Accidents in Recruitment — Swiss Cheese Model Analysis

Swiss cheese model is usually applied in risk management of life-threatening situations like airline safety, healthcare error prevention, etc. where human errors can lead to catastrophic consequences. An analysis of the recruitment process using the model can help save time and cost and avoid potential hazards. Ultimately, recruitment is the process that introduces the human ‘slices’ in the first place!

The Swiss cheese model of accident causation is a model developed by James Reason of University of Manchester. When an Emmental cheese block is cut into thin slices, each slice exhibits a few holes but the block itself rarely has a tunnel-like hole going through it. The Swiss cheese model likens these holes as mistakes with each slice representing a human participant in the process. ‘To err is human’ but, as long as the ‘holes’ (read ‘mistakes’) in the different slices don’t get aligned, individual mistakes don’t lead to catastrophic consequences.

Mistakes can be classified into the following broad categories:

· Real mistakes — caused when the wrong process is followed; e.g. candidate eligibility criteria for the specific job not validated.

· Black-outs — caused when some part of the process is missed out or forgotten; e.g. candidate eligibility criteria is validated but fitment to organization culture not carried out.

· Slip-ups — caused when the right process is carried out wrongly; e.g. candidate is hired without the job role existing.

These mistakes tend to occur at various levels, namely:

· Skill level — These mistakes happen when the recruiters are not skilled or trained to identify suitable candidates from the available pool

· Rule level — These mistakes occur in situations where in the recruiters follow a set rule book. For example, recruiters simply checking the keywords mentioned in the job description are there in the resume but not paying heed to whether the candidates have actually worked in those areas

· Knowledge level — These mistakes occur when recruiters do not have the required knowledge to review the candidates’ profiles. For example, when a recruiter with no knowledge of the software skills that are required for a role is asked to create a job description for an information technology role

Various factors that contribute towards the occurrence of these mistakes include:

· People involved — hiring managers, recruiters, candidates, etc.

· Technical provisions — tools used for talent acquisition, communication techniques, etc.

· Organizational elements — timelines involved, other tasks requiring time/effort/attention of the people involved, etc.

· Outside influences — Time of year (e.g. appraisal season), economic environment (e.g. recession), mood (e.g. candidate having to travel through rush-hour traffic for an interview, interviewer coming out of a heated discussion with his/her manager/spouse), etc.

Recruitment Process in an Ideal World

While there is potential for mistakes to occur at each level (after all the show is run by humans!), it is necessary to have suitable feedback mechanisms and safeguards built in order not to allow for mistakes to result in either wrong talent being recruited or the best talents being missed. Tools and techniques used should be an enabler for the process and should not become a roadblock diverting attention and thereby causing errors to creep in (holes in Swiss cheese are caused as a result of microscopic hay particles that creep into the vat during the cheese-making process). Timelines and cost should be realistically aligned and the feedback mechanism should allow for the same to be revisited based on the surprises thrown by the outside influences.

Recruitment process is highly influenced by human factors. Therefore, the Swiss cheese model can be an effective paradigm to manage the risks that inadvertently might creep in the process.