Company: Gates Rubber, plant in Siloam Springs, Ark., 675 employees

Program creator and director: Burt Hoefs, plant manager

The program: Every job applicant goes through a four-stage screening-and-interviewing process. The first step is a general interview with the personnel department. Three days later there's a second interview with someone else from personnel to verify information and impressions from the first meeting. The third stage consists of a panel interview with three people (including Hoefs) from different parts of the plant. "We're evaluating communications skills, work attitudes, and general confidence levels," says Hoefs. "Since all the work of the plant is done in teams, we're also focusing on an applicant's ability to respond well in a group setting." If the panel approves the candidate, the personnel department goes into intensive reference checking, after which the candidate is invited back for a fourth, and final, meeting. It usually takes place on a Friday evening, lasts two hours, and includes spouses or significant others -- of the candidate as well as those of the three plant people, including Hoefs. From 7 to 9 p.m. the candidate and his or her spouse watch a 20-minute video on the history of Gates Rubber, get a rundown of benefits, and discuss what it means to be part of a self-directed work team. "This is the most revealing part of the process," says Hoefs. "We're looking at the interaction between the candidate and his spouse. Did he tell her about working on the night shift? Did he explain the level of commitment we require? How do they react when we explain why we don't think unions are needed here? Any sign of trouble and we pass on the candidate." The process, Hoefs explains, is designed to bring to light the kinds of problems that usually surface only after someone is hired.

The payoff: 8% annual turnover, versus 100% turnover at a comparable plant owned by another company in town. "Our biggest expense was bad hiring," says Hoefs. "Now, it's not a line item, but when you add up the cost of quality mistakes, injuries, work slowdowns as a result of incompetence or just plain newness on the job, and overtime costs -- well, there's no doubt that our investment in hiring pays off."