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Employee Performance ManagementGuest WritersHR Best PracticesHiring and On-boardingFeaturedSeptember 17, 2013by Stanton LawDerailed: How Can You Avoid a Costly Hiring Mistake?

When was the last time you saw a headline on Google News announcing yet another executive scandal? It happens almost daily, right? Our media is plagued with accounts of corporate fraud, audit scandals, and inter-office indignity.

How can we, as HR, employment law and talent management professionals avoid the selection of leaders who dive off the deep end? While there is no way to completely avoid the possibility of hiring someone like this, there are instruments that can be used to help assess whether an individual might fall prey to such behaviors. In the executive selection arena, we call this process “identifying derailers”.

So what exactly is a derailer anyway? Is it really a word? Yes, in fact the dictionary defines a ‘derailer’ as “a device designed to make rolling stock or locomotives leave the rails to avoid a collision or accident”. That’s the literal definition. In executive assessment terminology, a derailer is a characteristic or tendency that might lead to aspects of personality that are difficult to change and that can cause a career to go off the rails.

The Hogan Development Survey (HDS) is a commonly used tool in the Talent Management field to identify potential derailers in employees or potential candidates. This tool can be used for both selection and employee development purposes, such as succession planning, to identify “red flags” that may cause a current or future employee to derail. The HDS goes beyond a typical five-factor personality assessment and allows employers to identify problematic aspects of behavior that might be difficult to uncover in an interview. The HDS is a self-report questionnaire composed of 168 true/false questions. It consists of 11 scales that measure the “dark side of personality” or how people tend to behave under stress and pressure. Hogan defines the scales as follows:

Excitable: moody, hard to please, and emotionally volatile

Skeptical: suspicious, sensitive to criticism, and expecting betrayal

Cautious: risk averse, resistant to change, and slow to make decisions

Reserved: aloof, uncommunicative, and indifferent to the feelings of others

Leisurely: overtly cooperative, but privately irritable, stubborn, and uncooperative

Bold: overly self-confident, arrogant, and entitled

Mischievous: charming, risk-taking, and excitement-seeking

Colorful: dramatic, attention-seeking, and interruptive

Imaginative: creative, but thinking and acting in unusual or eccentric ways

Diligent: meticulous, precise, hard to please, and micromanaging

Dutiful: eager to please and reluctant to act independently or against popular opinion

These are qualities that tend to emerge in employees during times of acute stress, and result in disjointed relationships, impaired reputations, and – at the extreme – career demise. In a moderate form, all of these personality traits can bolster job performance. However, when a candidate scores extremely high (90th percentile) on any of these traits, it can become an overused strength that can derail one’s career and increase the risk of counterproductive behaviors associated with the derailer. Most individuals report at least one or two behaviors that approach the high risk range (90th percentile). An individual that exhibits three or more high risk scores is likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviors. Although scores on the HDS tend to remain stable over time, determining these risk factors early on allows employers to acknowledge potential performance risks and mitigate any negative effects. A concerted development effort can abate the negative behaviors associated with high scores.

The HDS also helps determine an individual’s propensity for risk-taking. Those scoring high on Excitable, Skeptical, Cautious, Reserved and Leisurely are more likely to be risk-averse. Those scoring high on Bold, Mischievous, Colorful and Imaginative are likely to take uncalculated risks that could be detrimental to an organization’s reputation. Finally, those who score high on both Diligent and Dutiful pose few risks for an organization.

Although the HDS is legally defensible and has been shown not to result in adverse impact (Hogan, 2013), it is best used in conjunction with additional assessments that determine personality, workstyles and cognitive ability, especially when used to inform hiring decisions. The HDS is particularly beneficial when hiring or developing candidates for manager-level and above positions, and can help employers avoid costly hiring mistakes and potential lawsuits due to employees engaging in counterproductive work behaviors. Organizations should use appropriate techniques to validate the HDS as a measure of future job performance.

To learn more about the Hogan Development Survey and how it can be used in your organization to effectively select and develop employees, visit or contact Turknett Leadership Group (TLG). At TLG, we help our clients make hiring decisions by using the HDS along with a battery of assessments and an interview. In combination, the assessments and the interview give our clients a deep understanding of the candidates’ strengths, weaknesses, and fit with the culture of the organization.

Fun fact: Hogan Assessments has created some great videos to explain what each of these derailers look like in their severe form. To view the videos, visit the Hogan YouTube Channel.