"The best predictor of future behavior is the past." Sound familiar? This psychological theory has been around for a long time. It's used as a basis for many personality, behavioral, and integrity tests.
Courts of law use this line of thinking to make judgments about accused criminal activity. Similarly, police officers will be more likely to hold someone who has a criminal record, when compared to another without a record, even if there is no real cause.
However, this maxim does not always hold true with criminals where behavioral consequences are very serious and it may not hold entirely true for employees where consequences are also significant.
Research indicates that 4 in 10 people considered to be high risk for committing future violence will do so. That means that 6 out of 10 people do not. In practice, however, there have to be life changes made to make radical changes in behavior.
One psychologist notes that by the time they are in their mid-30s, most criminals desist and change their actions and lives. Perhaps behavioral consequences are better known and understood by those a bit more mature. The same argument can be used for employees with more than a decade's worth of experience.
We need to be careful not to assume that individuals are guaranteed to repeat past behavior. Such assumptions can limit a person's ability to learn and grow. But, how can we know if an employee is going to repeat past behavior such as illicit drug use, theft, or bribery?
How to Apply This Theory Correctly
Consider the following conditions as key predictors of future behaviors when looking at the past:
- Are the habits ingrained or almost automatic?
- Is there consistency in the behavior?
- Was the behavior observed over a short or long time interval?
- Is there similar situational context or is the environment different?
- Does this person adapt to change or reject it?
- Has the person successfully experienced and learned from negative feedback?
What to do?
Are there additional methods of securing a feeling for an individual's likelihood of repeating behavior other than by observation and subjective means?
Some organizations use tests and some use technology. There are aptitude tests, integrity tests, personality tests, employment tests, and more. In terms of technology, there are polygraph tests, voice stress analyzers, brain scans, eye scans, and more.
Which is best?
Tests or questionnaires generally attempt to predict future behavior based on current knowledge or on subjective personality or behavioral questions. The outcome of the test will depend on the person evaluating the responses. For example, if you find a job candidate who is entrepreneurial, she may become bored in a task-oriented role.
Technological methods attempt to predict future behavior based on the past actions. In the U.S., polygraph tests are generally confined to doing background screening for those involved with public or national security, such as police officers, FBI or CIA. Polygraphs are also used in prisons/corrections or when a crime is suspected and the defendant volunteers to undergo a test. Most americans don't know much about polygraph examinations because they are not very common.
In some countries, polygraph tests are used extensively in pre-screening job candidates and for conducting periodic evaluations of existing employees. Overall, the polygraph has been a standard in lie detection since the 1930's.
So where does this leave us? Taking action is better than none taken. In a future article, I'll discuss the accuracy of today's lie detection technologies.
Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, VP of Marketing at Converus, makers of EyeDetect, an innovative, new deception detection technology.
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