Employee Selection and Background Screening in Ancient India

Would it be fair to assume most of us believe that employee selection and background screening processes were formed in the 20th century? Do you think soft skill evaluation of employees is the latest management mantra? Will it come as a surprise that in India these were formed in 4th Century BC?

Kautilya’s Arthshastra, written in 4th  century BC, lays down rigorous process for selection and background screening for ministers, priests and government employees. It is more extensive than that employed in the present-day corporate world. I am doing a comparison of the two below. After reading, tell me whether we have progressed or deteriorated in 25 centuries.

1.      Selection Process

Let us first see the qualities senior level people require according to Kautilya:

“Native, born of high family, influential, well trained in arts, possessed of foresight, wise, of strong memory, bold, eloquent, skilful, intelligent, possessed of enthusiasm, dignity, and endurance, pure in character, affable, firm in loyal devotion, endowed with excellent conduct, strength, health and bravery, free from procrastination and fickle mindedness, affectionate, and free from such qualities as excite hatred and enmity–these are the qualifications of a ministerial officer (amátyasampat).”

If you look at them, he covers intelligence, professional capability, personal character, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, social and business connections, soft skills and physical fitness. In the 21st century words and terminologies are different, but attributes are the same. Hence, not much change.

2. Background Verification Process

Now I am giving a table below comparing the two period’s process of background verification. For detailed methodology of the current period refer to my article – Pre-employment Background Verification.

Background screening

Doesn’t it make you think? Over 25 centuries, the basic concept and process of selection and background verification has remained more or less the same. However, Kautilya’s selection process doesn’t stop here. He mentions a few additional processes and I am amazed at the insight.

3. Detailed Character Verification

In the Arthshastra, Kautilya asks to ascertain the character of employees by offering temptations and instigating them against the king. Senior level ministers and priests should attempt to lure the employee to test him for four allurements- religious, monetary, love and fear. He suggests creating situations to test whether the employee will defy the king for the sake of religion, money, sex or under threat. Then he states, that whosoever is lured by a certain aspect, should not be in-charge of it. For example, if someone fails the test of monetary allurement, he should not be responsible for managing finance. The tests were conducted to ensure that people in critical positions were incorruptible.

In present times, we select senior managers on various aspects but their loyalty and character aren’t as thoroughly checked as in the ancient times. In my view, quite a significant number will fail Kautilya’s tests for “purity of character”. How many CEOs check whether their direct reports will betray them for bribes and rewards?

Closing thoughts

In India, around 25% candidates submit false or inaccurate resumes. The background screening processes aren’t fully established in most of the organizations. With high risks of hiring terrorists, hackers and fraudsters the organizations are susceptible to financial, legal and reputation risks. Isn’t it surprising that even after 25 centuries the process and procedures aren’t fully implemented.

We now say we are living in a fast changing world. So, do you think background-screening processes will become efficient in this century, if they haven’t changed in 25 centuries?