Pre-Employment Screening Reversal Theory

Michael D. Moberly   April 25, 2013    ‘A blog where attention span matters’.

In the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of the International Journal of Intelligence Ethics, the author of ‘Reversal Theory: Understanding the Motivational Styles of Espionage’ brought some very worthy and intriguing context to the relationship between insiders and economic espionage by way of ‘reversal theory’.

In the article, an obviously experienced and certainly forward looking author distinctively applied Dr. Michael J. Apter’s ‘reversal theory’ to the persistent – ever present challenge of insiders relative to their predilection to engage in insider theft and/or economic espionage at some point during their employment.

In short, reversal theory (RT) as well described in the aforementioned article is a model for personality analysis. The premise is that people and their behavior change, perhaps regularly, overtime.  In other words, people’s motivational states are not static, rather they’re quite dynamic.  As such, behaviors people may engage in to obtain, presumably personal satisfaction, are also dynamic and certainly not static.

More specifically, RT suggests one’s personality evolves from – is embedded in patterns of (dynamic) change, not ‘fixed traits’ which some psychometric practitioners and researchers continue to advocate.  The notion that there are particular ‘fixed (permanent) traits’ that people possess that in turn are associated with – linked to ‘predictable patterns of behavior’ is contrary to the principles of the RT model.

Put another way, as the author points out so effectively, is that RT actually ‘challenges the assumption that (fixed) personality traits or commonalities of behavior’ are linked to predictability.  Again, the author points out that RT, if practiced correctly, would allow more organizations to screen out vulnerable and/or suspect applicants.  But, my reality is, and I suspect the author may agree, continued reliance on conventional trait (employment screening) approaches have not produced the necessary consistency in identifying – distinguishing applicants who are vulnerable or otherwise, at some point in their employment tenure become receptive to engaging in adverse acts against their employer.  In this instance, we’re talking about theft, misappropriation, and/or infringement of intellectual properties, proprietary (trade secret) information and other forms of intangible assets.

More specifically, both the and Dr. Apter agree that the conventional ‘static trait theory’ has not, and does not account for, nor does it address the very real reality that people are receptive to behavioral – attitudinal changes over time, some of which adversely affects their receptivity, propensity, and proclivity to ‘voluntarily’ engage in insider theft and economic espionage.

As most practitioners serving in the arena of endeavoring to thwart insider threats and economic espionage know all too well, there are myriad of anecdotal accountings and well intentioned studies identifying gradations, motives, tenacity, and intensity of the risks posed by ‘insiders’.

Unfortunately, the same challenges remain, if not become intensified, with of course the proverbial tweaks and/or technological variations insofar as how targeted assets are accessed and acquired by bad actors.  What’s needed in my judgment, as has been noted multiple times in this blog, is that objective, replicable, and evidence-based research, beyond mere anecdotal reports or accountings, that present different, but certainly plausible explanations why particular employees, post hiring, willingly and voluntarily become ‘insiders’ and variously engage in economic espionage.

Through my lens, and the publication of well researched articles as summarized here, the private sector, as well as the intelligence community, are now absolutely obliged, more than ever before, to re-visit and re-think their personnel (pre-employment) screening processes and practices by, among other things, recognizing that periodic (in-employment) re-assessment is essential. At minimum, periodic re-assessment should include the means to identify and assess post-hires’ adverse (a.) receptivity, (b.) inclination, and/or (c.) newly acquired predispositions that may or may not have evolved since and be contrary to what was gleaned on or before the date-of-hire while having access to classified (proprietary, sensitive)  information, i.e., intangible assets.

I should think, in part, the author’s application of reversal theory as aptly described in this article certainly warrants broad attention and study because it serves as a very worthy starting point for some serious and thoughtful discussion on this increasingly critical matter.

Of course, the necessity for the private sector to comprehensively address risks posed by insiders is elevated in large part because of the economic fact – business reality that 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for growth, profitability, and sustainability lie in – directly evolve from often times readily available, perhaps even open source, intangible assets, many of which are rooted in – emanate from intellectual properties, proprietary information, and other forms of intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.  As for the application of RT to government agencies, one hardly needs to say more than PFC Bradley Manning!

This globally universal economic fact alone should, in my view, and I suspect that of the author as well, should prompt companies and organizations to find the will and the resources necessary to effectively mitigate insider risks and economic espionage, be it state sponsored or conducted by independent actors. In other words, RT theory, in my view, warrants attention and thorough discussion!

Inspiration for this post lies with an article published in the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of the International Journal of Intelligence Ethics, titled ‘Reversal Theory: Understanding the Motivational Styles of Espionage’.

Each blog post is researched and written by me with the genuine intent it serves as a useful and respectful medium to elevate awareness and appreciation for intangible assets throughout the global business community.   Most of my posts focus on issues related to identifying, unraveling, and sustaining control, use, ownership, and monitoring asset value, materiality, and risk.  As such, my blog posts are not intended to be quick bites of  unsubstantiated commentary or information piggy-backed to other sources.  Comments regarding my blog posts are encouraged and respected. Should any reader elect to utilize all or a portion of my posts, attribution is expected and always appreciated. While visiting my blog readers are encouraged to browse other topics (posts) which may be relevant to their circumstance or business transaction.  I always welcome your inquiry at 314-440-3593 or [email protected]


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