Psychometric testing in L&D – handle with care

Psychometrics can be a key implement in the learning & development toolkit – what’s more they’re ever more easily available.

With psychometric and quasi-psychometric packages increasingly available in more convenient and cost-effective DIY formats, learning & development (L&D) departments are able to harness them for a host of applications – including team selection, leadership potential, conflict management, problem-solving and response mechanisms.

Well-known market offerings such as Belbin (which defines itself as a behavioural test), MBTI, FIRO-B, TKI, 16PF and 15FQ not only enable organisations to conduct assessments for recruitment purposes, but can be used throughout the life cycle of an employee.

Business psychologist Naysan Firoozmand, a senior consultant at global behavioural consultancy ASK Europe, says psychometrics have evolved quite significantly since they were first used by the Armed Forces – becoming increasingly sophisticated but easier to use.

“Now we use them to determine and assess capability – and particularly leaders,” he explains. “The tools that are now available allow people to better understand themselves, their organisation and others – as well as knowing what’s likely to derail them as individuals.”

Individual assessment

A simple swipe of the company credit card may ensure the delivery of an individual assessment for as little as £10 for a 15 to 20 minute test – more detailed reports tend to range from £30 to £60 per person – but Firoozmand warns that tools should always be well-researched before being put to use.

“They are sometimes used very badly and in the wrong context,” he explains, “and organisations that use them like that will not benefit. Any company looking to use them needs to invest not only in upfront awareness, but also in the support that happens afterwards. Psychometrics are part of something much bigger: they might tell you something useful, wonderful or something you didn’t know – but it’s the support you get that really changes behaviours. Using a tool in isolation does not achieve that.”

Peter Lancaster, global customer relations manager at Belbin, agrees: “Some companies may use them in passing and don’t get as much benefit as they should do. This is where the onus is on the manager or team leader to bring a package such as Belbin in again. The thing is to use it for benefit – and to try and place it within the responsible decision-making process.”

Traditional formats

While tests are still available in traditional paper formats, Gareth English, innovation consultant at Cambridge-based OPP, reveals that many companies are now opting to purchase online assessments (these are usually one-off tests which can either be purchased on an individual basis or as part of a package). These can also comprise observer reports that help construct a 360-degree view of an employee’s personality, performance and potential – something that could also be used to forecast how well they would perform in certain situations or within a particular work group. For English, online tests not only offer companies greater convenience, but also cut down on the analysis time traditionally associated with this type of assessment.

Qualification requirements vary according to package, although Level A and B accreditation from the British Psychological Society are the most widely-recognised in the sector. Level A covers basic principles in psychometric testing and qualifies you to use ability and aptitude tests Level B comprises three stages (intermediate, intermediate-plus and full) and cover personality testing and will include tuition pertaining to ethics and feedback. To attain Level B certification, you must already have Level A accreditation.

Oxford-based OPP offers Level A training (distance learning with 3 training days) for £1,450 per person and Level B (16PF and MBTI) training over five plus one days for £2,600. Individual package accreditation is also available for MBTI (3+1 days at £2600, 16PF (3+1 days) for £1,600 and FIRO-B (2 days) for £1,150.

L&D practitioners do not require accreditation to use Belbin, but Lancaster says facilitator accreditation is usually sought by organisations looking to build up an employee database over time. Belbin’s one to one accreditation starts at £900+VAT per person for a 1.5-day course, and £3,000+VA) for a two-day in-house programme featuring six delegates (additional personnel are subject to an additional £400+VAT per person).

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Atkins, a global engineering and design consultancy, runs a Management Development Centre (MDC) with business psychology firm Kaisen.

The two-day event provides each individual with a deep insight into their inner motivation, their core psychological skills and where their greatest potential lies. It incorporates a range of exercises and psychometrics, including NEO PI-R – a personality questionnaire which assesses the ‘big five’ personality dimensions (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness) and the Hogan Development Survey – a measure of 11 leadership ‘de-railing’ personality factors. All participants are given individual feedback on each exercise and are provided with reports which capture the outputs. They then take part in personal development discussions to plan their career progress and create development plans.

“The overall aim of the MDCs is to find out how talent within the organisation can be used to maximum advantage, both to support Atkins’ business objectives and the individual’s career,” explains Brian Fitzgerald, director of HR development at Atkins. “As well as having a positive impact on our people and helping the business realise the potential of its talent pool, the MDCs make sure we are retaining our talented people. Turnover among MDC participants is just 2% per year.”

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