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Back ‘gut’ decisions with objective criteria

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Most managers want to choose the best candidate for the job. But assessing what constitutes “best” can often feel a bit subjective. That’s OK.

Just make sure you can point to some objective factor that backs up your choice. That can be experience or even the most recent performance evaluation.

Recent case: When the warden of a federal prison wanted to promote someone into a correctional counselor position, he wanted to choose the best possible candidate. For the warden, that meant the individual who was most likely to work hard in the future. He concluded that whoever was currently performing at top capacity would likely do so at his or her next job, too.

The warden recognized that his assessment was subjective, so he thought about what objective information he could look at to support his choice. He decided that the internal applicants’ latest performance evaluations would provide the objective information he needed to decide which candidate was performing at his or her peak now. Using this method, he selected a younger woman over an older man because she was rated “outstanding” on her most recent evaluation, while the older man scored one notch lower.

The man sued, alleging he had been passed over on account of his age.

The court refused to second-guess the warden. It concluded that by using the objective performance evaluations to support his subjective choice, he had more than justified his decision. This was despite the fact that the warden had made past comments that employees nearing retirement age sometimes “coasted” at work and failed to complete projects before finally retiring. (Lucas v. U.S. Attorney General, et al., No. 11-14031, 11th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Make sure that the evaluation process itself used objective measures to arrive at the final evaluation.

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