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The Value of Psychometrics in L&D

Bob Little 

January 16, 2015

Leaders who are concerned about how to leverage talent to achieve their organization’s goals are likely – at some time or another – to turn to psychometrics for help, inspiration and illumination. Used in areas such as recruitment, team building and talent management, psychometrics can support the view that it’s only the right people who are an organization’s greatest asset, rather than people in general.

According to the Discoveries Report, published by learning company KnowledgePool in 2012, more than 70 percent of the world’s employers now use some sort of psychometric measurement tool as a part of their recruitment process, covering all levels of staff. These assessments aim to provide an independent measure of a person’s competencies, abilities, personality, and motivation. This enables an employer to build a picture of the person and assess his or her suitability for a specific role in an objective manner.

Among the most widely used psychometrics tools is the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32). This is available in more than 20 languages (so it can be used in international recruitment) and has a worldwide research base built up over the last 20 years or so. It provides detailed information on 32 specific personality characteristics, which support performance on key job competencies.

Answers are compared with a large group of similar level managers/professionals who’ve completed the questionnaire in the past. It provides results in three broad areas – relationships with people, thinking style, and feelings and emotions – and you can link these with your organization’s competency framework. OPQ32 looks at personal preferences and can provide insights into what both motivates and de-motivates people.

Roger Mayo, director of MT&D Learning Solutions, believes that the real value of psychometrics is in helping people understand themselves – and realize how different they are from others. He says: “Any sound psychometric assessment, properly validated, reliable and contextually appropriate, will show people how different they are from each other. These assessments are about self-perception as well as giving a reasonably accurate prediction of how people will react in different situations. That’s true, for example, of MBTI and the Belbin Team Roles questionnaire.”

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), originally published in 1943 and inspired by the work of the renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, is based on the idea that everyone prefers one aspect of four dimensions. By choosing which of these two aspects we prefer across the dimensions, the MBTI comes up with 16 personality types (although a person’s MBTI “scores” show merely their clarity of preference rather than degrees of use.) The MBTI dimensions are:

  • Extroversion/introversion (E/I).
  • What people prefer to pay attention to: sensing/intuition (S/N).
  • The way people prefer to make decisions: thinking/feeling (T/F).
  • How people like to live in the external world: judging/perceiving (J/P).

As a very rough guide, those drawn to extroversion are energized by others; they like working in groups, need variety and action, and find working alone tiring. Those who are introverts are energized by their internal thoughts; they enjoy working alone, like reading and listening, have strong powers of concentration, and find the company of others tiring.

Those who have an affinity with “sensing” like practical experience; they enjoy receiving visual material, like using learned skills, need factual information, and like repetition.  Those drawn to “intuition” don’t like repetition. Those who prefer “sensing” also tend to like asking, “who, what, where and how?” Meanwhile, those who prefer “intuition” like to ask, “why?” On the third dimension, people drawn to “thinking”  need a logical structure and want clear goals, while those who prefer “feeling” value harmony; they need recognition and seek approval. Those with an affinity for “judging” like and stick to plans, while those who’re keen on “perceiving” like to go somewhere new, and prefer to postpone decisions.

In an L&D context, Nick Hindley, associate director at PPD, an organization with offices in 46 countries, is an advocate of the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). Both this and MBTI apply to all cultures, in all parts of the world.

“Everyone has a distinct, unique, personal culture – as evidenced by the SDI,” he explains. “In leadership training, we aim to hone sensory acuity and, together with tools such as SDI, enable leaders to engage with anyone in any situation.”

“If used correctly in a development situation, psychometrics can help people gain awareness of their behaviors, maximize their strengths, and minimize their weaknesses. In the current leadership program, I’ve seen direct positive changes being adopted that have enabled the participant to become successful in the next-level role.

“In team development, psychometrics can provide an awareness of the team and how they interact. I have seen several examples of teams surpassing their performance significantly once they realize how they interact as a team. In education, learning style inventories can help some students to find the most useful medium for them to learn. As a business mentor, I helped one student merely by suggesting he watched the National Geographic videos in his school library since his preferred learning style was more active/visual. He went from a struggling student to a high flyer in a term. Sadly, not all teachers are aware – or accept – learning styles theory. They expect their students to adapt to their teaching style.”

Roger Mayo says: “Of course, there are other tests which can be used to assess people’s spatial awareness, verbal skills and so on. One of the keys to being able to get the greatest value out of psychometrics is to set the criteria you want people to fit and then choose a battery of tests relevant to these criteria. Those tests will have well-validated results from a large number of people, against which you can compare your selection’s results. Decide if you want to select people who are in, say, the top decile or quartile for demonstrating the trait you want. Administer the tests to those selected, compare the results, and you’ll discover the people you want.”

What are your experiences of psychometric tests?

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One comment on “The Value of Psychometrics in L&D”:

  1. Saul wrote:

    I can see why psychometric tsietng is so popular with recruiters; it offers a quick, objective administration-light time-saving selection tool. This has contributed to a large uptake in psychometric tsietng as a sifting tool which is effective at focusing efforts of HR staff when they have hundreds of applications to consider, but is it fair on the job applicant and is it accurate? There are many reasons why one job applicant may score better than another and the perfect’ ability test will not be susceptible to these variances but unfortunately this sifting approach can necessarily discount suitable applicants. For now though I think we will see an increase in the use of psychometric tsietng.