Insanely driven

July 17, 2014

RF Insanely Driven is an interactive experience from Reckitt and Benckiser that uses drama to engage candidates and reveal aspects of their character…

Candidates (players?) are asked to make 16 choices that are embedded in the narrative in a pretty cunning way. Each choice is then rated in terms of ambition, cool-headedness, fearlessness and directness. Players race against time and need to react fast in order to reach the end.

After adding a few details, players are presented with their individual profile as well as comparative data according to age, country, profession and Facebook friends.

Try it:

How many ping-pong balls would it take to fill a 747?

June 11, 2014

ping-pongThere has been much in the press recently about weird and wonderful interview questions. The ping-pong ball dilemma being one of the best known. Incidentally if you want to know the answer it’s a remarkable 31 Million. However, if you want to win the gold star you also need to observe that the balls will all have a weight, and if the cabin and hold are filled completely, this will add up to a considerable tonnage. 83 Tonnes! The plane wouldn’t be able to take off. Okay, so now your brain is up to speed, here’s another:

‘You’re on a barge floating in a closed lock in a canal. The barge is full of coal. If you empty all the coal overboard into the water, does the water level on the side of the lock go up or down?’ Hmm.

Good thinkers look past the facts

May 11, 2014

New research shows the best business minds make decisions very differently than we thought. If you want to know more about the inner workings of the executive brain, try this WSJ article.

Psychometrically brilliant, psychologically flawed

March 6, 2014

stethoscopeDoctor, doctor

First, imagine the scenario. You’re lying in a hospital bed. The doctor comes to see you. You are given a physical examination and asked a series of probing questions. A stethoscope is applied to your chest and to your back; and your temperature and blood pressure charts are scrutinized. Some blood tests are ordered and you’re sent for a scan. Later that day the doctor returns and provides a diagnosis.

The doctor has used the information in a particular way. A number of hypotheses about what may be wrong with you have been considered. Along the way, individual pieces of information may or may not have been useful; indeed may not have been relevant at all, or completely misleading. However the final diagnosis is based on a skilled integration of all the available information. It has been filtered through the doctor’s general understanding of how the body works, plus expert knowledge of a range of conditions and illnesses.

Now, a second scenario: You are an HR manager wanting to recruit a senior manager. You have an up-to-date job description and have compiled a thorough specification of the person you think is required to do the job well. You decide to use a variety of methods to gather information about the candidates. These include asking about their track record, and any particular knowledge and skills that are relevant to the job. You also decide to use psychometric tests to measure specific abilities, and a personality questionnaire to explore how candidates are likely to behave; plus an interview to gather evidence on key competencies, and on things like commitment and motivation.

The right blend

The blending of assessment information requires the same skills as those used by the doctor. The information from an interview depends on the candidate telling the truth, as does anything that is said about previous work history – although to a certain extent this can be verified by previous employers. The results of psychometric tests are of most utility if they are used to measure abilities that are directly relevant to the job – albeit that having a handle on a candidate’s general mental ability has been shown to be one of the best predictors of work performance.

Personality questionnaires fall into a different category, as despite sophisticated designs they are open to a candidate putting a positive spin on their answers. However, that being said, trait-based questionnaires can accurately predict behaviour, and as such they are genuinely useful in providing prompts for interview questions.

Of course no process is one hundred percent predictive, and there will be occasions when the wrong selection decision is made. This is inevitable, but a well designed process, using a balanced range of exercises, will significantly increase the odds of picking a winner. Indeed the odds will be increased to maximum if the person dealing with the information is appropriately trained and experienced: like a business psychologist. This is where the true value is added, especially when it comes to deftly combining information that ranges from the robust and objective, to other sources which may be completely ‘self-report’.

It doesn’t work (or does it!)

Criticisms when things go wrong are often of a binary nature, especially in the Press. For example, if tests or questionnaires have been used (journalists unfailingly lump them together), and the ‘wrong’ candidate is perceived to have been recruited, then it is all too easy to blame the tools. The argument is often that the person sailed through the psychometrics but turned out to be a psychological liability. Thus the answer to the – do ‘tests’ work? question – is obviously a resounding ‘no’. The problem with this logic is that it ignores everything else that has happened, including the due diligence that should have occurred before candidates completed any tests or questionnaires.  But let’s face it, poking fun at psychometrics makes a better story, and provides a golden opportunity to use a picture of an inkblot.

In reality psychometrics are the most predictive tools that are available, certainly many times better than merely relying on an interview. So it’s something of a paradox that the more senior the position the less likely the candidates are to be assessed fully. It’s a bit like going to hospital, announcing that you are the CEO of a bank, and the doctor sitting on the end of the bed, asking a couple of questions, and making an instant diagnosis. No need for all those irritating tests, I can tell what’s wrong with you by enquiring about your golf handicap.

To be serious again, perhaps this is where the attention should be focused, on getting the recruitment process for the ‘top jobs’ properly sorted out: and the case is actually made for more assessment, not less.

The research: Do tests work?

Physics and marketing

September 1, 2013

Physics and marketing don’t seem to have much in common, or do they? Watch this TED talk by Dan Cobley (a Marketing Director at Google), who uses Newton’s Second Law, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and a few more bits of physics to explain the theory of branding…

Business Psychologists & people performance

June 8, 2013

M.S. Mahendra c.1923I am often asked what Business Psychologists do. And more to the point, why it is that you would consult a Business Psychologist, over say, a Management Consultant, Personnel or Human Resources Specialist, Organisational Coach, Change Strategist, Cultural Anthropologist, Lion Tamer (see note*), or Training and Development Advisor.

  • More than psychometric tests. Of course all the professionals mentioned have particular expertise, and there are those, especially HR specialists, who have access to some of the same tools and techniques as a Business Psychologist. For example there are many trained to administer and interpret psychological tests and questionnaires. However when you deal with a Business Psychologist the full range of methods become available. You also get an individual who is able to develop a new tool if there is nothing suitable ‘off-the-shelf’. This is important because it’s difficult to manage other people, if you cannot measure what they do. And we know what to measure, and how to measure it.
  • Who has questions for my answers? Tools are important, but the main way in which a Business Psychologist can add value to your business (or organisation) is not necessarily by designing a psychological test, or producing a new interview system, competency map, leadership programme, executive coaching framework, or change management schedule; but by knowing which questions to ask and solutions to apply. So not what Henry Kissinger (former US Secretary of State) said to the White House press corps about ‘questions for his answers’, but an intense desire to discover the real questions and to come up with the right answers.
  • Diagnostic savvy. Sounds simple, but it is rather harder in practice. Other professionals are only concerned with part of the picture. Business Psychologists apply their diagnostic savvy to the complete ‘behavioural’ canvas. In particular how individuals perform, and can be helped to perform better; how people operate in teams, and how to stop team derailment; and how teams or groups fit into the organisational structure and culture. And of course, how organisational imperatives (such as the HR plan) are aligned with teams and individuals in order to make a business run as effectively as possible.
  • Straight from the horse’s mouth. And finally the research base that makes business psychology unique also informs much of the thinking in HR and people management generally. So in using a Business Psychologist you are dealing with someone who understands the science that underpins people and performance issues – and compared to other professionals in the field, this is probably the biggest differentiator of them all.
  • Team building.. For instance many readers will have encountered team building exercises, and may be familiar with, say,  Belbin’s Team Roles. This is a useful way of looking at teams, but it does little to get to grips with the ‘relationships’ between team members and the effects these have on performance, or how teams monitor their operations, or adapt to changing conditions. I’m afraid there’s a lot more to it than just using a questionnaire or two, and serious questions often need to be asked about the ‘health’ of relationships, and whether the culture of an organisation is helping or hindering team productivity.
  • Competitive advantage. So if it’s a careful analysis of the structure of your business at a human level that’s important, coupled to a considered view of how to bring out the best in people (so they will deliver quicker, contribute more and stay longer), call a Business Psychologist. Who, by the way, will also be able to give you a sound business case for any interventions that are suggested.

For more information try:

*This is a joke… However there are behaviourists at work in this space, and whilst humans are animals, simple ‘training’ techniques are not the way to get people to engage with work! Pass me that carrot.

Psychology of risk

June 6, 2013

Dice - jscreationzs - www.freedigitalphotos.netI’ve recently been contemplating the psychology of risk in connection with a number of projects. If it’s something that interests you then I can highly recommend The Psychology of Risk by Glynis Breakwell (Cambridge University Press). The book blurb:

“Risk surrounds and envelopes us. Without understanding it, we risk everything and without capitalising on it, we gain nothing. This accessible book from Glynis Breakwell comprehensively explores the psychology of risk, examining how individuals think, feel and act, as well as considering the institutional and societal assessments, rhetoric and reactions to risk.

Featuring chapters on all the major issues in the psychology of risk including risk assessment, hazard perception, decision-making, risk and crisis management, risk and emotion, risk communication, safety cultures, the social amplification and social representation of risk and mechanisms for changing risk responses, Breakwell uses illustrations and examples to bring to life the significance of her research findings. She provides an innovative overview of current knowledge on the subject but also suggests that there are many fascinating questions still to be answered…”

No plan survives contact with the market!

May 16, 2013

PanzerTo paraphrase General Helmuth von Moltke – famed for his thesis that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ – it’s obvious to all business founders that no plan survives contact with the market! Especially anything to do with timing, a point well made in Margaret Heffernan’s latest Inc post:

How to talk to angel investors

May 3, 2013

Angel Investor Checklist

So you’ve got a great team, and a fantastic idea that fits like a dream into a gap in the market. Not only that, a financial wizard has produced a set of figures that suggest you can all retire in three to five years time. All you need now is some money. No problem. This is the most investable idea there’s ever been. Anyone could see that. You’re ready to talk to the angels. Stop!

Time for some homework

Do you know anything about the investors? And what do you know about pitching to entrepreneurs? The first bit is quite easy. Ask about the panel, and do some research on how they made their money. What makes them tick, and where do their interests and values lie? Also, do they have any specialist knowledge? Critically: Are you sure you know more than they do about your proposition? You certainly should do! Don’t imagine that you’re going to be able to wing it.

Look, this is a selling job, and the first thing to know about selling is you must know what you’re selling, and who you’re selling it to. Which brings me onto the second big question, if you’re going to be dealing with a panel of successful entrepreneurs, you need to know what entrepreneurs are like. Do you? Here’s a quick crash course.

Try: heart first, head second

First, entrepreneurs are usually energetic, passionate folk. Give  a pitch that suggests you’re really really interested in your business idea, and you have the drive and zap to see it through. Better still, tell them what your drive is. What gets your motor running? Remember: all that emotional stuff is processed by the brain before the dry logic of your market research, or the endless figures supporting your financial projections… You need to appeal to the heart first, the head second. This allows you to capitalise on the fact that entrepreneurs are intuitive thinkers, and that they genuinely trust their initial (emotional) reactions.

Get to the (jargon free) point

Next, most entrepreneurs are ‘do it now’ people. They have a need for immediacy and get bored with too much detail. What this means is that whilst you do have to have the facts and figures at your finger tips, your pitch must be quick and clear. Frankly if you can’t explain the basics of what you want to do, and what you want from them in 60 seconds, all the time in the world isn’t going to help. Get your message sorted out. You must make an immediate impact before you paint the rest of the picture.

Go for the vision thing

Entrepreneurs are interested in ‘difference’. They are comfortable with change and new ideas. Sell the difference – your USP – and explain how it fits into a bigger picture. Why? Well, isn’t this what it’s all about?  If you don’t have a vision of how you can make things change, and can’t explain how to scale up your proposition, it’s not going to be investable.

Create a potent message

Okay, where’s all this going? Simple. Likely as not you will be talking to some pretty savvy investors. They know what it’s like to have big dreams and even more ambitious goals. To want to make a difference. To be so fired up that little else seems to matter. So do it right:

  • Idea. What’s the (big) idea and what’s the claim, i.e. what’s the business proposition and why is it different and better to what ever else is out there.
  • Benefits. What are the three most compelling reasons that support your claim? This means what are the key benefits of your proposition. For example, what ‘problem’ is it actually solving? How will it change things for the customer?
  • Validity. What evidence supports your claim? This can be in the form of (simple) stats, quotes from experts or customers, perhaps even a story. But give the listener a reason for wanting to hear more.

If you can do this and load your pitch with passion and sincerity, you might stand a chance. Oh, and by the way, what’s so special about you or your team, and why are you the only people who can make this thing fly? Precisely what is everyone putting in, and more to the point, what are you putting on the line? Commitment, commitment, commitment…

Skills most (serial) entrepreneurs lack…

April 16, 2013

There’s a good article on the HBR blog about entrepreneurial skills. Amongst other things it confirms that serial entrepreneurs are persuasive, goal orientated leaders; however it also covers the skills they tend to ‘lack’. These include analytical problem solving (as opposed to the strategic ‘visioning’ stuff), planning & organising, self-management and the like.

What’s interesting about the list, apart from the fact that it confirms some of the things I recognise in successful entrepreneurs, such as being far too busy to check the details (the analytical stuff), is that it mirrors research on dyslexic entrepreneurs. Research by Professor Julie Logan at Cass Business School, for example, suggesting that 20% of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic, compared to a rate of 10% in the general population.

Strange coincidence, or perhaps a clue as to why there are so many dyslexic entrepreneurs? It might be that linear thinking, planning and self-organisation are not important to business creation. It would be fascinating to know.

HBR article:

Julie Logan:


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