow hackers access to sensitive information, or an over-enthusiastic marketing manager can drag the company into a public Twitter feud. Increasingly, companies are seeking to control this risk through better recruitment.

Employees quickly lock into patterns of behaviour when they join a company, and setting them correctly in the first few days is seen as a lot easier than changing them later.

James Meachin, head of assessment at business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola, says modern personality questionnaires can illuminate traits such as impulsiveness, high openness to new experiences, extreme competitiveness, and low levels of compliance and conformity. These can be augmented by insights from an interview that can establish patterns of behaviour.

“Where there are consistent themes across the personality profile and the interview, organisations can be confident that they are gaining meaningful insights into a candidate’s risk appetite,” he says.

Extra understanding can be gained by assessing a person’s digital footprint, their interactions on social media or other online activities. “This can provide a more comprehensive picture of their true character, motivators and cultural fit,” says Vipul Mishra, founder of digital trails technology platform Neotas.

They also must verify that candidates are who they claim. “Companies that fail to formally review and verify a candidate’s identity, education, employment history and criminal records are introducing significant, but readily avoidable, risk into their organisations,” says Steve Girdler, managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa at background screening firm HireRight. Its research has found there are misrepresentations on 86 per cent of resumes or job applications.

The onboarding and induction process for new employees should set out the expected standards with regards to risk

All this can take time, and managers may start getting impatient when they have an urgent need to fill a post. However, Kristin Leary, chief human resources officer at cybersecurity firm Forcepoint, says HR must resist pressure to skimp on checks. “They must pause to study the data to determine if patterns emerge – patterns of poor behaviours or questionable career decisions,” she says.

The next step is the onboarding process, where for the first time an employee will be brought into contact with the company culture. “The onboarding and induction process for new employees should again set out the expected standards with regards to risk and be consistent with what was shared at the pre-hire stage,” says Iain Pennell, head of total talent management services at professional services firm Gibbs Hybrid.

Firms can also ask new employees to sign an ethical charter, suggests Christine Naschberger, associate professor in management at Audencia Business School. “This is what L’Oréal does with its code of ethics, which states that the aim is to ensure that they are not putting themselves or others at risk through their actions,” she says. In some firms, employees are required to sign a code of conduct each year, she adds.

Companies can use digital tools to track their risk profile, looking for any changes that might indicate something has gone wrong with an individual employee, or employees. “It’s possible to track any company’s reputation and risk profile in near real-time, to establish a baseline and any deviations from it,” says Bronwyn Kunhardt, co-founder and chief operating officer at risk intelligence firm Polecat. “If the behaviour of a particular employee is shaping discussion, negatively or positively, about the business, their digital footprint will reflect that. Their company can then come to its own conclusions about how to respond.”

Controlling risk isn’t the same as eliminating it - indeed, companies need to embrace appropriate uncertainty if they are survive.  “Adventurous personality types tend to be more adept at spotting opportunities,” points out David Thuillier, managing director of technology recruiter Montreal Associates. “They challenge traditional approaches which, in turn, sees them drive innovation – a trait more commonly associated with sales and product development.”

Firms will also need different risk profiles and people at different stages of their development, points out Tony Prevost, HR director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Skillsoft. “A startup with very ambitious growth plans may choose to go out and seek very entrepreneurial individuals,” he says. “But if the company grows, it will need to change what it wants in its employee profile. Not everyone can reach the highest level.”

Even where a degree of risk is part of the culture of an organisation, it’s important to think about how this is managed, says Simon Conington, managing director of global resourcing firm BPS World. “Risk is a part of the entrepreneurial mindset and that’s something you do not want to lose,” he says. “You just need to give it boundaries.”