With proper recruitment, drug testing is unneeded


October 17, 1994|By TOM PETERS

Q: 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?

A seminar participant, Houston, Sept. 22, 1994

A: I think it's absolute rubbish! Am I for drug- or booze-impaireemployees disrupting others and creating safety hazards in the workplace? Don't be absurd. Of course not. But that puts the cart way before the horse.

Put aside productivity and safety issues. Let's talk about what makes any business tick: super folks who trust one another, care about one another and are committed to working hard together to create great outcomes for each other -- and their customers.

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

Start at the beginning. Your recruiting process should say to the candidate, "How'd 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 on bended knee and an exchange of solemn vows of fidelity. That is, lots of folks, especially would-be peers, should spend lots of time with janitorial and senior-engineering prospects alike -- in a variety of settings over several days or weeks. In the process, there is little doubt -- based on my 30 years of experience and observation -- that the habitual substance abusers, malcontents, deadbeats and ne'er-do-wells will be rooted out.

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

What holds in hiring obviously holds 10 times over after arrival on the scene: "Welcome aboard. Let's work together to create something special. To grow each day. To cuddle our customers. And, incidentally, be prepared, on demand, to take a drug test, slimeball."

No, that doesn't cut it.

What does cut it, once Ms. or Mr. New is aboard, is delivering your promise of a trusting, committed, nurturing environment -- with sky-high expectations for performance and accountability. In such settings, the best "enforcers" by far are the employee's coach-mentor-peers. And such peers, in my experience, are merciless toward those who violate the group's trust.

Personal reasons

The answer I've given so far is clinical. Let me be more personal:

* 1. I'm a Bill of Rights freak -- and a privacy freak. It's how I feel personally -- and, by extension, as a business owner/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.

Trust and respect

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

Maybe not.

I suppose we've got more degreed and multidegreed 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'd take the same approach I do now. I'd only want neat folks on board -- age 17 or 67. And I'd be out to build an environment of trust and respect -- as much as in my own professional-service 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'd get directly involved in their hiring, and I'd make damned sure my People Department (that's what Southwest Airlines calls its human resources function) got the point: Hire neat people you like; you can teach the rest.

No, I'm not taking a drug test. 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'd close my place down before I'd comply.

Tom Peters is a syndicated columnist. Write to him at Tribune Media Services Inc., Suite 1500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611; (800) 245-6536

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