Snowden: Hire or Reject?

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There’s quite a bit of buzz in the media surrounding the former Booz Allen employee (Edward Snowden) who recently leaked sensitive government information (see: http://on.wsj.com/195fZjX). As a selection professional, this got me thinking about how companies should best approach their candidate screening procedures to avoid (or more realistically, minimize the probability of) future incidents such as this.

Then I quickly realized that what Snowden did might be good for the public and our society especially from the civil liberties perspective. So, then my mind turned to Kohlberg – one of the better known moral development theorists.

Kohlberg proposed that moral development progresses through a series of phases each marked by qualitatively different justifications related to what is moral and immoral. At the lower stages (aka. Pre-Conventional level or first two stages), the emphasis is on avoiding punishment and acting in one’s selfish interests. At the Conventional level (3rd and 4th stages), emphasis is placed on following rules and conforming to social norms. At the Post-Conventional level (the last two stages and the highest stages of moral development), emphasis is placed on well-being of the collective.

If we were to look at Snowden’s behavior from society’s perspective and assuming that he, in fact, did what he did for moral reasons, it seems pretty clear that his actions reflect that of someone at the higher end of the moral development spectrum – i.e., what is moral is that which is good for society. If so, one could argue that it’s good to have people like Snowden – someone who will stand up for his/her moral principles – working in government or government-affiliated entities.

On the other hand, from Booz Allen’s perspective, is it a good thing to have its employees question the morality of everything that it does for its clients – esp. if its largest client is the U.S. government? If not, does that mean that companies like Booz Allen should actively screen-out candidates at the higher end of Kohlberg’s moral development spectrum and perhaps screen-in those candidates whose moral development resides somewhere towards the middle or even at the lower end?


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