News & Insight
April 2011

Assessing a Senior Team Using Psychometrics

Michael Klein, Psy.D.

Thanks to the interest (and financial support) of business & industry, the world of applied psychology has been able to develop reliable, accurate, comprehensive, and ultimately, practical self-assessment tools to measure those traits, styles, and motivators that correlate with what we now consider effective management and leadership.

Given that these tools are commonplace in many organizations for measuring individual attributes, some have begun to apply individual results in understanding team strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and general style. The following is a brief summary on the current state of self-assessment tools in business.

The measurement of psychological traits, known as psychometrics, can assist with the selection and development of anyone in an organization, from a front line customer service rep to a relationship-based sales associate, to a CEO. Rarely are these tools used in isolation however. For selection purposes, they are generally part of a larger process that includes interviews, resume review, and references. In development scenarios, psychological self-assessments may be integrated with 360 (multi-rater) data, performance reviews, and a current development plan.

Unlike tests used in the 80s and 90s when these self-assessment instruments were dispensed (and scored) using hardcopy questionnaires and paper answer sheets, most reputable psychological tests for business are now administered and scored via the Internet. The time required to complete these tests typically range from 10 minutes to an hour each. And thanks to advances in computer technology, multiple customized reports are usually available within minutes of the completion of these online tests. The reports range from one-page summaries of scores to lengthy documents (25 or more pages) that define the attributes being measured, provide a detailed breakdown of the participant’s results, and, if relevant, pages of development suggestions and strategies. Of course, in most cases, this type of data is primarily sought for individuals. And, in those organizations that make use of these tools, there appears to be general agreement that the value of the tools greatly outweighs the costs involved.

The following is a list of some of the key areas that are targeted for assessment in selection and development.

PERSONALITY (e.g., conscientiousness, competitiveness, risk-taking)
VALUES (e.g., altruism, tradition, power)
EMOTIONAL/SOCIAL SKILLS (e.g., assertiveness, empathy)
CONFLICT STYLE (e.g., collaborative, competitive)
COGNITIVE ABILITY (e.g., tactical reasoning, strategic reasoning)

While there is not enough space here to go into detail, there remain some controversies related to the use of psychometric tools including:

1; Who should be interpreting test results? Should it be trained psychological professionals or HR consultants who have completed 1 or 2-day "certification" courses?
2 What happens when participants are motivated to cheat or "fake good" answers? It is possible to measure this accurately? Are overly positive results useable?
3 Who owns (and should have access to) the personal psychological data that is uncovered by a testing process – the participant or the organization? Should this information be protected the same way that medical information is protected?

First, a brief disclaimer: It is important to note that while grouping assessment results of individuals may paint a portrait of attributes that present in a team, in most cases these tools were not designed to provide aggregate data. Caution should be used when "adding up" results of a team as this method does not account for the complex interactions between individuals with similar or different traits. That being said…

What individual assessments tell us about executive teams:

Which attributes are more common? (Is this an ambitious team, a cautious team, a healthy mix?)
Which values are shared (or not shared) among a team? (Will the organization sense that their leadership team is unified or disparate?)
What gaps exist that should be addressed? (Is this a group that has limited interpersonal sensitivity and fails to understand employee perspectives?)
Are there key attributes that may be in demand once someone exits? (When this SVP retires, who will serve as the spokesperson for ongoing learning?)

What can be done with this information:

Add new members that possess missing characteristics
Provide executive coaching to strengthen (or minimize) behaviors
Enhance team’s self-awareness
Maximize team strengths

What other value is there in testing an entire executive team?

Considering the type of culture will be imparted by the CEO successor
Partnering two executives with complementary attributes
Identifying psychological causes for roadblocks

While great care must be used when implementing any type of testing process (executive or otherwise), the applications of reliable, comprehensive, accurate assessment data are virtually endless.

WJM Faculty Member Michael Klein, Psy.D. ([email protected]), is an assessment specialist and writer, speaker, and workshop leader for leaders, entrepreneurs, and independent professionals.

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