Get Ready For Polygraph Testing To Invade The Workplace


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Most managers wouldn’t dream of hooking up a colleague, subordinate, or business partner to a lie detector. Check references? Sure. Google or Bing them? Of course. Procure FICOs and/or their D&Bs? Perhaps. But deploying tools and technologies explicitly designed to test their veracity? That seems a bit much.It’s not. In truth, “virtual polygraphy” is becoming a “new normal” in combating workplace dishonesty and deception. Bernie Madoff’s disgrace and the ongoing housing crises exacerbated by “liar’s loans” and “robo-signings” have created a business environment where the focus on integrity isn’t just financial. Auditing spreadsheets is good; the ability to audit character and commitment is even better. “Trust but verify” has migrated from diplomatic cliché to workplace imperative. More people are going to be more honest … or else.

As a previous post observed, plagiarism detection software used by colleges is already infiltrating the enterprise. The rise of LinkedIn and other professional social networks increases risks for job candidates tempted to puff up their resumes and CVs. Employees with white collars and blue are subjected to greater workplace surveillance. The App and Android stores now offer — for entertainment purposes only, of course — real-time “voice stress analyzers” offering insight into whether the person you’re talking with is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. New technology facilitates greater transparency.

More provocatively, an ongoing explosion of social and psychological research is sending algorithmic shockwaves into enterprise networks managing interpersonal interaction and information exchange. The same kind of fraud detection algorithms that ferret out credit card cons and spam are being repurposed to spot other forms of misrepresentation and deceit. The same “recommendation engine” software that identifies common patterns of “likes” and “dislikes” can be just as reliably revised to flag comparable patterns of “accuracy” and “inaccuracy.” The demand — if not the need — for such analyses is obviously there. I, myself, have been in a room where people reviewing a video record of a Skype’d business pitch remarked on how uncomfortably dishonest the presenter looked onscreen. If they could have run that talk through a “video analyzer” for veracity, the team would have done it in an instant. People increasingly want analytical support for their gut concerns.

But the real revolution emerging is not the greater transparency of a LinkedIn here and the statistical significance of a “lie detection” algorithm there; it’s their linkage, fusion and aggregation. Verification is becoming multimodal. Multimodal verification assures greater personal veracity. In other words, networking these technologies creates a rising deterrent to dishonesty. The odds dramatically increase that deceivers will be tripped up by their misrepresentations and mannerisms.

Does this eliminate Ponzis, Madoffs, subprime mortgage miscreants and robo-signing rip-off artists? Of course not. But the cost-benefit calculations and efforts that liars and cheats must consider should dramatically increase. Just as importantly, pervasive polygraphy creates new institutional expectations. organisations that don’t monitor and analyse their employees and supply chains with these tools will — rightly — be seen as less safe, secure and trustworthy than others. Honesty is supposed to be the best policy; organisations and managements content with settling for second or third best will find themselves legally and legislatively vulnerable.

Needless to say, C-suite executives will find these technologies as much a threat as an opportunity for leadership and good governance.

Unfortunately, even perfect lie/fraud/deceit detection technologies are powerless in the face of the greatest source of enterprise flaw and error: self-deception. But that’s a theme and post for the future. For now, please click on the button below and take part in a brief survey; I’d like to know what you think about this. Only truthful answers, please.

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This post originally appeared at Harvard Business Review