Psychometrics: directors take personality tests – under the microscope

Personnel Today asked three senior directors to take part in a series of personality tests in association with workplace psychology firm YSC. So what makes a good leader for your workforce?

HR managers usually have a key role in choosing and employing personality tests to evaluate staff and recruits. But how do they fare themselves when put under the psychometric spotlight?

Earlier this month, Personnel Today asked occupational psychology firm YSC to conduct three personality tests on three female directors two in HR and one a managing director.

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Ken Rowe, founder and managing Director of YSC, explains: “We tend to be very cautious about using psychometric tests to assess people. The issues of reliability and validity mean that great care needs to be taken in making judgements.

“It is interesting, therefore, just to look at forming judgements based purely on a set of anonymous test results. Interestingly, however, I tend to find that having nothing else, but some raw test scores can allow you to forge insights which can be quite accurate.”

Rowe says that, in some ways, having too much data about someone can restrict your ability to think in an open-minded way about them.

“Having said that, there are some clear principles that should be followed in using tests to form views about people,” he says. “As a minimum, the tests should be used as one source of data. They are typically best used to generate some hypotheses to explore. In looking at tests it is best to have a small number that you become very familiar with. This allows you to become quite skilful in looking at patterns of contradictions in the data.”

The test subjects completed three exercises:

The Kolb Learning Styles Inventory

This is a simple exercise that takes five minutes and looks at thinking style in terms of two dimensions. On one axis is intuition/experience v rational analysis. The other axis contrasts careful reflection with active experimentation.

Parent Adult Child (PAC)

This measures the three elements discussed in transactional analysis. ‘Parent’ refers to the extent to which we deal with the world in terms of beliefs and values. In ‘adult’ mode we deal with the world in a rational and objective way, while ‘child’ refers to the extent to which we transact in a more emotional manner.

There is a further distinction, between ‘adapted child’ and ‘free child’, which looks at the extent to which we control our natural spontaneity with a concern to do things ‘properly’.

The FIRO B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) test simply looks at our orientation to relationships in terms of the extent to which we want to be Included with people, control people and be affectionate (emotionally open) with people. It looks at the difference between what we express to others and how we want them to behave towards us.

Rosalyn Scott, managing director, Dalziel+Pow (design agency)

  • Test 1: Kolb

Rosalyn’s Kolb profile suggests she is highly intuitive, and likes to experiment. Rosalyn is essentially an intuitive, broad-brush and reflective thinker. Her intellectual orientation is to look broadly at issues, looking to synthesise disparate issues. This means she would be very good at framing agendas, creating clarity in situations of complexity. She enjoys concepts and ideas and would probably be relatively creative. At school she may have had a preference for subjects such as art or geography and biology. As subjects, the latter tend to be associated with a more holistic approach to issues. The downside to this style of thinking is that for some, it means they are less analytically rigorous. Rosalyn would benefit from ensuring she prepares her thoughts before going into free-flowing meetings.

  • Test 2: PAC

Rosalyn’s PAC suggests that she is quite high on parent, lower on adult and higher on child. This is consistent with her Kolb profile in showing how intuitive she is – she tends to alternate between this and a style which involves the application of ideas, beliefs and values. This makes her effective at forming quick judgements. Her ability to move between intuition and having beliefs gained from experience would also make her decisive and good in ‘fire-fighting’ situations. Rosalyn is a relatively high ‘adapted child’ which means she may experience some hesitancy in taking risks.

  • Test 3: Firo B

Rosalyn’s Firo B profile suggests she is social, but selective in picking and choosing when she is with people. She enjoys responsibility. The scores suggest also that she has a tendency to keep a bit of distance, opening up slowly to people and on a selective basis.

Conclusion

Rosalyn is likely to enjoy roles which have a very broad and creative remit. She will be very effective at creating clarity and coherence. She is likely to be quite creative in her approach to issues. She would generally deal with the world in a confident and clear way. Interpersonally, she would have a good level of initiative in getting things done but there may be some scope for her to interact in a more personal and emotionally engaging manner.

Ros’s comments:

“I found the profile very interesting, but at the same time I was slightly uncomfortable to read about myself. This is my first experience of psychometric testing so I found the tests interesting to do, but not easy. The questions were very similar with subtle differences.

“I found it both accurate and amazing to suggest two of my favourite subjects at school, although I wasn’t so good at biology. I do fluctuate between using my intuition and experience, so that is both accurate and interesting. The final test result is harder to comment on, which is to do with how I interact inside or outside of work, I think.”

Gillian Hibberd, corporate director, people and policy
Buckinghamshire County Council

  • Test 1: Kolb

Gillian’s Kolb profile suggests she is intuitive and prone to experimentation. She is a quick-thinking, decisive and very pragmatic individual. Like Rosalyn, she adopts a broad-brush, intuitive and synthetic approach to issues. Her preference would be to form a judgement quickly and test it. It is quite an operational profile, suggesting she is effective in engaging in a very fluid way in situations, quickly forming views and being prepared to take risk in acting on this. However, this may mean that she can be impatient when dealing with issues which require more prolonged analysis and debate.

  • Test 2: PAC

Gillian’s PAC is very high child, with a balance between free and adapted child. When someone has a high child score it can be quite hard to predict exactly what this means for them in real life – although it suggests she reacts to the world in terms of how she feels, bringing enthusiasm, energy, playfulness as well as emotion. It is likely she will be quite creative, fluid and open-minded, rather than being driven by an over-arching sense of agenda.

  • Firo B:

Gillian’s Firo B scores were all quite high with the exception of ‘control’. Her scores suggest she is highly social, wanting to be involved and building very open relationships. Her preference would be to be involved with others and she does not like to feel left out. Her control scores were lower, suggesting she might be cautious about taking on new responsibilities.

Conclusion

Gillian operates in an operationally orientated manner. She brings energy, enthusiasm and clarity to what she does. She forges strong contacts with people. Developmentally, she needs to become stronger in stepping back and establishing broad strategic themes within which to locate her actions, and to be less impatient when it comes to bureaucracy.

Gill’s comments

“This is me to a tee. I would say that the tool is very intuitive and accurate.  I’m particularly impressed by the suggestion that I need to become less impatient in dealing with bureaucracy, as I have to tell myself this every day. If I were to use the tool in my organisation, I would like to see more developmental advice. These tools really come to life when they are both accurate and give clear areas of focus for the employee in terms of their personal development and self awareness.”

Jenny McGregor, UK HR director
Ogilvy Group UK (PR and advertising)

  • Test 1: Kolb

Jenny’s Kolb suggests she is high on intuition, is strongly reflective but also rational and analytical. She moves between adopting a broad, holistic and quite conceptual approach to issues and a more analytically rigorous one. Being very reflective, she will enjoy operating in a very thoughtful, considered and even theoretical manner. The only potential downside of this is that she may run the risk of being unduly careful at times.

  • Test 2: PAC

Jenny has both high adult and high child scores with low parent. Again, this is consistent with her first test. It suggest she deals with the world in a very balanced, open-minded and rational way. Her colleagues probably see her as balanced and open-minded as well as enthusiastic. Intellectually, she will be very effective at developing perspectives which are thematic and strategically coherent.

  • Test 3: Firo B

Jenny’s Firo B scores suggest she has a moderate level of gregariousness characterised by looking for deeper, closer relationships with a relatively small number of people. She will take charge in a careful way, but will have a preference to have a fairly clear sense of what is expected of her. Rather than having a totally blank sheet she likes to get some sense of the parameters by which she is being judged.

Conclusion

Jenny operates as a strategically robust individual. She is likely to be quite a creative individual who will operate in a very thorough and rigorous way. She is likely to be very effective at creating clarity in situations of complexity. She is patient, but should trust her instincts more because she has a high intellectual capacity to deal with most issues.

Jenny’s comments:

“The profile is very accurate from my perspective, but I let my chairman and a close HR colleague read it as well, and they said it was spot on. I have been called ‘the voice of caution’ by fellow board directors, which is not always a bad thing, but I am aware of the risk of letting it tip into ‘unduly careful’, and I pull myself up on it sometimes.
“Creativity is very important to me, so it was good to see that came through in my profile, but the trait that I find serves me best time and time again is intuition.”

Guide to… profiling an HR leader

  • Consider the value of getting your appointment right versus the cost of getting it wrong. It is usually a worthwhile investment to assess more thoroughly.
  • Consider the business goals that he/she will be expected to deliver. What personal characteristics will help them?
  • Which people and departments will he/she need to work with and impress? Can your applicants influence, create impact and build relationships? Will they be credible commercially and with people ‘from the line’?
  • Will your leader be expected to ‘fit in’, or to act as a ‘change agent’?
  • What is your organisation actually like to work for? What sort of HR leaders will be motivated and happy in this environment, and who will find it frustrating?
  • What sort of leadership style do you need from your HR leaders? Can they inspire, motivate, drive and support people?
  • When assessing ability to deliver under pressure, consider the stresses and demands placed on your HR leaders.
  • Do your HR leaders need to be analytical, innovative, decisive or considered? These thinking styles and abilities can all be assessed – but you need to make sure you know ‘what good looks like’.
  • Make sure you have a rounded assessment process that includes the applicant’s behaviours, personality, motivation, aptitudes, experience and knowledge.
  • Consider the candidate’s ability to think and operate strategically.

Source: Ed Hurst, managing consultant, assessment, Kenexa

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