On Excellence: Trust doesn't fit in a bottle

'WHAT'S your reaction to the widespread use of drug testing as a condition of employment and random drug testing as a condition of continued employment?' The question came from a seminar participant in Houston, Texas.

Answer: 'I think it's absolute rubbish.' Does this mean I am for drug or booze-impaired employees disrupting others and creating hazards in the workplace? Don't be absurd.

But that puts the cart way before the horse. Put aside productivity and safety. Let's talk about what makes any business tick: folks who trust and care about one another, committed to working hard together to create great outcomes for each other - and their customers.

Trust. Respect. Mutual support. Commitment. Each is wholly at odds with intrusive and impersonal assessment measures - that is, drug tests (and, to my mind, canned psychological assessments, secret monitoring of telemarketers and others, and, heaven knows, lie detector tests).

Start at the beginning. Your recruiting process should say to the candidate, 'How would you like to be part of our community, do neat things together, grow individually and with your peers?' Hence, recruiting becomes a painstaking two-way courting ritual, complete with coffee dates, flirting, weekend strolls, dinner with the parents, proposals and an exchange of vows of fidelity. That is, lots of folks, especially peers, spending lots of time with prospects in a variety of settings over days or weeks - whether the job is janitorial or a senior engineering position. In the process, there is little doubt, based on my 30 years of experience and observation, that the habitual substance abusers, malcontents, deadbeats and so on will be rooted out.

Is my recruiting model expensive? Yup. But what's more important than recruiting? Recruiting is strategy - although too few firms, large and small, play it that way.

What holds in hiring holds 10 times over after an employee arrives on the scene. Try this scenario: 'Welcome aboard. Let's work together to create something special - to grow, to coddle our customers. And by the way, be prepared, on demand, to pee in a bottle.'

No, that doesn't cut it. What does cut it, once Mr or Ms New is aboard, is delivering on your promise of a trusting, committed and nurturing environment - along with sky-high expectations for performance and accountability.

In such settings, the best 'enforcers' by far are the employee's coach or mentor and peers. And such peers, in my experience, are merciless toward those who violate the group's trust.

My answer so far is clinical. Let's be more personal: 1) I'm a Bill of Rights freak and a privacy freak. A line in Hair, the anti-Vietnam War musical, goes: 'I'm not dyin' for no white man.' My equivalent in this case: 'I'm not peeing in a bottle for no corporate cop.'

It's how I feel personally - and, by extension, as a business owner or leader.

2) I run a company with about 25 employees. They are wonderful people.

(That's why we hired them.) I would no more consider asking them to submit to a drug test as a condition of employment than I would try to fly to the moon without a rocket. I am disgusted by the very idea - at my place or yours.

'But,' you might reply, 'your place isn't some fast-food franchise with a bunch of poorly raised kids as employees.'

Maybe not. I suppose we have got more degreed and multi-degreed folks than the average fast-food place. But what's that got to do with the price of fries?

If I owned a fast-food franchise, I would take the same approach that I do now. I would only want neat folks on board, age 17 or 67. And I would be out to build an environment of trust and respect - as much as I am now in my own professional services company.

'But what if you owned 20 franchises?' So what? If I owned 200, my priority would be the folks who manage them. I'd want to get a charge out of being around each of them.

I would get very directly involved in their hiring - and I would make damned sure that my People Department (that's what Southwest Airlines calls its human resources function) got the point: hire neat people that you like; you can teach them the rest.

No, I'm not peeing in a bottle. And nobody who works for me is going to be forced to do so either. And if there were a law that required me to ask them to do it, I would close my place down before I'd comply.

If you want an environment of trust, care and compassion at your company - which is the only kind of environment that will breed trust, care and compassion for customers - then stay the hell out of people's personal space.

Copyright TPG Communications

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