“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.”

Warren Buffet, Chairman & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (the 4th largest company in the world), one of the world’s wealthiest people and arguably one of the most successful investors in the world

Australian politicians have been in the media for all the wrong reasons lately, specifically around whether their travel spending is for personal matters or related to their role in parliament. Misuse of taxpayer funds for personal travel is serious, but seems to come up all too often. Surely our politicians are smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong?  (Well, I guess in some cases that point could be argued.)  But is knowing the difference between right and wrong really all that simple?

Of course, this type of behaviour can happen in any organisation, not just in politics.  In fact, I have a confession to make.  When working at a supermarket as a poor Uni student, I – along with a couple of other colleagues – took a pedometer that came free with a magazine.  The next issue of the magazine was out, and we were collecting all the old ones, along with the pedometers.  We figured they weren’t going to be used, so decided to keep one each for ourselves.  I mean, they weren’t worth a lot (this was back in the days when pedometers had a small ball bearing inside them to count your steps) so no harm done, right?

Well… yes, actually. The pedometers weren’t ours to take and we didn’t have permission to take them. We shouldn’t have done it.

Integrity and counterproductive behaviour

This illustrates one type of what’s known as ‘counterproductive behaviour’ at work – which basically refers to any kind of behaviour in the workplace that goes against the employer’s best interests. It can range in severity from taking an unwanted pedometer, using the work printer for personal use, taking a ‘sickie’ through to rorting travel expenses, providing unauthorised discounts to family or friends, stealing cash or assets and defrauding the organisation.While the impact of some of these behaviours may seem minor compared to others, the cost to the organisation can be quite significant, indeed theft in the workplace costs Australian businesses approximately $1.5 billion every year.

Interestingly, knowing the difference between right and wrong in these instances may not necessarily have much to do with intelligence or cognitive ability. We could even argue that some of the more extreme counterproductive behaviours – such as fraud or embezzlement, which requires a lot of planning and subterfuge – may need a high level of intelligence if the person is to get away with it for a while. Although, on the other hand, maybe the people who think they can get away with these things are actually displaying lower cognitive ability!

Cognitive ability predicts work performance

A large and widespread body of research on cognitive ability consistently demonstrates that it’s one of the strongest predictors of how someone will perform at work (Schmidt and Hunter, 1998).  With a validity coefficient of .51 (a validity coefficient of .30 and above is considered to be medium/moderate so .51 is very good), measuring cognitive ability through either a validated traditional cognitive ability assessment or a validated game based assessments is an accurate, objective way to get insight into someone’s likely on the job performance.  Cognitive ability can tell you how quickly a candidate is likely to pick up on new information, progress through training, and how effective they’re likely to be at solving complex, novel problems and thinking on their feet.

Increasing predictive validity with integrity tests

While this approach can provide some great insight, it’s obviously not the only way to get an understanding of someone’s on-the-job performance.  Using this type of assessment in isolation could lead to overlooking other key traits, characteristics and attitudes that can also have a huge impact on whether someone is successful in the role.  By adding another assessment to a cognitive ability test, you gain a further increase in the predictive validity of the measures you are using.  For example, by adding an integrity assessment (according to Schmidt and Hunter these have a validity coefficient of .41) to your cognitive ability assessment, the accuracy of your predictions about a candidate’s on-the-job performance can increase by 27%.

Adding an integrity assessment also helps you to proactively protect your organisation against some of the counterproductive behaviours people with lower levels of integrity might engage in. And if you’re hiring people with higher levels of integrity, you’re also more likely to avoid the contagion effect that counterproductive behaviours can produce. In other words, by keeping ‘bad apples’ out of your organisation, others are less likely to adopt the same behaviours. You can also assess integrity during an interview by including questions that relate to the specific counterproductive behaviours your organisation wants to avoid.

Avoiding the costs

As well as impacting culture, counterproductive behaviours cost your organisation money. It could be as innocuous as people being consistently late to work and believing it doesn’t matter. Or it could be a lot more serious, such as stealing stock or money. The bottom line is this: if you combine a cognitive ability assessment with an integrity test, not only are you getting a much more accurate prediction of work performance, you’re also taking a step towards protecting your business from people who don’t have its best interests at heart.

Now, if only we could get our politicians to complete an integrity test before taking office…

Let’s leave the final word to St. Gregory:

“He is not wise to me who is wise in words only, but he who is wise in deeds.”

About the Author

Nicole Russom | Senior Consulting Psychologist

Many of the Revelian team already knew and respected Nicole Russom before she made the decision in late 2015 to join us – and when she did, we were thrilled. Nicole has an excellent reputation in the industry as a registered psychologist of the highest calibre, and is also a genuinely nice person! She joined the Revelian team in January 2016 as a Client Relationship Psychologist, who partners with our existing and prospective clients to get the best business outcomes from their Revelian solutions.

Nicole has a Masters of Organisational Psychology and has worked in the field of psychometric and behavioural assessment for the past 10 years with a vast range of clients and industries. She’s passionate about positive psychology and analysing human behaviour, and loves helping people succeed in areas such as matching them to the right job, assisting teams to work more effectively together, and helping people fulfil their potential and be more engaged and happy at work.