Today, it is generally agreed that organisations have a professional, ethical and legal obligation to assess and attach their employees’ work-related behaviours and preferred ways of working. When well handled, organisations can then drive the best possible benefit from their valued work-force.
Personality (considered the key influence to work-related behaviours) is not an easy subject to measure and assess given the different sectors and work levels. Fortunately there is a scientific discipline, psychometrics, for testing the work-related attributes of personality such as leadership, risk tolerance, assertiveness, competitiveness, cooperation, etc.
Psychometrics, a blend of psychology and statistics, provides both a discipline for developing valid and reliable tests and standards against which the bona fides of a test can be evaluated.
The use of psychometrics is commonplace today, but people are often unclear about the benefits of testing, the typical investment required and the availability of tests.
Psychometric tests have been used since the early part of the 20th Century and were originally developed for use in educational psychology. These days, outside of education, you are most likely to encounter psychometric testing as part of the recruitment or selection process. Tests of this sort are devised by occupational psychologists and their aim is to provide employers with a reliable method of selecting the most suitable job applicants or candidates for promotion.
But the concept doesn’t end or yield much here!
Psychometric tests should aim to measure attributes like intelligence, aptitude and personality to provide a potential employer with an insight into how well a candidate works with other people, how well he/she handles stress, and whether he/she will be able to cope with the intellectual and situational demands of the job.
As a recruitment and selection tool, these tests can be applied in a straightforward way at the early stages of selection to eliminate candidates who are likely to be unsuitable for the job. They can also provide management with guidance on career progression for existing employees as well as provide an insight into talent management to HR.
Psychometric tests used in recruitment and selection should not be confused with tests used in clinical psychology as they make no attempt to analyse employees’ emotional or psychological stability. However, in recent years, there has been rapid growth of tests that claim to measure integrity or honesty and predisposition to anger but these have attracted a lot of controversy, because of questions about their validity, but their popularity with employers has continued to increase.
Why personality testing?
Personality has a significant role to play in deciding, for instance, whether one has the enthusiasm and motivation that is required to perform a given task. It also determines how well one is going to fit in to the organisation, in terms of their personality, attitude and general work style. In most working situations, it’s the personalities of the people involved that affect the day-to-day success of the organisation. For example, if a manager can’t motivate their staff or the team doesn’t work well together, then quality of service and productivity will suffer.
There have also been significant changes in the past 20 years in the way organisations operate. For example, management styles tend to be less autocratic and there are usually fewer levels of management than there were.
The move towards more knowledge-based and customer focused jobs means that individuals have more autonomy even at fairly low levels within organisations. In addition, most organisations expect to undergo frequent changes in the way that they operate in order to remain competitive. All of these factors have contributed to personality being seen as more important now than it was in the past.
Most employers understand the benefits that come with psychometric testing. However, their concern is instead turned to the initial cost that comes with the testing than putting focus on the infinite derived benefits.
Let’s take the analogy of a candidate as an iceberg. If the candidate represents an iceberg, does that make the employer a modern-day Titanic? The bigger risk is to the ship cruising these waters. A bad hiring decision could cause immense damage to the hiring organisation over a long period of time.
Then let’s face the fact that people in most cases lose their jobs because of personality (probably because they can’t fit in the work environment/setup), even after investing big amounts of money into their recruitment process. I believe it would be better to do supplementary investment in psychometrics to achieve higher benefits and manage costs than loosing on time and resources.
Benefits of using psychometric tests
It is completely understandable that traditional recruitment methods may reveal only a very small part of the relevant information about any applicant.
Take the resume for a start. Many are embellished, and at best, they only tell you about past jobs, not performance. References? If a candidate can’t find two or three people to say nice things about them, they’re really in trouble. And the interview? By definition, this is a person on their best behaviour. How long will that last? Will the person who arrives for on-boarding be the same individual? Do we react in interviews by favouring those who seem most like ourselves?
The right path
The use of objective assessments must be properly managed in order to reap the anticipated benefits. If inappropriate tests are used, if the information from tests is misunderstood, or if the process is not secure, the benefits can be quickly eroded.
While there is strong evidence that tests generally provide sound, objective data on which to base personnel decisions, it is important to investigate the relevance of a test before including it in a selection procedure. Test results should always be interpreted within context and should never be used on their own.
It is likely that they only measure some of the relevant attributes and other selection methods need to be used to assess the other characteristics. There may well be greater costs involved in ensuring that a selection process is fair, but these should be far outweighed by the benefits of a capable and representative workforce.
• The tests are based on standardised methods and statistical principles. This means that they are standardised in terms of application, objective free from bias and misinterpretation and scientific with a systematic basis.
• Predict future performance with some level of certainty.
• Wide coverage as they tend to measure personality, behaviour and interests. Short and quick tests are not useful and not fair to the candidates as well. Just think of how many questions your doctor will ask you during the diagnosis just to get close to understanding what the health issue could be!
• Legal Protection. For especially high level or executive positions (sensitive in nature), the employer is protected by the record on an individual who may challenge the personnel decision taken. This can even serve as evidence and proof of justification before the courts of law.
More accurate results
Research has shown that well-constructed psychometric tests predict job performance better than almost any other single selection measure. Relevant tests produce more accurate results than common selection measures, such as interviews and references. Tests give objective information about a candidate and have been shown in general to lead to better and fairer employment decisions.
Nsubuga works with KPMG Uganda