Posted by: 1of10boyz | October 31, 2011

Driver Selection – One of Us?

One of the most challenging things I have ever done is hiring a driver for our stay in China. We are allowed the opportunity to hire a driver to get around in China. It is relatively inexpensive for us as it is subsidized by the company but does still cost us some for the car and the driver.

I have been involved with projects my entire career that have been on the dangerous or scary side and have never really faced a situation like I perceive this situation and selection process.

When I was in the US Navy one of our responsibilities, once we became qualified, was to assist our shipmates in getting qualified. We always talked about trusting them with our lives, when they were on watch in essence they were in a position or situation that could actually impact your ability to go home at the end of the deployment. So we always used the trust that went along with those qualifications.

When I was working the chemical weapons disposal/destruction program it was similar. We were responsible for operating equipment that had the potential during abnormal or upset conditions to kill people and things if not handled appropriately.

The nuclear power production process is similar, you make mistakes and do the wrong things at the wrong times and the impacts can be deadly to you and many others.

Over the years these industries have done research and studies that indicate that the average human makes a certain number of mistakes every hour, every day, etc. Some of those mistakes can have significant adverse effects or affects. I have pretty much bought into the mindset that mistakes are avoidable and preventable. I try to do what I do with the thought that I can avoid mistakes and the resultant consequences. It has almost become second nature to do some kind of mental analysis of situations and circumstances to evaluate expected outcomes given the scenario before I begin certain tasks and evolutions. By second nature I am thinking about how to respond to a possible scenario, whether I am in a restaurant, on a plane, or a train, driving a car, or, well I think you get the idea.

I am also aware that there is a greater probability for me to be killed in some kind of accident scenario than to die from a disease or natural causes. Not that I am an actuary or have studied any actuarial science but all I have to do is look at the costs of my insurances to note that the probability for accident is higher than the other possibilities. The statistics indicate that foreigners in China are more likely to be injured or die in accidents than any other situation.

I have been responsible for hiring and firing in my career. I have always thought that I could do a better job hiring people than anyone else, period. My goal is to select people that are coveted by the other managers around me. I want my employees to be desired by the other departments and divisions that I work with so that they have opportunities to progress in their careers and they have a choice to make about where their career will take them. I have been successful at that. My employees have been some of the best in the company. I have been good at selecting conscientious employees, employees that care about what makes a difference to a company’s success, and they have made me look good because they are good at what they do.

But in all of the hiring decisions I have made and all of the qualification processes I have been involved with I have never been responsible for selecting an employee that, by the definition of their job and the mistakes they make on their job, hold my life and the life of my spouse in their hands and is responsible for my life, day in and day out. The driving situation here in China is less than stable and safe in my opinion. The driving that I have seen is bad compared to, well, anyplace I have ever seen. I am told that there are places worse than this, if so, I hope not to have to spend much time in a car in those locations.

I have thought a lot about how to select a driver that I would consider worthy and capable enough to trust with my life and the lives of those that I love. It is an uncomfortable thought. It is a struggle for me to mentally determine that I can trust someone that much. Many of you know me and you know that I am a critical person, of myself and I have the fault of holding others to “MY” standard. I expect that I am capable of what I am capable of and when I don’t meet that standard it is not a good day. I also expect the best from others; most of the time, I expect more from them than they expect from themselves, my standard. I see what they are capable of, I know what I am capable of, and expect nothing less so they and I quite often don’t meet the expectation but we learn to cope. So, how do I achieve some level of compromise within myself? The selection process is almost an analysis paralysis scenario for me. I know that my family and I will spend considerable time with this person and I know that I will cause him to spend more time away from his family than I would want to stay away from mine. He, and by extension his family, will become part of my family. I know that I will have to come to trust him as much as I would trust one of my own children.

LaDawna really only has a couple of desires for this “relationship”. She desires that the vehicle be garaged at the Expert Village so that we can feel like we have better control of the use of the vehicle. She wants the driver to be able to communicate with her in English. Both are on my list of desired qualities.

We are working with Avis as the company to provide the car and vehicle. The contract for the period will be 2 yrs so that we can get a vehicle that meets our needs. The company actually makes the contract and I provide an amount out of my salary which amounts to about 10% of the total lease cost. We will be responsible for the gas and tolls for its use. So the garage location makes a difference to the costs that we will have to pay for the duration of the lease.

I finally come to a set of questions that I believe will allow me to make the selection possible. I really only have one requirement and the rest are desires. I require that the driver be safe. So the question is how do you tell if a driver is safe without watching them drive? How do you know that they can be trusted with your family’s safety?

I have to rely on the processes I have learned from my life experiences. I revert to the dreaded scenario questions. When I was qualifying in the facilities I learned to deal with a scenario question. Basically, you establish a set of conditions and describe it to the interviewee and ask them to respond. One of the problems I realize after letting Li Qi read the question is, it isn’t something that is familiar to the Chinese. I am going to have to teach them how to answer a scenario question while I am asking them the question. The idea behind the scenario is to get the subject to think in the interview. I prefer to provide minimal information to start and then provide the input of the scenario as the interviewee asks for it.

An example would be if you were driving down the road and an accident happened immediately in front of you what would you do? What information do you need so that you can make the best decision? You can ask for what you might see in your mirrors or what you see in front of you. These types of questions are hard enough in English and I am just becoming aware of how much more challenging they will be when I have to have our non-driving, Chinese University English Major, Department Admin translate the scenario for the candidates.

We had two candidates that were provided by Avis and one that was recommended by Tommy Dong. Tommy’s candidate has been driving for about 9 yrs and speaks pretty good English. Neither of the Avis candidates speak English; one is ex-Red Army, a member of “the party”, he is actually a decorated veteran that received the 3rd highest medal awarded in the country; and the other is a former taxi driver, both have driven for more than 10 years. Prior to the interviews commencing, Tommy’s friend withdrew his name because he felt that the Avis wage was too low. I guess his current job gives him confidence that he can do better than this. Our wage for this is actually slightly more than the entry level Engineers are paid, so for non-college grads the wage is almost covetable among the Chinese. Consider that in most cases, you will pick me up for work at about 6:45am, drive about 9-10km to the job site, and drop me off, you will clean and vacuum the car, and then take me home about 5:00pm. So you really end up actually doing work for about 1-3 hrs depending on how clean you want to make the car.

My discussion with the candidates is that when we do use the car to go over night and we have the driver that it ‘expected’ that the wife and family travel with us so that we are not taking him away from his family for our vacations. Now we certainly don’t require that they go but we don’t want the driver to be away from his family on those vacations either. So because of the culture we use “expected” so that they know that they are not imposing on us by going with us. Again, they are part of our family. This is made easier because some of the lease/contract requirements include paying them about 300RMB for days when they are away from home, 50RMB for food allowance and 250RMB for lodging. So in most cases they end up with the vacation nearly paid for.

I briefed LaDawna and Li Qi that I had specific expectations from them during and after the interview: they were responsible for telling me what woman’s intuition indicated about each candidate. I explained to them that I am clueless about the subtle things that they are going to pick up on. I told them that when I have hired previously that I would ask my secretary to do a subtle interview with the candidates that would gauge how she felt about them. The last thing I need is someone working for me that makes my secretary uncomfortable and so her input on the selection process was important to me as the technical capability that I was evaluating. I found that when I used that input we all ended up happy.

We interviewed two candidates. It was obvious from the interview that the two candidates were in different leagues. We were able to make a selection but we ended up compromising on many of our desired qualifications. Neither of the candidates had their own car and would require the car to be garaged at their residence and neither could speak any English. We selected the ex-Red Army veteran.

So we have a new member of our little family here. He is Mr. Xu. He is as happy to be working for us as we are happy to have him working for us. It does create some provoking thoughts, the least of which is not: I would have never imagined that I would trust my life to a Communist.


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