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Craig Cochran

Quality Insider

A Quality Lesson from Hopeulikit

Always check references

Published: Monday, April 17, 2006 - 21:00

Last year I had the good fortune of doing some consulting with B&C Specialty Products in Hopeulikit, Georgia. B&C does light manufacturing, primarily plastic molding and assembly, and they also distribute imported products produced by companies in the Far East. They have about 150 employees and are the biggest employer by far in Hopeulikit. B&C was a perfect place to learn about managing and quality. Every day presented a new lesson. Usually, the lessons were hard-learned, but those are the ones that really stick with you. B&C was gracious enough to allow me to interview their personnel about things that came up during my time there. Here is the first lesson: Always check references and backgrounds before hiring somebody. The following scenario is described by the people who actually lived it.

—J. T. Ryan, president
"I thought Henry was a pretty good guy. He came into the interview so positive and enthusiastic that I couldn’t help liking him. Besides having a good attitude, he actually seemed to know something about our kind of business. Henry had done a little work at a similar outfit in Newnan, Georgia. His work record wasn’t perfect, but we were dying for decent people, particularly in the shipping department.

"During the interview, Henry noticed my University of Georgia diploma on the wall. He mentioned that he had completed a few semesters at the University too. It’s hard to believe, but he had lived in the exact same residence hall that I had lived in. We even knew a lot of the same nightspots. In a lot of ways, Henry reminded me of myself when I was younger. Not an angel, but full of fire and enthusiasm. Anyway, I recommended we hire Henry and my recommendation carries quite a bit of weight, as you can imagine.

"It really surprised me to hear that Henry didn’t work out. From what I hear, there were problems right out of the gate. The situation really baffles me. How can someone so promising turn out to be such a disaster? In the back of my mind, I wonder if they had it out for Henry right from the start. After all, a number of people knew that I had personally interviewed him and that I thought he was top-notch. They might have been trying to give me a slap in the face by causing him to fail. People are like that sometimes. They had a theft out therein shipping, and they immediately suspected Henry. Not very fair in my opinion. In fact, they blamed him for everything that went wrong.

"Sometimes I wonder if our new employee orientation doesn’t contribute to problems. It’s really bare bones. We often just skip orientation altogether if things are busy. Just toss the people out there and call it ’on-the-job training.’ We shoot ourselves in the foot so much! Henry is just the most recent example. I’m going to talk to our human resources director about improving the new employee orientation immediately. We’ve got to do something."

—Paolo Ferrari, shipping supervisor

"The only thing we know for certain about Henry is that he’s a con artist. Everything else is up for grabs. My bet is that he’s also a thief and rapist. We had some expensive products go missing in the two weeks he worked back here and they were the first thefts we’d had since I became a supervisor over five years ago. Besides the theft, one of our female associates, Anna Hernandez, says that Henry pinched her bottom a number of times in the break room. The poor gal wouldn’t even walk out to her car by herself. We had to give her an armed escort! I’m telling you, this Henry guy was bad news. Human resources was in the process of investigating him for the theft and harassment when I ended up having to fire him for not doing anything. In the two weeks he worked here, he didn’t complete a single task. I guess he was too busy pinching Anna’s butt and stealing things.

"I was one of the people who interviewed Henry before he was hired. It took me about two minutes to see he was trouble. He had con man written all over him. Right away, he started making comments about the picture of my teenage daughter I keep on my desk. ’She should be a movie star,’ and garbage like that. I told him he’d better get his eyes off my little girl unless he liked the sting of buckshot. I heard he snowed old J.T. pretty well, buttering him up about his college diploma or some such nonsense. Henry’s the sort of guy who would say absolutely anything to get what he wanted. What I want to know is how we end up hiring somebody like that. Don’t we screen these guys or call their old employers? I mean, come on!"

—Emily Hammond, human resources director
"’The Henry Situation,’ as we’ve started calling it, has the potential to really hurt us. The man did a lot of damage around here in a short amount of time. The alleged theft is the least of our problems. Anna Hernandez, who Henry supposedly molested, is filing a lawsuit against us for our failure to provide a harassment-free workplace. Anna has been a model employee for the last three years, and I’m really worried about this. She’s seeing a psychological counselor and is on medical leave right now.

"The shame of it is that we did this to ourselves. My office was about to begin checking Henry’s references when J.T. signed off on his hiring forms. When the president signs off, the candidate bypasses the usual reference checks. I asked J.T. about it and he said, ’Trust me on this one. Henry’s a good guy.’ A good guy, my foot. Yesterday, just for the heck of it, I called some of his references. Two out of the three references basically told me they wouldn’t touch Henry with a ten-foot pole. It took me a total of ten minutes to learn we should not have hired the man. I have pushed for years that we always call references before hiring someone, no matter how terrific they seem. Another thing we need to initiate is a formal background check for all new hires. Quite a few of the references that candidates provide are either not reliable or refuse to say anything one way or the other. Even when we call the references, we don’t get anything of value. A background check would at least weed out the confirmed weirdos and convicted criminals. Yes, it costs some money to do background checks, but it also costs money to be sued. Pay now or pay later. The only problem is that when you pay later, it’s always a whole lot more money.

"I happen to know that the president had some words to say about our new employee orientation. No, it’s not perfect. We’re working to add more value to it right now. To blame our orientation process for the Henry Situation is laughable. I would laugh right now if I weren’t so depressed. It wouldn’t have mattered what kind of orientation Henry got, he was a ticking bomb that we invited into our company. We brought him in and he exploded. Now we’ve got one heck of a mess to clean up."

When you hire people, remember:

  • References can provide valuable information about job candidates

  • Background checks are a wise investment

  • First impressions about people are often not accurate

  • All personnel involved in the hiring process should get together and discuss the candidate before any decisions are made

  • Hiring the wrong person can cause lasting damage to your organization

  • Take the time to hire people who will uphold the values your organization represents


About The Author

Craig Cochran’s picture

Craig Cochran

Craig Cochran is a project manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. Cochran is the author of The Seven Lessons: Management Tools for Success; Problem Solving in Plain English; ISO 9001 in Plain English; Customer Satisfaction: Tools, Techniques, and Formulas for Success; The Continual Improvement Process: From Strategy to the Bottom Line; and Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization, all available from Paton Professional. His most recent book is ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English, also available from Paton Professional.