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?


Positive side of pessimism

December 10, 2013

… and now there’s some research on how pessimism can actually be good for you. Take a look at this article in The Third Metric (Huff Post): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/09/pessimism-health-benefits_n_4392525.html?utm_hp_ref=tw#! Bah! Humbug!


Blogs and personality

August 29, 2013

Let’s try a little experiment! If you can spare an extremely small amount of time, please answer the survey question below.

Don’t know your Type? Click on the link for a free (and completely painless) questionnaire that will provide the information you require.

MMDI: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/mmdi/questionnaire/


Personality neuroscience

May 1, 2013

Brain imageIf you’re interested in the (growing) link between personality research and neuroscience – that’s the way in which we are able to map specific areas of the brain in terms of personality traits – the link below is a good place to start. And if you’re reading this and thinking, you know, that sounds sort of interesting, you probably have your Amygdala to thank… Why? Click and find out.

http://psychometricsforumblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/personality-neuroscience-unlocking-the-mystery-of-the-brain-in-order-to-understand-the-whole-person/


The Big Two

April 2, 2012

I guess you’ve all heard of the ‘Big Five’ personality factors, or the five fundamental factors that help to describe most observable individual differences – namely, Openness (to experience), Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. You probably also know that when they are combined in various ways they help to frame all manner of other things like emotion and motivation. I suspect you also have an idea about what happens when you try to break them down into smaller units. For example, that Extraversion is composed of facets that include warmth, gregariousness and excitement-seeking. And that there’s a debate about whether, when you look at all five factors, you end up with 16 ‘bits’, or 30, or 32… But have you ever thought about what happens if you go the other way? What, if I can put it like this, happens before the Big Five?

The Big Two

It turns out there are two higher-order factors. The first brings together Emotional Stability (the opposite of Neuroticism), Agreeableness and Conscientiousness; the second Extraversion and Openness. These new groupings are called Stability and Plasticity, respectively. So what? Well, these two meta-traits capture the two basic human requirements. These are the need to maintain a stable social structure in order to get things done, and what is in some ways the flip-side, the need to be able to cope with change and the unknown (and learn from it). This is quite an elegant distinction as at various times either stability or plasticity is likely to confer a competitive advantage. It’s also useful because it ties in nicely with the action of the neurotransmitters Serotonin (stability and the generation of feelings of ‘well-being’) and Dopamine (plasticity and reward-driven learning).

From a business perspective the tension between maintaining a dependable social structure in order to ensure steady progress and being able to cope with unpredictable change also has a familiar resonance.

More information from Colin DeYoung’s website.


In defense of personality measurement

November 5, 2011

BTW if you’re ever asked to defend the use of personality questionnaires, this article by Robert Hogan is a good place to start:

http://www.hoganassessments.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/resources/research-articles/journal-articles/Indefense.pdf


Twitter and personality

October 1, 2011

Ever wondered if Twitter could tell you something about a person’s personality? ‘Analyze Words’ helps reveal personality by looking at the use of words. It’s based on research connecting word use to who people are. Enter your Twitter name and find out what it says about your emotions, social & thinking styles… Better still pop someone else’s handle in and find out what it reveals about your favourite celebrity, boss, friends or loved one!

Try it here: Analyse Words.


You are what you do!

September 9, 2011

… And you do what you are!! I’m interested in different ways of finding out about people’s personality. That’s because personality questionnaires can only take you so far, and to be fair they rely on you having sufficient self-insight to answer the questions accurately, and of course, in being honest about yourself. What if there was a different way of doing it? What if your daily behaviour also said something about your personality? Well, it would make sense, wouldn’t it? Check out this questionnaire by James Pennebaker…

And as I’ve no doubt mentioned in a previous post, you may also like to read Sam Gosling’s intriguing book:

You’ll never think about Facebook, your website, bedroom, office, and behaviour in meetings in quite the same way again!


Investigating the personality of companies

August 24, 2011

“When we think about other people, we do so in terms that can be boiled down to five discrete personality dimensions: extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness (known as the Big Five factors). A new study suggests that a similar process is at work in our perception of companies and corporations. Google and Apple have personalities too, it seems.”

Read this post from the BPS Research Digest, Investigating the personality of companies, to discover the four fundamental dimensions…


Fairy tales and predicting good leaders

August 8, 2011

“A common phenomenon and problem in leadership practice concerns undue reliance on popular fads without sufficient consideration given to the validity of those ideas…” Click on the link below to read a very good review from Amazure Consulting for the evidence on cognitive tests, personality, situational judgement, emotional intelligence and interviews being ‘effective’ predictors of leadership ability.

http://www.amazureconsulting.com/files/1/39199746/FairyTalesFactsPredictingLeadershipEffectiveness.pdf


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