Psychometric assessments – Square pegs round holes

Psychometric assessments – Square pegs round holes

Many business managers wonder if all the hype surrounding psychometric testing is just that marketing hype. While not all state it but they do wonder if the money they invest on employee profiling using psychometric tests is worth the money it costs.

My sympathies are with them as in the field you either have the atheists or the converted. This is an attempt to explain the value of psychometric testing for a business manager to the atheists.

Most business managers’ today struggle with the following reality:

  • Human talent is what is increasingly providing the competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  • The knowledge economy has imposed requirements from employees that are diametrically different from those in the Industrial and postindustrial economy.
  • Today success in the marketplace is dependent on innovation/ speed/ responsiveness etc.
  • All activities that can be performed using set criteria are done better through machines.
  • Human talent is required to create and synthesize from disparate sources a solution that has business value.
  • It is not easy to attract, motivate and retain the right people.
  • Employees are no longer responding to simple strategies of the past such as a higher pay, pension benefits, perks etc.
  • No company can actually afford people to be working at anything less than their individual peak performance. Each employee needs to be in a state of flow as defined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

While psychometric testing is certainly not new. For example the #DISC based profiles have their roots in the Jungian theory expounded in the book “ Die Psychologische Typen” in 1921. This was further refined in 1928 by William Moulton-Marston who created the concept of DISC. In the 1940’s -50’s the first DISC based tools were created for the US Military and in the 1970’s DISC Theory became the household name of assessments. However, my opinion is that the heyday for #psychometric assessments is yet to come as the economy around us is changing rapidly and putting new pressures on business.

The task of fitting square pegs in round holes was always an onerous one. But increasingly it is becoming a commercially unviable one.

Many managers undertake this task when they are not cognizant of the value of psychometric profiling.

There are a plethora of psychometric instruments which provide information on various facets of the human personality- MBTI, DISC, 16PF, Firo-B etc. I do not claim to be an expert on all but certainly do understand the  system which is based on the works of Carl Jung and Moulton-Marsten and has been further refined by Jukka Sapinen.

I am sure all instruments provide some of the same benefits so I will use the Extended DISC System as a case study.

The Extended DISC system helps in reporting a person’s unconscious behavior i.e. his most natural, spontaneous response to a situation. This is the pressure response.

Why is this a critical piece of information?

According to research in neurology and biology some facts have emerged. Firstly, our nervous system is made up of two systems the sympathetic nervous system which is the “fight or flight” mode and the parasympathetic nervous system which is the “rest and digest” mode.

Now when we function in our “rest and digest” mode we use less energy. i.e using the Extended DISC terminology when we are using our natural behavioral style we use less energy.

However, the moment we perceive stress we switch into the “fight or flight” mode. This is accompanied by a pouring of various hormones: adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. This causes dramatic changes in our body: our respiratory rate increases; blood is redirected into our muscles and limbs, our heartbeat quickens, our pupils dilate etc.

This system bypasses our rational mind. We have had an “Amygdala hijack” as coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”. What that simply means is: instead of the stimulus being processed by the brain by having the thalamus direct sensory information to the neocortex (the “thinking brain”) which then routes the signal to the amygdala (the “emotional brain”) for the proper emotional reaction, in case of perceived potential threats, the thalamus bypasses the cortex and routes the signal directly to the amygdala, which is the trigger point for the primitive fight-or-flight response. This can happen in a millionth of a second.

Once we are in this state, we are left with the brain of a baboon. Making clear choices and recognizing the consequences of those choices is unfeasible. We are focused on short-term survival, not the long-term consequences of our beliefs and choices. If this state exists for a short while it could be productive however, in today’s scenario the situations we encounter require more than these primitive responses.When the majority of the tasks of our job require us to be out of the rest and digest mode, burnout is inevitable.

In “Now, discover your strengths”, Marcus Buckingham discusses how we are all born with billions of neurons which form synaptic connections with each other. However, by the age of 16 only the synaptic connections that have been used consistently survive the rest fade away. Some of the synaptic connections have been used so consistently that they have become neural highways and others have fallen into disrepair. If I were to correlate the highways are obviously our natural behavioral tendencies. Marcus Buckingham further states that success is obtained by exploiting what he calls “strengths”.

Next this information about a fit between a people’s natural behavioral response and the job profile is useful in hiring, in career progression, in carving out job roles etc.

It is very possible with training and motivation to perform activities that are contrary to our spontaneous behavioral tendencies however they will always take more energy and focus. The chances of mistakes will be higher and satisfaction lower.

As Business managers even if we do not care of the personal toll on a person we do care of the appropriate responses to situations especially under extreme pressure.

Contributed by Lovely Kumar, Chief-Projects, Larks Learning Pvt. Ltd.

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