A recurring theme when we speak to Human Resource (HR) and Organisation Development (OD) professionals is the ongoing puzzle of the recruitment and development of top talent within their organisations. How can they minimise the inherent risk in any talent acquisition process and maximise the chances of finding the best fit of abilities, strengths, behaviours and values for their vacant role and the wider organisation? Also, having successfully identified the right top talent for their organisations, Talent Development professionals are often interested in how they can better assist their employees identify strengths and areas for development, providing insights to drive tailored personal and professional development for both individual and organisational benefit.
There are many factors that will feed into solving the recruitment and development puzzle for HR and OD professionals, such as corporate branding and values, industry specific demand and supply, compensation and benefits strategy, strategic succession planning etc. The use of psychometrics is one area which can be successfully leveraged by organisations to assist with their recruitment and development but one that many organisations are not fully leveraging.
What are they?
The term psychometrics is often used to describe a vast range of tests and can therefore be confusing for those unfamiliar, or can simply be a turn-off if perceived as too complicated or shrouded in mystery… a black box not to be trusted! This need not be the case though, and the majority of organisations who invest time in understanding and incorporating them into their assessment and development practices, continue to do so time and again. Assessment firm Cut-e reported that 61% of businesses in mature markets use psychometric testing, and People Management recently reported that more than 75% of the Times Best Companies to Work For and 80% of Fortune 500 companies use them.
At a high level, the use of psychometrics can be split into two categories: 1) ability testing which would traditionally have focused on measuring verbal, numerical and logical skills, but which have been developed to reflect more modern specific job roles, e.g., call centre handling and IT helpdesk abilities; and 2) self-report tests which include measures of personality, judgement, emotional intelligence and situational judgement tests among others. Knowing which to use and when can greatly assist organisations in getting the right people in and then developing them effectively.
When can you use them?
Psychometrics can be used effectively at all stages of the employee life cycle and often once they are embedded as part of an organisational culture, employees welcome the insights they offer, rather than perceive them as something to be sceptical of. The traditional ability tests are often used in recruitment and selection processes, as a stand-alone sifting tool, e.g., in high volume graduate recruitment processes. However, we often work clients on low volume, low frequency recruitment who have found that their reliance on the interview alone has led to unsatisfactory and costly decisions. The use of suitable ability tests can help balance out the impact of our unconscious bias creeping in, lessening the likelihood of hiring the candidate we ‘clicked with’ or had a ‘gut feeling’ about.
The use of self-report tests, such as personality assessments have more traditionally been reserved for employee development programmes, but are now more common in recruitment processes as well. They can, for example, provide useful insights into what motivates individuals, what their work-styles and strengths are and their communication preferences, all of which can be successfully harnessed to help organisations make better recruitment decisions and/ or open up excellent development conversations with employees in a coaching environment for example.
Will they give you all the answers?
Just as the reliance on a single interview (structured or unstructured) to make a job offer is notoriously unreliable, so too will be the reliance on the results of a psychometric test alone. The phrase ‘putting your eggs in one basket” comes to mind, with the odds high that sooner or later something will crack in the assessment and development process.
Using any single tool in isolation over-simplifies the puzzle to be solved, and the use of psychometrics should therefore be incorporated as part of a wider process where candidates have the opportunity to display their abilities, strengths, behaviours and values across at least two, but ideally more, assessment tools. A robust and valid personality test, for example, can be used to great effect through informing interview questions and engaging candidates in meaningful discussions about the environments that align with their strengths and provide the right amount of challenge, or those which they might find more stressful.
Are they worth the investment?
The cost of psychometrics can vary greatly from off the shelf ability tests starting relatively cheaply to the design of bespoke immersive online testing costing thousands of pounds. Of course, the cost of these is relative to the cost of getting it wrong regardless of the size of an organisation. Cost not just in actual money spent, but also the time away from other priorities for those involved in the assessment and development process (which can often be managers as well as the specialised talent development professionals in organisations) and the time spent in addressing issues that might arise from placing the wrong person in a critical role.
For those unfamiliar with psychometrics of any kind, it would be worth starting small, taking some time to select and implement a carefully chosen tool and then evaluate the impact before seeing how it might be scaled up for organisational benefit. It is also worth remembering that the benefit of implementing a psychometric tool does not just stop at the implementation stage, with organisations often reporting that managers, once they are trained in the use of certain psychometrics, become more effective themselves with the psychological insights gained.
What does the future hold?
Just like many other areas within HR, these are exciting times for the development of psychometrics and how they might be used by organisations with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and online technologies greatly impacting their potential. For example, machine learning algorithms are being used to generate new psychological test items by learning in real-time from those already answered, and to conduct real time voice analysis to track the tone and stress of call centre workers. Gamified versions of psychometric tests and immersive situational judgement tests are also being used by organisations to provide candidates with highly engaging and realistic scenarios.
Unilever for example have recently been using advances in technology to screen entry-level candidates via neuroscience based games and recording interviews which are then screened by AI. Outcomes reported included a doubling of applicants, sharp reduction in time to hire from four months to four weeks and the most diverse group of recruits ever. As highlighted above however, these new advances are currently expensive options and they also come with limited studies on reliability and validity, which will naturally increase with time.
In conclusion, although the use of AI assisted psychometrics might be beyond the horizon for many organisations right now, there is a wide range of insightful and affordable options available. When used right, these tools can provide organisations with a commercial advantage in selecting and developing talented individuals. If you are keen to explore how incorporating psychometrics into your talent strategy could benefit your organisation, Think People Consulting are qualified experts in the use of a range of tools and would be pleased to provide more information.
By Dr David Woods
David is an experienced Organisation Development Consultant at Think People Consulting, with a background in Occupational Psychology and is registered with the British Psychological Society as a qualified psychometric test provider.