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The ability to select effective human capital has long been viewed as the bedrock of the human resource function and a driver of organisational success. There is a plethora of literature available on recruitment and selection methodologies but little empirical evidence of the consequences to selection errors. Data was gathered on 393 incidents of selection errors across a wide range of industries. The symptoms and attribution of, and the wide-ranging consequences to, these selection errors were documented. Methods to rectify the selection error and the outcome of those attempts were also explored. Recommendations based on these empirical findings are offered.
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S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4) 23
The symptoms of and consequences to selection errors in recruitment
decisions
M Sutherland* and A. Wöcke
Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria,
Republic of South Africa
sutherlandm@gibs.co.za
Received February 2011
The ability to select effective human capital has long been viewed as the bedrock of the human resource function and a
driver of organisational success. There is a plethora of literature available on recruitment and selection methodologies
but little empirical evidence of the consequences to selection errors. Data was gathered on 393 incidents of selection
errors across a wide range of industries. The symptoms and attribution of, and the wide-ranging consequences to, these
selection errors were documented. Methods to rectify the selection error and the outcome of those attempts were also
explored. Recommendations based on these empirical findings are offered.
*To whom all correspondence should be addressed.
Introduction
One of key features of the knowledge era is the increased
mobility of knowledge workers particularly amongst those
who have rare skills and competencies, which leads to
higher levels of recruitment and selection. Recruitment and
selection are some of the most critical human resources
decisions an organisation can make (Sutherland & Jordaan,
2004). Recruitment is the process of attracting and
encouraging potential employees to apply for a position,
while selection is the process of making fair and relevant
assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of applicants
with the intention to hire them (Boxall & Purcell 2008;
Breaugh & Starke 2000). Correct selection creates a match
between the capabilities and inclinations of prospective
candidates against the demands and rewards inherent in the
organisation. The effective appointment of appropriate
candidates is critical to organisational success yet few
organisations formally evaluate their recruitment and
selection efforts (Carlson, Connerly & Mecham, 2002;
Hacker, 1997). According to Dale (2003), appointment
decisions are amongst the most important a manager has to
make as they affect the ability to achieve organisational
targets, the quality of services or products delivered to
customers and the well being of the staff. Huselid (1995)
showed a relationship between successful hiring and
financial performance. Some organisations calculate the
costs of appointments using metrics such as selection ratios
and responses to adverts, but the outcomes of wrong
selection decisions are not typically assessed and empirical
research in this area is scant.
Most managers have experienced the problems that result
from selection errors but often continue making them. “Most
companies are so determined to prove that their hiring
system is foolproof that they not only fail to admit to hiring
mistakes, they also keep them around longer than they
should in the vain hope that they may yet work out”
(Buchen, 2007:80). Selection errors often occur because of a
mismatch between expectations and reality for both parties
(Blenkinsopp & Zdunczyk, 2005). Despite huge amounts of
time, effort and costs allocated to the recruitment and the
selection process, recruitment practices in many firms
produce an unacceptable failure rate that reduces business
competitiveness and corporate profits (Davis, 2005; Ryan &
Tippins, 2004; Boxall & Purcell, 2008).
Cole, Field, Giles and Harris (2009) find that recruiters infer
dispositional characteristics from a candidate’s resume and
use these inferences to judge a candidate’s employability.
However, these inferences are found to be largely invalid
and unreliable. The best recruitment and selection
techniques have a validity coefficient of 0,6 (Dale, 2003) so
even when selection processes have been carefully designed
and executed, hiring errors can occur.
The ability of the manager making the decision is a key
component of the selection decision and there is a
significant amount of research that shows that this is the
most common area where selection mistakes occur. The
manager then lives with the consequences of a wrong
selection decision. Accurate evidence about human resource
practices is a requirement for understanding what is taking
place and making correct interpretations (Ryan & Tippins,
2004). The movement towards evidence based management
means translating learnings from best or worst practice into
organisational principles (Rynes, Giluk, & Brown, 2007).
This research set out to document empirically the causes,
symptoms and consequences to selection errors from the
perspective of the manager. The aim being that the evidence
may assist human resource practitioners, line managers and
24 S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4)
academics to understand and appropriately respond to and
possibly reduce the occurrence of selection errors.
Approaches to recruitment and selection
Recruitment sources
In recruitment, choices are made between a number of
sources, such as: internal promotions, hiring via leads given
by current staff, getting human resource departments to
handle the recruitment process, or using external recruitment
agencies and head hunters. The method of recruitment can
lead to differences in the success of recruiting efforts as they
all have their advantages and disadvantages (Sims, 2002;
Russo, Gorter, Nijkamp & Rietveld, 1997). Moser (2005)
and Chan (2006), compare the outcomes of internal and
external candidates. They found different levels of unmet
expectations between those who came via internal versus
external channels. The above authors say the usage of
recruitment sources can have various impacts on both pre
and post hire outcomes e.g. met expectations, job
satisfaction organisational commitment, job performance
and employment survival with employees who had more
internal information about the organisation being better
prepared for transition into the organisation.
Selection techniques
The selection process is a key source of expectations, many
of which may be inaccurate (Blenkinsopp & Zdunczyk,
2005). Cable, Aiman-Smith, Mulvey and Edwards (2000)
discuss how organisations often lead applicants to believe
favourable rather than accurate beliefs about the
organisational culture in order to get them to join the
organisation. This in itself may lead to misfits between
candidates and the firm. Bossidy (2001: 48) says “I feel
strongly that the interview is the most flawed process in
American business”. He says that the success rate of
executive hire is at most 70%. Ones and Dilchert (2009)
concur with the failure rate of selection processes and
discuss the predictive ability of different selection
techniques.
Selection processes come in many guises but the
fundamental issue is how to make selection more reliable,
how to define performance appropriately and how to use
techniques that improve the firm’s ability to predict which
individuals will be good performers (Boxall & Purcell,
2008). Despite the large amount of empirical research in
selection approaches (Robertson & Smith, 2001), Ryan and
Tippins (2004), show that techniques with a high predictive
value are seldom adopted by human resource practitioners
and managers and that contextual factors such as budget,
time constraints, employee demographic demands and legal
requirements play a role in the likelihood of adoption of best
practices. They discuss how the various stakeholders in the
selection decision, such as hiring managers, applicants, legal
departments and unions exert differing influences on the
decision. Lockyer and Scholarios (2007), Piotrowski and
Armstrong (2006), König, Klehe, Berchtold and
Kleinmann (2010), explore a range of findings around best
practice in selection, the scientist-practitioner gap in the use
of selection procedures and find that organisations choose
selection methods based on likely applicant reactions, costs
and diffusion of methods. Predictive validity, organisational
self-promotion and perceived legality were found to be less
important.
Person-job and person-organisation fit approaches
The ideal employee is defined as one who “fits” with his
work environment (Chaung & Sackett, 2005; Goodman &
Svyantek, 1999). The term “person-environment fit” (PE fit)
has been studied extensively, particularly the components of
Person-Job fit (P-J) and Person-Organisation fit (P-O). P-O
fit is the compatibility between people and organisations
(Kristof, 1996). Carless (2005) links the attraction, selection
and retention of individuals to similarity between the person
and their work environment. This includes phenomena such
as personality, attributes and values of the individual and
organisational values, goals structures processes and culture.
P-J fit is the match between individual knowledge, skills and
abilities and demands of the job (Carless, 2005). Chuang
and Sackett (2005), find that P-J fit is perceived as more
important than P-O in the early stages of recruitment, but
that this changes as the recruitment process continues, with
P-O gaining in importance during later stages. Researchers
Chaung and Sackett (2005), Kristof-Brown (2000), Carless
(2005), Hoffman and Woehr (2006) have studied the
relationship between P-O and P-J and job satisfaction, turn-
over, stress, organisational commitment, intention to quit.
Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman and Johnson (2005), show that
there is a strong correlation between job satisfaction and
organisational commitment when there is a high P-J fit and
an inverse relationship between P-J fit and intention to quit
and that P-O fit correlates well with job satisfaction and
organisational commitment but has a moderate correlation
with intention to quit. Our study looks at whether P-J and P-
O fit may be involved in the selection errors.
Consequences of poor selection
There are three aspects to the consequences of selection
errors:
Attribution of the error
Attribution theory is concerned with the way we explain or
account for outcomes and causality as being either internal
or external to oneself (Moerdyk & Mashinini, 2002). Failure
is often attributed to external factors such as the behaviour
or internal attributes of others rather than to our own
behaviour. Manzoni and Barsoux (1998) argue that
managers are often complicit in the employees’ lack of
success and that when an employee fails or performs poorly;
managers typically assume the problem to be the
employee’s fault and responsibility. This perspective may
play a role in the identification of, response to and the
possibility of learning from, a selection error. Bossidy
(2001) says it is uncommon to take time to learn from hiring
errors and he cautions that companies need to learn from
their mistakes so previous selection errors are not repeated.
Capelli (2002) discusses the need for process improvement
in hiring by evaluating every step, pinpointing weaknesses,
seeking their root causes and identifying opportunities for
improvement. Dale (2003) suggests that various
S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4) 25
stakeholders, including recruitment agencies, HR
departments, the manager and the employee, in the
recruitment and selection process may share the blame for
selection errors. No empirical literature could be found on
the attribution of selection errors.
Costs of selection error
Carlson et al. (2002), state that few organisations calculate
the costs of selection errors. The emotional costs paid by the
subordinate and the organisational cost associated with the
failure can be long term and indirect (Manzoni & Barsoux,
1998). It is very difficult to put an exact value on all the
potentially important positive consequences of making a
good selection decision and the negatives of making a poor
one. Jackson and Schuler (2003), find that a poor hiring
decision can cost as much as five times the employee’s
salary. The US Department of Labour more conservatively
estimates that a bad hiring decision equals 30 per cent of the
employee’s first years earning potential (Hacker, 1997). The
more senior or more specialised the position the higher the
costs are likely to be. Some of the negative outcomes of
selection errors mentioned by Jackson and Schuler (2003);
Hacker (1997) and Werther and Davis (1989) are: the
employee performing poorly which leads to lost
productivity, absenteeism, loss of self esteem by the
employee, poor morale amongst peer workers as they suffer
the consequences of the colleagues poor performance,
customers expectations not being met, managers experience
increased pressure and failing to meet their objectives,
injuries and accidents may occur, possible lawsuits, even
union activity and subsequent labour turnover leading to
future recruitment costs. There is however scant literature
giving empirical evidence of the consequences to selection
errors.
Remedial actions to correct the selection error
Once a selection error is identified, (the time taken for this
to occur can vary widely), managers need to decide on how
to respond to it. There is a range of intervention possibilities
with each option being an investment in time, with
associated opportunity costs, resources and other associated
costs such as legal suits or severance payments. Bossidy
(2001), Davis (2005) and Hacker (1997) suggest that when a
hiring mistake has been made corrective action needs to be
taken swiftly to correct the hiring error. Dale (2003)
suggests that methods to rectify a poor selection decision
include developmental feedback, job redesign,
redeployment, dismissal or termination by mutual
agreement. The payback on the intervention will depend on
its quality and key contextual factors. Possible outcomes
are: improved performance, either significantly or
marginally or when differences are irreconcilable,
termination. However, finding new replacements may be
costly and recurrent. Manzoni and Barsoux (1998), point out
that if underperformance is not addressed there will be
continued underperformance and resultant tensions, and that
the consequences can have long term impacts for both
parties. Organisations need to deal with negative
consequences associated with psychological contract
violations resulting from selection errors, as these have wide
ranging consequences in the workplace (Blenkinsopp &
Zdunczyk, 2005). No empirical research could be found on
the efficacy of methods used to address selection errors.
Aim of the research
As shown above there is a plethora of studies on recruitment
and selection practices but no empirical studies on selection
errors could be found. Lievens and Chapman (in Wilkinson,
Bacon, Redman & Snell, 2010) in their meta-analysis of
recent recruitment and selection research literature discuss
the macro and micro validity of recruitment and selection
processes, but never mention the outcome of selection
errors. Our research is focussed on increasing the
understanding of a number of aspects of selection errors
from empirical evidence. These are; some possible causes of
selection errors, the time it takes to realise an error had
occurred, the consequences of the errors, how they were
responded to and what the outcome of these responses were,
and the attribution of the error to the candidate or the
manager who made the selection. Without attributing the
error correctly it is unlikely that the manager or organisation
will learn from the mistake and is likely to repeat it. Much
of the recruitment research has been in single organisations
or industries, making generalisations difficult. Our study
deals with multiple industries and examines the decision, the
recognition of the error and the remedy of it from the
managers’ point of view.
Methodology
The methodology used was a combination of the critical
incident technique and a survey. The critical incident
technique is a procedure, which facilitates the investigation
of significant occurrences (events, incidents, processes or
issues) identified by the respondent, the way they are
managed, and the outcomes of the perceived effects (Chell,
1998). The objective is to gain an understanding of the
incident, taking into account the cognitive, affective and
behavioural elements. It is an exploratory inductive
technique. The critical incident for this study was defined as
a selection error having been made.
The population for the survey was identified as any line
manager who felt they had made a significant selection error
in the last year. The sample was obtained by judgemental
sampling via South African MBA students, employed at
over 80 companies in a wide range of industries, who
interviewed managers who admitted to making a selection
error (Zikmund, 2007). This ensured that respondents were
from a wide range of companies and deals with the
problems of an in-company survey, such as the impact of
organisational culture, leadership and performance
management systems on the process and outcomes of poor
selection. The unit of analysis was the respondent managers’
perceptions of the critical incident the selection error.
As recommended Babbie & Mouton (2004) prior to the
development of the questionnaire, six in-depth interviews
with senior HR managers and line managers were conducted
to establish a valid set of constructs for the symptoms of
selection errors and the remedies thereof. The survey
questionnaire was designed based on these constructs and
the literature review. The questionnaire was then pre-tested
26 S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4)
on five line managers for clarity and adequacy of response
categories. The 5-page questionnaire consisted of closed
ended questions, Likert scales and two opened ended
questions. Three hundred and ninety three useable
questionnaires were obtained.
Data was analysed using NCSS. Two variable chi-squared
tests of dependence, using an alpha level of 5%, were run to
look for relationships between variables (Zikmund, 2007).
Content analysis was carried out on responses to the open
ended questions to analyse the data in an objective,
systematic way in order to identify and quantify recurring
patterns and themes in the data (Zikmund, 2007).
Limitations
As the data was in the form of perceptions and self report,
particularly in the area of how the selection error was
responded to, it can be expected that some respondent bias
may have been present in giving normative (Zikmund,
2007), self serving or perceived to be desirable answers. We
caution on representatively as the sample was drawn from
one large geographic area of South Africa, which is however
the financial and industrial hub of the country. We only
sourced the managers’ perceptions and not those of the
employees who were perceived to have been selection
errors.
Discussion of results and findings
The 393 managers who were interviewed represent a wide
spread of demographics. Eighteen per cent were executives,
39% general managers, 41% middle managers and 2%
supervisors. Thirty per cent had been in management for
more than 10 years, 33% between 6 and 10 years, 32%
between 2 and 5 years and 6 per cent for less than two years.
Eleven per cent were less than thirty years old, 68% were
between the ages of 31 and 45, and 22% were older than 45.
In terms of their experience in conducting selection
interviews, 30% conduct less than 4 a year, 46% between 4
and 12 a year and 28% conduct more than 12 a year. Forty
six per cent had received specific training in selection
processes. The balance had not. In terms of size of the
organisations represented, 30% had less than 100 staff, 24%
between 100 and 500 staff and 46% more than 500 staff.
The details on the employees who were perceived to have
been selection errors are; 7% were executives or senior
managers, 27% were middle managers 22% were
supervisors, and 45% were classified as being either
technical or specialists. Sixty nine per cent of them had at
least one degree. Forty six per cent of them were less than
30 years old, 47% between 31 and 45 years of age and 7%
were older than 45.
Recruitment and selection methodologies
Table 1 indicates the range of recruitment methods used to
select the employees deemed to be selection errors. All
tables are in percentages.
The manager’s considerations, when selecting the
employees classified as selection errors, in terms of the fit
between applicant and both the organisation’s culture and
the job to be performed (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005) are
given below.
Table 1: Source of new appointee
External via using a consultant
e.g. head-hunter or recruitment
agency
External via social
networking
External via HR
department’s recruitment
Internal
promotion or
transfer
Other
28,4
13,7
30,6
23,3
4,1
Table 2: Selection criteria for employee
When I interviewed this individual I was
largely concerned with whether:
Not at all
1
To a limited
extent
To a large
extent
To a great
extent
5
Median
on
1 5 scale
they could do the job P-O
21,5
23,2
23,2
16,2
3
they would fit into the organisation P-J
23,5
29,5
16,5
6,3
2
By adding the data in the first two columns in the Table
above these results are somewhat startling in that 44.7% and
53% of respondents said that during the selection process
they were hardly concerned whether the individual could do
the job or would fit into the culture respectively. It must be
remembered that this data is based on critical incident
processes and hence these were all incidents of selection
errors. Part of the cause of the hiring errors may be related
to these findings of the scant attention being paid to P-O and
P-J fit during the recruitment and selection process. The
literature above indicates how important these variables are
to a wide variety of organisational outcomes (Kristof-Brown
et al., 2005).
Chi-squared testing for a relationship between whether the
respondent had received training in selection processes and
whether they were experienced in selecting staff and the
above two variables showed there were no significant
relationships i.e. these errors were made irrespective of their
levels of interview training and experience. Ryan and
Tippins (2004) and Dale (2003), state that best practice in
human resources is seldom implemented. It is not that
common for managers to be trained in all aspects of
recruitment and selection such as P-O and P-J fit.
S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4) 27
Evidence of selection errors
Table 3 shows the time taken for the respondents to realise
that a selection error had occurred.
Table 3: Time taken to recognise there was a problem
< 1 month
1 6 months
7 12 months
More than a
year
12,4
67,8
15,2
4,6
The majority (81%) of problems became evident in the first
six months. Fitz-enz and Davison (2002), in their seminal
work on measurement in human resource management
suggest that the assessment of quality of a new employee
can only begin 6 months after appointment. For our
respondents, this was not the case. Selection errors were
detected much earlier.
The two variable chi squared tests showed these time lines
were unrelated to size of organisation and seniority of the
appointee. This is an interesting finding as one could have
assumed that it would take a longer time to discover a
selection error the more senior one is in an organisation as
consequence of error and span of control are used in many
job evaluation systems to determine seniority (Grobler,
Warnich, Carrell, Elbert & Hatfield, 2006).
Respondents were asked what the evidence was that a
selection error had occurred. The question asked the
respondent to choose any number of options from a range of
possibilities.
Table 4: Evidence that appointee was not suitable
Percentages
Didn’t perform to required level
76,6
Did not demonstrate expected attitudes
67,3
Avoided accountability
59,5
Missed deadlines
58
Did not demonstrate expected skills
53,1
Low levels of energy
44,5
Didn’t fit into organisation culture
38,2
Did not have expected knowledge
34,2
Avoided conflict didn’t deal with issues
32,4
Was a source of discontent
30,2
Didn’t get involved with company systems
28,1
Caused dissension in the organisation
27,6
Dishonesty or unethical behaviour
21,9
Other, please specify
13,6
The respondents ticked an average of 5.82 options showing
firstly how widespread the symptoms of selection errors are
and secondly how interrelated these variables are (Manzoni
& Barsoux, 1998; Werther & Davis 1989). Some variables
may be seen as inputs and outcomes to other variables. For
example, not having the correct skills could lead to poor
performance, which then becomes a source of discontent
amongst colleagues.
The “other” answers were analysed via content analysis and
the evidence reported fell into 5 categories: Firstly,
unacceptable behaviour e.g. absenteeism, alcoholism,
excessive sick leave and use of internet, harassment,
alcoholism, theft, lying; religious evangelism to customers.
Secondly, a variety of reasons indicating that the employees
were disappointed with the nature of the work, the level of
the work, reward - including feelings that the company
owed them something or they were being undervalued.
Thirdly, the employees displayed a lack of drive, passion,
commitment and the ability to cope with pressure. Fourthly,
the appointee not being a team player, and finally, a lack of
leadership skills. This data again gives evidence for the
literature on importance of and outcomes to selection
decisions.
Responses to the selection error
The respondents were asked how they had responded to the
selection error. They were asked to tick however many
methods they had used from a list of options. There is likely
to be some bias in this self-reporting. The results are shown
in the table below.
Table 5: Responses to poor performance
Percentage
usage
Informal counselling
56,4
Gave tough feedback soon after problem was noticed
54,4
Coaching or mentoring programme
50,9
Verbal warning
43,1
Implemented a formal performance improvement
programme
41,3
Employee resigned of own accord
38,3
Gave tough feedback a few months after problem was
noticed
34,8
Intensive, tailored training given
31
Below average increase given
28,0
Written warning
22,4
Loss of bonus
16,2
Redesigned the employee’s job
14,6
Dismissal
12,1
Advised employee that he/she has no future in the
company
11,8
Final written warning
11,3
Ignored the employee’s performance and hoped the
employee would self correct
11,1
Transfer
8,1
Gave employee no increase
8,1
Ignored the employee’s performance as felt it was
inappropriate to tackle a new employee’s performance
problems
6,6
Isolated or marginalized the employee
6,5
Reduction of status/position
6
Other, please specify
5,5
Reached a financial settlement with the employee
4,8
Reduction of benefits
3,5
28 S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4)
The respondents ticked on average 5.2 of the items
indicating that they had tried many ways to handle the
selection error. This supports the Dale (2003), statement that
there are many options as to how to respond to selection
errors.
The respondents were asked how the problem had been
resolved. The outcome is shown below.
Table 6: Outcome of selection error
Did your actions
resolve the
problem?
Yes
employee left
Yes employee’s
performance
improved
No employee still
in employment
and performing
poorly
Per cent
62,7
20,5
16,8
The data shows that in 80 per cent of the cases the selection
error had not been resolved in a manner that lead to
performance being improved. This supports the work of
Carlson et al. (2002), as well as Manzoni and Barsoux
(1998), as discussed above. The costs of the termination of
employment of 62.7% of selection errors would be
considerable including lost productivity, costs associated
with poor customer service, management time, training costs
and lower morale amongst fellow employees, vacancy costs
to the costs and subsequent recruitment costs (Sutherland &
Jordaan, 2004). In many cases this labour turnover would
represent a hiatus in the business unit if one measured the
time from the start of the initial recruitment and selection
process, to the appointment, subsequent poor performance,
remediation attempts, exit and then re-recruiting and
selecting another new appointee. Intangible costs include
brand damage and impact on the workplace. As discussed
above it is extremely hard to quantify these costs.
Chi squared testing with the outcome of the selection error
Table 6 and the source of the appointee shown in Table 1,
showed a significant relationship in that those promoted
from within are disproportionately still in employment but
are equally divided between those whose performance
improved and those who are still performing poorly. This
supports the view of Chan (2006), that internal appointees
enjoy protection and insulation from external competition.
The results however also show that 45% of those selected
via promotions have left the company. This shows that
promoting from within is not necessarily an ideal selection
method and that the costs to both parties and the
organisation’s brand as an employee may be affected.
Chi-squared testing was done on the relationship between
Tables 5 and 6 to explore the outcome of the various
response behaviours. We found that intensive tailored
training was the only method that was significantly related
to the employee staying and their performance improving.
The techniques associated with the employee leaving are
mentoring and coaching, verbal and written warnings,
dismissals, telling the employee they had no future with the
company, and reaching financial settlements. Isolating or
marginalizing the employee had the outcome of the
employee staying in the job without an improvement in
performance. Redesigning the employee’s job did not have
the intended consequences and was significantly related to
either the employee leaving or staying and performing
poorly. The other techniques were not related to the
outcomes. What is clear is that intensive evidence based
performance management techniques need to be inculcated
into all line managers.
Impact of the selection error
The respondents were asked the extent to which the
selection error had impacted on the organisation.
Table 7: Impact of this employee on the organisation
Extremely
limited or
no impact
Impact on
employee’s
immediate
area only
Impact felt in
several
additional
work
areas/SBU
Impact across
the
organisation
Impact was of a
long-term
nature and
may have
strategic
implications
19,2
44,4
25,5
6,3
4,6
Sixty three per cent of the respondents reported that the
negative impact was minimal or felt only in the immediate
work unit but in 37% of the cases the negative impact of a
selection error was widely felt. There may be some under
reporting in this data. Chi squared testing showed that the
level of impact is unrelated to the time taken to realise there
is a problem and the level of seniority of the appointee. The
latter goes against what was expected because of the
consequence of error factor which is commonly used in job
evaluation systems (Grobler et al., 2006).
The respondents were then asked for more specific details of
the impact of the selection errors. The results are shown in
the rank ordered Table 8 below. The modal categories are
shaded.
Table 8: Impact of selection error
Not at all
1
To a limited
extent
Somewhat
To a great extent
4
Median
on
1-4
scale
Management time costs
3,1
16,2
25,6
55,1
4
Customer dissatisfaction
20,1
20,3
21,6
38
3
Lower morale amongst other employees
18,8
20,9
23,3
37
3
Unexpected training time and expenditure
20,7
26,3
21,8
31,2
3
Damage to the image of the organisation
28,2
25,5
23,7
22,6
2
Increased costs of doing business
27,9
32,4
25
14,7
2
Loss of revenue
49,5
25,4
15,6
9,5
1
Other employees leaving
72,8
14,8
7,1
5,3
1
S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4) 29
Table 8 indicates a much higher impact of section errors
than the previous table shows. There is a wide range of
direct and indirect costs to selection errors, which are not
documented sufficiently in the literature. Management time
(80%), customer dissatisfaction (59%) and staff morale is
impacted by the selection errors. Increased training time and
expenditure was reported by 53% and 50% mentioned
damage to the organisation’s image. Although no attempt
was made to put exact costs on these ramifications they
would impact the organisation broadly. These findings give
empirical support to the writings of Carlson et al. (2002);
Manzoni and Barsoux (1998) and Sutherland and Jordaan
(2004).
The respondents’ answers in this table show that they do not
see the causal link firstly between customer dissatisfaction
(second highest) and loss of revenue (second lowest) and
secondly between increased costs of doing business (third
lowest) with the input costs of increased management time,
training cost increases and lower employee morale. This
lack of understanding the causal linkages would decrease
the likelihood of the line mangers being willing to learn
from their mistakes and apply evidence based management
techniques (Bossidy, 2001; Cappelli, 2002; Rynes et al.,
2007).
Chi squared tests were done between this data and the
organisational level of the employee. These only revealed
two significant relationships; if the appointee is at the
executive or senior manager level more “other employees”
tend to leave the organisation and there is a greater loss of
revenue.
Attribution of the selection error
The respondents were asked in an open-ended question to
what they attributed the poor performance of the employee
they viewed as a selection error. Seventy two per cent of the
respondents completed this section. When content analysis
was applied to the completed answers, it was found that only
9% of the managers felt they were responsible for the
selection error while 91% felt that the candidate was to
blame. This clearly demonstrates the validity of attribution
theory, which states that when people succeed they attribute
this to internal factors such as their ability and effort but
when they fail they attribute it to factors external to
themselves (Moerdyk & Mashinini, 2002; Martinko, Harvey
& Douglas, 2007). This is also referred to as a self-serving
bias (Robbins & Judge, 2007). Based on these theories it
could be expected that the manager would be positive
towards the new employee in the early stages of the
relationship as they made the selection decision. This may
change overtime as the manager observes poor performance
and the cause of the misfit or poor performance then
becomes attributed to the appointee.
Of the 25 managers who took some responsibility for the
selection error, 23 blamed the problem on poor selection i.e.
poor reference checking, poor interviewing, nepotism in
selection, quota filling, lack of psychometric testing, people
being promoted too soon and inexperience in selection.
Other common explanations for the poor appointment were
that the organisation doesn’t adapt to newcomers easily in
that the organisational culture is too strong or insensitive,
the expectations of the organisation and/or employee were
not spelled out sufficiently, and that the manager did not
give sufficient feedback, training, mentoring and coaching.
The 91% of the responses blaming the appointee can be
grouped into the following themes:
Attitudinal problems: There were 125 responses
around the new employee’s attitude e.g. lacked
motivation.
Lack of job fit: The second largest category (83
responses), deal with P-J fit e.g. lack of skill.
Lack of corporate fit: 58 responses in this category
related to lack of corporate (P-O) fit, e.g. the applicant
had values different to the organisation.
Personal problems: There were 45 responses include
items such as religious fanaticism, political extremism,
external interests overrode work life.
Misleading in selection process: 26 responses related
that the appointees lied on their CV or in the interview.
Interpersonal problems: There were 11 responses
referring to interpersonal problems and or social
problems.
The categorisation of explanations for the poor performance
relate to a great extent to a misfit between P-O and P-J fit.
This supports the work of Chaung and Sackett (2005),
Kristof-Brown (2000), Carless (2005) and Hoffman and
Woehr (2006). As a high percentage of the respondents said
they did not take these factors into account (Table 2) when
making the selection decision this may reveal one of the
causes of the selection errors.
Conclusions
Figure 1 draws together the empirical findings of this study
based on a large sample in many industries. It shows the
linkages from the data above that result in a vicious cycle
that begins with a selection error. The cycle shows how
selection errors lead eventually to decreased organisational
competitiveness via increasing costs and decreasing
revenues which arise from the factors identified in the study.
It shows the efficacy of various remediation attempts and
asks the key question as to whether the organisation learns
from the evidence of the consequences to the selection error
in order to break the cycle and not repeat the selection error
once again.
30 S.Afr.J.Bus.Manage.2011,42(4)
Figure 1: The vicious cycle of selection errors
This research has provided empirical evidence that selection
errors are costly and difficult to remedy yet the number of
errors remains high. The costs of and consequences to
selection errors are considerably higher and wider ranging
than previously shown in the literature. The findings above
also reinforces Ryan and Tippins (2004), finding that
managers do not implement best practice in recruitment and
selection as well as not taking full responsibility for their
role in making the selection.
We found that appointment errors end in a termination
and/or continued poor performance 80% of the time. The
data showed that all recruitment methods can lead to
selection errors but that the lack of investigating P-O and P-
J fit (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005) may be the cause of many
of the problems. The errors made in the incidents may have
been resolved by using a wider range of section devices.
Ryan and Tippins (2004) and König et al., (2010) who
found that despite the existence of high-validity selection
methods, managers do not adopt them when making
selection decisions. An additional complication is the
evidence of attribution errors and managers seemingly
blaming the appointee for the poor performance rather than
themselves. This has consequences for the manager’s
readiness to learn how to avoid selection errors in the future
(Bossidy 2001; Cappelli, 2002).
Our findings suggest the following recommendations for
managers:
The consequences of selection errors need to be made
known to managers and human resource professionals
in order to convince all parties to adopt best practice in
selection. Organisations need to continuously review
the effectiveness of their selection methods and feed
the results back to managers, either in the form of
training or adding superior approaches to existing
practice.
A clear understanding of P-O and P-J dimensions and
how these can be assessed in potential appointees
would reduce the likelihood of selection errors.
Selection errors can be detected in less than six
months. The response to them needs to be rapid and
well formulated based on evidence of what works best
(Davis, 2005).
In conclusion much work has been done on the predictive
value of recruitment and selection methods but little
attention has been paid to the consequences of selection
errors. We have shown that the problem with selecting
incorrectly does not end with the appointment of the
candidate and that if the firm does not act to recognise and
remedy the error, the consequences are wide-spread. Future
research into selection errors could focus on longitudinal
studies on methods for managers to remedy and reduce the
impact of selection errors as well as on the perceptions of
employees who were deemed to be selection errors.
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