W. Mark Dale
Northeast Regional Forensic Institute
University at Albany
Albany, New York
Wendy S. Becker
Department of Management
University at Albany
Albany, New York
| Human Resources as Intellectual
Capital | Laboratory
Structure | Measuring
Laboratory Efficiency | Developing
Human Resource Metrics | Communicating
to Management | Increasing
Intellectual Capital | Managing
Multiple Constituencies | Conclusion
Intellectual capital is a strategic resource in organizations.
This article discusses strategies for increasing the intellectual
capacity of the forensic science laboratory. It begins with a definition
of intellectual capital using a resource-based model of organizations.
Next, it discusses laboratory structure and the measurement of laboratory
efficiency. Human resource metrics and the importance of communicating
with funding agencies are considered. The article concludes with
a discussion of an overall strategy for increasing intellectual
capital in forensic laboratories and offers a case example using
a forensic advisory group.
Human Resources as Intellectual Capital
Demonstrating that investments in human resources lead to improved
laboratory performance is critical to laboratory directors (Koussiafes
2004). Resource-based models propose matching the overall strategy
of the organization with its human resource practices (Barney 2001).
Originating from economics, the resource-based view considers human
resources as assets as opposed to variable costs. The resource-based
view is the philosophy behind initiatives to consider human resources
as intellectual capital. In this model, human resource practices
support the intellectual capital of the forensic laboratory
by making the most of the job-related behaviors of the talent pool.
Certain conditions must be present to maximize organizational performance.
Intellectual capital must be valuable, rare, inimitable, and
nonsubstitutable (Wright et al. 1994). These criteria are discussed
next as they apply to forensic laboratories.
Intellectual Capital Adds Value to the Forensic Laboratory
The knowledge, skills, and abilities that forensic employees possess
vary greatly within a laboratory and across laboratories. In the
labor market, individuals differ with respect to the necessary job
attributes they possess. Employees who work at a higher level of
proficiency are more valuable to the laboratory. Laboratories that
are able to select, develop, motivate, and retain skilled employees
will outperform laboratories that are not.
By using a measurement system, laboratories can demonstrate that
skilled employees add value. Utility analysis is one method to estimate
the financial value that employees add (Cascio 2000). Other methods
include costing employee turnover and determining the value of forensic
services to customers and the community (Becker et al. 2005; Dale
and Becker 2004). These techniques can be used to show that investing
in intellectual capital results in a more effective laboratory organization.
Intellectual Capital Is Rare
Forensic science skills are increasingly in short supply, and there
is wide evidence of a growing shortage of needed technical workers
(Becker et al. 2005; Peterson and Hickman 2005). There have been
various estimates of the number of additional scientists needed.
Fisher (2003) estimates that 10,000 new forensic scientists will
be needed in the next five to ten years. The U.S. Department of
Labor predicts that 10,000 new forensic scientists will be needed
by 2012, a 19 percent increase from 2002 (O*Net Online 2004). Peterson
and Hickman (2005) estimated that 1,900 additional full-time employees
would have been needed to achieve a 30-day turnaround for all requests
for forensic services in 2002.
Intellectual Capital Is Inimitable
Laboratory goals and environmental circumstances must be in alignment
to be interrelated and internally consistent. When demand for employees
is high, other agencies can lure away top talent and take advantage
of the laboratory’s investment in and training of employees.
But employees are not perfectly mobile; moving from one organization
to another involves transactional costs, such as the loss of seniority
and pensions. In addition, employees understand that they may not
thrive in a new organization because the rewards, culture, and other
factors are not compatible with individual needs, interests, and
skills. Therefore, even though some employees can and will be induced
to move, the full package of human resource practices and support
systems must be designed to retain intellectual capital as much
as possible (Dale and Becker 2004; Wright et al. 1994).
Intellectual Capital Is Nonsubstitutable
Laboratories that institute practices to develop and motivate people
have a source of sustained competitive advantage over laboratories
that do not. The laboratory must (1) encourage people who possess
needed skill profiles to join and stay with the organization and
(2) reinforce and motivate the needed job behaviors.
High turnover rates of forensic scientists are costly ( Becker
and Dale 2003; Perlman 2004; Sewell 2000) and can lead to an erosion
of the forensic intellectual capital within the laboratory. Losing
experienced forensic scientists creates a “brain drain.”
Unanticipated retirement can seriously deplete the intellectual
capital in a forensic laboratory. Laboratory managers need strategies
for supporting their intellectual capital. Human resource systems
must be used strategically to identify, measure, and retain key
employees, increasing the intellectual capital of the laboratory.
Laboratory structure must be designed to provide the best forensic
service for the geopolitical area that the laboratory serves. The
trend in designing modern organizations is toward flat, autonomous
structures with direct reporting relationships to management. However,
most large organizations have hierarchical structures with specialized
units reporting to upper management (Hoskisson et al. 2004). In
the forensic laboratory, hierarchical structures may appear to be
the most efficient. However, in practice, they may hinder the sharing
of knowledge and become dysfunctional, especially when processing
multidiscipline cases. For example, a high-priority multidiscipline
case may involve ballistic, hair, fiber, and DNA evidence analyses.
The most accurate and timely analyses are needed across all
of the disciplines. One lead scientist must be given responsibility
for managing the entire case. The best of both hierarchical and
flat structures can be leveraged by implementing an organizational
structure that facilitates communication between technical forensic
disciplines and management. These new structures are essential for
large laboratory systems with multiple facilities and disciplines.
An efficient structure for a large laboratory or forensic system
is shown in Figure 1. Managers of the major forensic disciplines
report directly to the laboratory director or deputy. In addition,
an information officer or librarian reports directly to the director.
Evidence control, safety, security, finance, budget, administrative,
and clerical support personnel also report to the director. In the
example shown, additional expertise is provided in a consultative
relationship with the director. The groups providing specialized
expertise include quality assurance groups, technical working groups,
forensic advisory groups, and the laboratory’s customers.
Advisory groups offer unique expertise that increases the intellectual
capital of the laboratory.
An Efficient Organizational Structure for a Large Laboratory or
Measuring Laboratory Efficiency
Management must establish and track measures of laboratory efficiency
to monitor and identify trends. Efficient staffing has a critical
impact on the criminal justice system. Forensic services must be
identified and measured to meet the supply and demand of the laboratory’s
geopolitical area. For example, the laboratory must address such
questions as, How many controlled-substance analysis cases need
to be analyzed in a timely manner, for example, in less than 30
days? How many scientists and support staff are required to support
this demand? The right amount of forensic intellectual capital in
both the management and technical expertise of the laboratory will
make a significant difference between mediocre and excellent performance.
Management must evaluate annually the laboratory mission, goals,
and objectives. For example, the laboratory mission could be to
provide and apply the best science to the best evidence in a
timely manner. These related goals can be stated as:
Goal 1: Apply the best science.
Goal 2: Apply the best science to the best evidence.
Goal 3: Apply the best science to the best evidence in a timely
Developing Human Resource Metrics
Understanding the labor market is critical to developing measures
of the laboratory’s human resources. Yet it is difficult to
forecast applicant populations. Forecasting reconciles the gap between
labor supply and future labor demands. Laboratory administrators
need to initiate strategic planning, taking into consideration the
demand for laboratory services. Determining the demand for services
requires analyzing all cases submitted to the laboratory, including
cases that involve lesser offenses.
Laboratories can develop human resource metrics for recruitment
and selection. Predicting future recruitment needs in operational
terms involves job analysis, time-lapse data, and yield ratios (Becker
and Dale 2003). Laboratories also must estimate the value of their
services to the community. Agencies can estimate staffing needs
based on a ratio of 1 forensic scientist (defined as a testifying
scientist) for every 30,000 people in the respective population
(Dale and Becker 2003). Estimates based on geopolitical populations
provide a common standard across disparate units and agencies. Alternatively,
laboratories may estimate staffing needs based on the ratio of forensic
scientists to police officers that results in acceptable performance
for that jurisdiction (Fischer 2003). Cascio (2000) demonstrated
how organizations can quantify employee value by estimating the
cost of selection, job performance, and turnover. A case study that
focused on forensic science laboratory performance and employee
turnover is provided in Dale and Becker (2004).
Communicating to Management
In order to obtain needed resources, laboratory management also
must be able to effectively communicate the staffing model to upper
management. The effective application of forensic science on the
best evidence will allow the criminal justice community to exclude
more suspects and make more quality arrests in cases that contain
evidence. This will allow police departments to devote more time
to cases that do not contain any probative evidence. Examples of
the types of metrics that may be measured in the forensic laboratory
- Cases/items analyzed per laboratory.
- Cases/items analyzed per scientist.
- Ratio of local, state, and national ballistic hits in the National
Integrated Ballistics Imaging Network (NIBIN) per firearms examiner
and per capita of service region.
- Ratio of local, state, and national latent fingerprint hits
in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) per
fingerprint examiner and per capita of service region.
- Ratio of local, state, and national DNA hits in the Combined
DNA Index System (CODIS) per DNA scientist and per capita of service
- Number of technical support personnel.
- Total cost of analyses per case and per item.
- Total cost of rework.
- Turnover of line staff and supervisors.
- Quality system measures, including:
- Number of corrective actions.
- Number of types and frequency of corrective actions per
discipline over time.
- Number of errors per case, per item.
- Timeliness of analyses.
- Total backlog.
- Complaints, both internal and external.
Increasing Intellectual Capital in Forensic Laboratories
A four-pronged human resource strategy should be employed to increase
the intellectual capital available to the laboratory (Dale 2004).
First, critical support for the staffing plan must be obtained from
the agency’s upper management. Next, vacant positions need
to be aggressively recruited and filled. Advertisements should be
posted on the Web sites of organizations for forensic professionals,
on the agency’s own Web site, and in major forensic science
publications. New upper-management positions (e.g., scientific leaders)
need to be established and filled first. The intent of these positions
is to provide scientific leadership and an upper-level career ladder
for the line staff, as well as to stabilize the scientific management
of the sworn police laboratory with civilian scientific professionals.
Finally, a fresh influx of forensic intellectual capital should
be developed from relationships with an experienced forensic advisory
The forensic advisory group can help create an organizational culture
that values and significantly raises the laboratory’s intellectual
capital. The forensic advisory group comprises experienced active
and retired forensic professionals from public and private laboratories
in various disciplines and from within the academic community. The
main role of the forensic advisory group is to act as an expert
resource to the laboratory. Members of the forensic advisory group
are chosen for their ability to encourage trust, collaboration,
and the sharing of knowledge with laboratory staff. The forensic
advisory group provides biannual audits using American Society of
Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB)
accreditation criteria. Three months after the audit, a review meeting
serves as follow-up to discuss corrective action. The planned recurrence
of visits from the forensic advisory group, along with regular phone
calls and e-mails, creates a new culture of collaboration between
laboratory staff and the forensic advisory group.
Case Example: Creating a Forensic Advisory Group
Table 1 demonstrates how a forensic advisory group can add intellectual
capital to a large metropolitan laboratory. Members of a forensic
advisory group were asked to provide data to document the number
of times they were actively involved in various forensic and academic
activities, including years of experience attained, training and
education received, classes taught, degrees earned, papers published,
and professional meetings attended. Each activity represents different
types of knowledge and experience; the collective group of activities
represents intellectual capital. All 15 forensic advisory group
members supplied the requested background information, resulting
in a 100 percent response rate. These data were compared to the
corresponding background information of the laboratory’s upper
management (15 managers). The ratios of the raw scores of the forensic
advisory group and laboratory management are displayed in Table
1. There is an intellectual capital ratio of 10 (forensic advisory
group) to 1 (laboratory) for the general total of all criteria measured.
These are raw categorical measurements using a variety of criteria.
No attempt was made to weight one criterion more than another. Some
of the significant ratios of intellectual capital were in college
classes taught (189:1), laboratory audits conducted as auditor (44:1),
seminars and training given (48:1), service as an accreditation
team captain (24:1), professional organization committee memberships
held (28:1), and years of experience attained (2.39:1). These data
demonstrate the potential that postgraduate education and active
involvement in professional organizations have on laboratory intellectual
capital and the overall quality of forensic laboratory services.
Table 1: The
Value-Added Intellectual Capital of the Forensic Advisory Group
Output measures derived from the forensic advisory group were
significant. Noncompliance to ASCLD/LAB accreditation criteria was
reduced from more than 100 instances to fewer than 10. This increase
in quality was accomplished in one year with two audits, one corrective-action
forensic advisory group seminar, and numerous e-mail and telephone
communications. Other output measures resulting from the forensic
advisory group are the number and type of corrective actions, interactions
between the laboratory and the forensic advisory group, and an increase
in the types and frequency of casework technical reviews. Six Sigma
quality metric toolssuch as Pareto diagrams, histograms,
control charts, statistical analyses, and management of nonconformance
data—are the keys to root-cause corrective-action analyses
and continuous improvement of forensic services. If organizations
can measure intellectual capital and quality, they can
better manage intellectual capital and quality (Pande et
Managing Multiple Constituencies
Laboratory management must establish a coalition of support to
fund the staffing model. This function is the most important task
for the laboratory director. The amount of support from the parent
agency and the criminal justice community will determine the performance
of the laboratory director. Presentation skills, supported with
thorough details on productivity, must be practiced and refined
to obtain buy-in from the agency and its customers. The laboratory
director’s presentation skills are critical to obtaining the
proper support for the laboratory. The director should present select
cases with visual aids to show how the laboratory can be used to
solve crimes in a timely manner. Regular presentations must be made
to the upper-level command staff of the parent agency, as well as
to members of the agency’s human resource and financial units.
The effective administration of a forensic science laboratory focuses
on intellectual capital as a strategic resource. Laboratory structure,
human resource metrics, and communication with funding agencies
are integral to effective administration. This article has presented
an overall strategy for increasing the intellectual capital in laboratories,
along with a case example that suggests developing a trusting, productive
relationship between a laboratory and a forensic advisory group.
In the case example, the comparison between the activities of laboratory
managers and members of the forensic advisory group demonstrates
the potential of collaboration to improve the quality of the laboratory’s
services. In particular, the key ratios provide support for professional
development activities. The academic and professional expertise
of the forensic advisory group was most critical in providing assistance
to the laboratory. Agencies should encourage their personnel to
engage in formal and continuing education activities, along with
active participation in professional development. In this way, they
increase the intellectual capital in their organizations and, in
turn, improve their level of service to the community.
This article represents the opinions of the authors and does not
reflect the views of their organization.
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