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A New Dawn for Psychometric Testing?


Almost two-thirds of organisations are believed to be using psychometric testing, but Caroline Dunk of CDA Perform argues that the current tests have had their day.

It is difficult to dispute the usefulness of personality tests for business applications such as employee selection, development, teambuilding and training.

The evidence is pretty compelling.

Psychometric personality tests, when selected and applied according to best practice guidelines, are able to:
* Provide self-insight and self-awareness in those receiving feedback, potentially leading to long-term behavioural change and performance improvement, when combined with appropriate support.
* Predict job organisational fit, when linked to core competencies and cross-validated
* Predict job performance when linked with key indicators of performance (within the context of a specific job or job family) and appropriately validated.

Widely Used
The number of organisations in the UK using occupational personality tests has grown substantially over the past 20 years.

Research published in 1998 found that over 60% of UK employers were using psychometric testing.

Personality tests are now used by a majority of FTSE 100 companies and most of the public sector. Personality testing is here to stay.

Yet the range of credible and robust personality profiling tools is limited.

The most widely used personality tests are looking increasingly 'long in the tooth'. The ideas behind 16PF and Myers Briggs (MBTI) have been around for 40 or 50 years.

OPQ - for many the industry standard - is newer, but has still been around since the mid/late 1980s.

Much of the research effort of the last decade has been focused on test delivery - in particular on web-based administration, analysis and reporting.

Few well-researched new ideas have appeared since the advent of the ‘Big 5’ theory of personality over a decade ago.

Although this is widely accepted as the defining theory of personality, the resulting psychometric tools have yet to be fully validated for the UK marketplace.

Test Fatigue
There is a growing sense of frustration amongst business users and academics that personality research is unable to deliver a sufficiently useful and focused profiling tool for contemporary working environments.

As accredited and experienced users of traditional personality assessments, CDA are conscious of assessing several dozen personality traits when only a handful or so are actually directly relevant to a job’s core competencies.

Some instruments we come into contact with are simply too theoretical and don't seem directly related to behaviour at work.

Others lack the psychometric measurement properties required for us to draw accurate conclusions about candidates’ suitability or delegates’ development needs.

There is an increasing amount of test fatigue and cynicism from both test users and respondents, simply because some individuals have completed the same test several times.

It is not unusual to find that a respondent taking part in a selection process or development centre is so familiar with his/her psychometric profile on a particular instrument (such as MBTI) that it looses much of its value in the assessment or development process.

Fresh Perspectives
Over the last 50 years we have seen dramatic changes in the world of work.

The focus today is on objectives such as empowerment, ongoing change, lateral development, innovation and continuous improvement.

To support these changes, we need personality tests that provide fresh perspectives on behaviour at work.

However, being new and different is not enough. To be useful, new tests must be carefully developed to high standards of validity and reliability.

In response to the increasing demand for something new and relevant, the market has seen an influx of poorly designed and validated personality tests.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop someone designing a test on the proverbial 'back of an envelope' and taking it to market without putting it through a rigorous (expensive and time-consuming) programme of validation.

Poor quality tests trap the unwary and contribute to the growing concerns about the misuse of psychometric tests.

Steve Blinkhorn, Chairman of Psychometric Research and Development, commented last year on “the great underworld of psychometrics: shoddy personality tests and 10-minute quickies that tell you ‘everything you need to know’”.

Real damage is done to individuals and organisations by poor tests, which deliver inaccurate and misleading information.

And finally - to complete the 'wish list' - what about something new that gets away from the traditional 'tick box' questionnaire format (whether paper based or electronically delivered)?

What about using a more radical approach - such as speech patterns - to identify personality traits?

The time is ripe for a change.

It's time the UK psychometrics industry delivered something new to meet the needs of today's working world.


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