Sussing psychometrics

With conflicting reviews and an endless range, it is important for companies
to ensure the tests they use on their people are credible and meet the
organisation’s requirements. Keith Rodgers investigates

Faced with thousands of different types of tests, lingering controversy over
internet-based measurement techniques and a host of legislative complications,
it is hardly surprising that some HR managers approach psychometric testing
with a degree of trepidation. The occasional horror story about its misuse –
from firms that fired individuals because their results were ‘wrong’, to
organisations that adopt it as the basis for redundancy selection – haven’t
exactly helped.

The reality, however, is that psychometric testing is widely used among The
Times’ 1,000 companies and beyond. Championed in many instances by
highly-qualified professionals from the psychology field, it has a long
pedigree and well-established best practices. Not only are online mechanisms
maturing, but the application of testing continues to expand into new fields,
complementing its traditional role in the recruitment process. Applications are
now in areas such as employee development, managerial decision-making and
improving workplace relationships (see below).

Organisations that use this testing, however, do need to bear certain challenges
in mind. Robert McHenry, chairman of OPP, says the first priority is finding
the most suitable instruments to use. He believes there are some 5,000
published personality tests available, of which only 20 are top quality. There
are another few thousand aptitude offerings, so it is important to be confident
the test is credible and meets your organisation’s specific requirements.

In addition, the quality of reporting remains a concern. Many computer-based
tests generate crude results that are little more than a series of pre-written
‘observations’ triggered by the associated response. Testing output is
ultimately only of value when the candidate’s answers are analysed in the
context of other biographical information, and interpretation is key. E-testing
company ASE, for example, matches individual psychometric reports against its
clients’ competency frameworks, examining the output against the specific
requirements of each role.

Likewise, feedback to respondents – whether job applicants or employees –
needs to be carefully handled. OPP asks customers to sign up to a code of
ethics that covers a number of sensitive issues, from basics such as keeping
results confidential, to ensuring employers don’t use the output to challenge
individuals about what they think or feel.

"Testing can be intrusive," says McHenry, "so you need to
make sure you protect the integrity of the individual."

This awareness extends to legislative responsibilities, and organisations
need to ensure that their procedures clearly meet their responsibilities under
the demands of race, sex, disability and data protection legislation.

Experts also advise HR practitioners to be inclusive. One large financial
services organisation found that its biggest challenge in adopting online
recruitment was gaining acceptance from managers used to handling CVs and
managing the process themselves. Faced with a mix of practical and emotional
resistance, it had to invest significant amounts of time managing expectations
and demonstrating tangible benefits. Roy Davis, head of communications at SHL,
argues that HR should also involve IT from the outset when online testing
providers are being selected, given that there will be security and other
technical implications.

Above all, as Neville Osrin of Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow points out, there
is a danger in putting too much credence on the tests. One company he
encountered fired staff on the basis of their responses, regardless of their
actual performances at work. The key is to contextualise, viewing tests as one
element of a broader exercise.

Looking forward, psychometric testing will increasingly be seen in the
context of a broader human capital management remit, and its effectiveness will
ultimately be measured in new ways. As companies look for a return on the time
and money they invest in testing, organisations will seek statistical
validation that will help them hire the right kind of talented individuals, who
stay with the organisation long term.

What is psychometric testing and why do organisations use it?

While many people think of
psychometric testing as a recruitment tool, a number of organisations are
adopting it to help with employee development, management training and
personality-based workplace issues.

Andrew Hill, managing psychologist at occupational
psychologists Pearn Kandola, has used testing to help organisations with a wide
range of development goals, including improved decision-making and conflict

Rooted in Jungian and Freudian psychology, the tests help
individuals understand key dimensions of their personality, such as whether
they are introverts or extroverts, how they gather information, how they make
decisions and whether they tend to seek closure of an issue or hear out all the

This process helps establish key differentiators in the way
people work. Are they detail-focused, or do they like the big picture? Do they
step outside a problem and tackle a high-risk decision logically, or do they
put themselves into the situation and assess risk in terms of whether they
would personally be comfortable with the answer?

These factors have come into play in numerous scenarios. At one
client site with a high focus on worker safety, the tests allowed two feuding middle
managers to understand what motivated each other and they learned to work
together more constructively. Managers at the same site were also able to
analyse their own decision-making capabilities.

Neville Osrin, of Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow, also uses testing
to assist in personal development. In a 360-degree appraisal, for example, a
manager may receive feedback explaining that they are inaccessible.
Psychometric testing will help them analyse their behaviour towards staff and
understand which innate traits they need to counter-balance.

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