Meeting The Benchmark

Psychometrics refers to the measurement (metric) of psychological factors, and, is an integral aspect of scientific discipline of psychology/behavioural science. The history of psychometric testing dates back to 1880s in the US, and globally, HR professionals rely heavily on psychometrics such as personality tools. Data suggests that the use of psychometrics in the context of organisations by HR professionals in the areas of recruitment, development, talent management, and, others in the context of executive coaching, and, in the process of executive search, has become the order of the day. The boundaries of psychometric testing were expanded in the last few decades from mental ability to include measures of personality, judgment, motivation and aptitude for a specific role. Given such a back drop, it is justified to ask, “Does psychometric testing actually meet the requirement of HR professionals?”

 

The bigger question now asked by many academic and practicing psychologists is whether HR professionals have become too reliant on such psychometric tools embedded with unscientific claims, misinterpretation of data, and so on, when used by untrained personnel. Who must administer psychometrics is a crucial question that needs to be examined. What is the role of psychometrics in the entire gamut of assessment? Should psychometric results be used for decision making in isolation?

 

Psychometrics results in

  • Providing a large amount of data about a person in a smaller timespan
  • Adding objectivity
  • Oversimplifying the test takers personality, though, it is not that simple.

 

When Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used, the temptation is to classify and categorize the person in the type box. When Thomas profiling is done, the tendency is to use DiSC terminology in isolation. When 16 PF is used, it is a practice to describe that particular individual only in those 16 descriptors. It is essential to be cognizant about not classifying human personality, but, developing an understanding that there may be several dimensions that were hitherto untapped by the test. It is evident that psychometrics should be less about a one-time assessment for deciding upon an individual, and, more about shaping improved and desirable behaviours.

 

Each psychometric test is based on well-defined theoretical principles, and, the purport of different tests varies, and, cannot be used as a thumb rule blindly. Based on the need and the aspect of personality one wants to assess, psychometric tests need to be identified, and, it should be context dependent. No single tool should be used in isolation without a specific rationale. It is not about either test A or test B. It is all about getting a new perspective about an individual. The science and art of psychometric assessment lies in integrating the information from all tests/sources with utmost care.

 

In Quotes “Based on the need and the aspect of personality one wants to assess, psychometric tests need to be identified, and, it should be context dependent. No single tool should be used in isolation without specific rationale.”

 

If someone is under stress, it will trigger them to respond differently. Inappropriate use of psychometrics can lead to unpleasant experiences in the candidate. Hence, it is a gold standard that whenever psychometrics is used, feedback should follow. Otherwise, executives hold grudges and blame psychometric tools if they miss out on specific roles.

 

The abuse of psychometrics

 

Psychometrics have been used, misused, overused, and abused. The science, sense, essence, and, quintessence of psychometrics has been in question in contemporary India as tools were used by those who are not trained in the discipline of psychometrics. Hence, the reputation of psychometrics suffered through ill practices by certain organisations and untrained HR professionals. In view of the large number of tools available and the wild variance in quality, avoiding the huge nonsense can be a real challenge. Therefore, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of HR professionals to adhere to the highest ethical standards when employing psychometrics.

 

Further, HR professionals need to ask themselves the focused question “Why does the company want to test people?” Organisational Psychologists mention that companies should not be driven by the tool, but, be driven by the problem they are facing.  It is a good idea to examine the value they are getting from using psychometrics. It is further pertinent to be aware that psychometrics does not provide absolute answers about a person, but, creates a platform to ask better questions about the candidate and to probe deeper.

 

When the psychometrics movement started during the late 19th Century, the world was more static. Global scenario, contemporary India, nature of organisations, and demographics have changed phenomenally from then to now. This evolving landscape underscores the fact that HR professionals are required to build and understand behavioural science and gain a deeper perspective. HR professionals need to be aware of the dangers of placing too much faith and emphasis in psychometrics.

 

A starting point

 

It is cardinal for HR professionals to realize that the psychological profile is only a starting point, a single piece of information on an individual. But the reality is that we require multiple stands of data, points of triangulations, inter-test and intra-test scatter. The ability to look at the voluminous data of an individual and understanding the prevailing personality patterns is the core competence of a trained psychologist. If HR professionals are playing the role of a psychologist without systematic training, they are doomed to misinterpret the personality of prospective/current employees. Similarly, when psychometrics is used in training and development, if the theoretical underpinnings are not understood by facilitators, if they do not have scientific training in psychometrics, the said facilitators may have difficulty in coming up with insights. Finally, in such a situation, the use of psychometrics will be a futile rather than a meaningful activity.

 

In Quotes “It is cardinal for HR professionals to realize that the psychological profile is only a starting point, a single piece of information on an individual. But the reality is that we require multiple stands of data, points of triangulations, inter-test and intra-test scatter.”

 

A case to learn

 

Therefore, psychometrics matter for HR professionals and there is a case to learn and master the science of psychometrics. All HR professionals must keep the following pointers in their mind with reference to psychometrics:

 

  1. Psychometrics is a scientific study and a subset of the discipline of psychology.
  2. Psychometric tests should be used by Psychologists who develop a sound theoretical understanding of the test as well as the theory behind a particular test.
  3. Human behaviour/personality is so complex and one has to be careful in drawing inferences.
  4. Sound knowledge and training are two key important ethical standards of psychometric testing.
  5. Psychometric testing meets some (not all) requirements of HR professionals.
  6. Results of psychometric testing and should not be used in isolation.
  7. No single tool should be used in isolation without specific rationale
  8. Psychometrics does not provide absolute answers about a person, but, creates a platform to ask better questions about the candidate and to probe deeper.
  9. Do get trained and certified in the science of psychometrics and do not get trained in a single psychometric test.
  10. Check for the properties of a psychometric test such as reliability and validity.
  11. Check if the test is standardized on Indian population and if the norms are there.
  12. Examine if the test is a culture free test or culture sensitive test.
  13. Ask yourself the question whether the testing really helps.
  14. Not necessary that you will have all competencies. Hence, hire or take the help of a trained psychologist when you attempt to do testing.
  15. Understand that the test results may go wrong-it depends a great deal on the linguistic competence of the test taker, his/her mood, and several other factors.
  16. Do not pass judgments, labels, and diagnose people. Understand that “Personality” is a vast and complicated subject of study in the field of psychology.
  17. Psychological assessment is different from that of psychometrics alone.
  1. Sharing feedback about the test results is must, followed by the psychometric test.
Dr. K N Viswanatham is a Leadership Teacher and Clinical Psychologist. He comes with an experience of twenty years in teaching, training, consulting, and research. Dr. Vishwanatham has a Master's degree in Psychology from Andhra University, and, an M. Phil & Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS. He can be reached at [email protected]

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