Pschometrics: Panacea or Mumbo-Jumbo?

Does psychometric testing represent a viable proposition?

I wrote this article a few years ago and have been reminded of it by and updated it in light of recent conversations which are reminiscent of those that prompted it then. The range of options continues to grow and while this adds to choice, it also adds to complexity and confusion – there are, for example over a dozen that use colours to differentiate people, which sounds simple and easy to understand. However, they don’t use the same colour for the same trait!Pschobabble

I was horrified at the time, if secretly a little pleased, to hear a psychologist condemn all psychometric tests as a waste of time. His ensuing argument was a fair one, although I believe somewhat flawed, more of which later.
Most of us have some experience of psychometric tests; we will probably have completed one even if we haven’t administered any. My first exposure to them was during recruitment selection for the forces. I passed . . . well got in any way! Later I found myself required to administer tests with no training at all, an experience which could have put me off for good, but rather encouraged me to learn more. Even poorly administered the results were too insightful and useful to be ignored. I resolved to continue using them, but to learn how to do it properly.

The psychometric test or instrument is a varied species. Some are cobbled together in a back bedroom for a one-off use, while others are the result of years, even decades of research, validation and evaluation. They claim to measure everything from your sex drive to your suitability as the next company chairman. They have an equally mixed reputation and justifiably so, often compared to star signs and other folklore.

The value of any test, its credibility, validity and benefit to the user owes much to the administrator. Tests that are poorly presented or explained are liable to be less accurate, possibly worthless, or at worst false and potentially damaging. Just as the conditions and briefing for an academic examination should be the same for all participants, so should it be for anyone completing a psychometric test. My early concerns were aroused when I heard the different briefings given by fellow trainers from the same organisation administering the same test:

“Write down the first answer that comes to mind.”
“Consider each question carefully.”
“You have 20 minutes.”
“Take as long as you like.”
“Answer as quickly as you can.”
“You have 40 minutes.”

When delegates compare notes and discover such anomalies not only is the reliability of the test called into question, but also the ability and trustworthiness of the trainers.
There are other ethical considerations. How confidential will the results be? Have you told the delegates? Have you told their superiors? Doubts in this area will cause concerns and can affect the results.

Notwithstanding these potential problems the psychometric test does have its uses and I believe the better tests, the well-researched and validated ones, are worth more than the paper they are printed on. They can be a useful aid to the trainer, the consultant, the personnel officer and, most importantly, the trainee. It can provide data for training needs analysis, particularly using group results which are less sensitive. They can be an aid in team building, where I have found they can help delegates to understand differences and how to manage them.

The psychologist mentioned at the beginning claimed that the test can tell you nothing about someone that you can’t find out by talking to them. Sound and admirable sentiments, but not always practical. Some people don’t come over well in interviews, many others don’t conduct them very well! The test can give an alternative viewpoint, identify new facts, or reinforce interview impressions. I have found delegates grateful for a label to identify ideas or problems, and appreciative of a framework to help them understand the different ways some colleagues operate.

Dilbert MBTI

Interviews and tests are both valuable and fallible. They are best used to complement each other, and better still if used in conjunction with other data, such as past performance or assessment exercises. After testing, every participant should have a personal de-briefing of their results and be given the chance to comment.
One of the most sensible comments I have heard about any psychometric instrument was, in fact, about one of the most respected, but holds true for all: “Remember, the instrument does not tell you what you are like; you tell the instrument.” And, “Tests are like computers, only as accurate as the information fed to them. ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’.

So, don’t condemn testing out of hand, but use it sensibly and professionally. Take particular care in the selection of tests and ensure you use them properly or find ‘someone who can’. It can be expensive to become a qualified practitioner or to hire one, but the cost of misuse is greater.

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines III

Operations

When a Royal marine joins his first unit, he is expected to perform straight

The beret badge of the Royal Marines. The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denotes a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honour in 1802 "in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war". The "Great Globe", itself surrounded by laurels, was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines' successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honour the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April–June 1761.

away, but will be treated as a “sprog” or rookie, and be the brunt of that Commando humour, which can be cruel and merciless, but you will also be given further training and support to become an effective member of that new team.

How does that happen? For me, there are three key elements that build and maintain that ethos, namely:

  • Team Alignment
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership on Purpose

Team Alignment

This feeds off and builds on the team ethos and requires a clearly RM Arcticunderstood and shared purpose. It enables everyone to answer the question “why does this unit exist?” For 45 Commando based in Scotland and deployed annually for three months to Norway it was and still is to defend the northern flank of NATO. For the 3rd Raiding Squadron (3RSRM) it was to keep the borders of Hong Kong secure.

This purpose then translates into shorter term objectives or goals which are always clear, measurable, achievable, and relevant. Every team member knows his role, his tasks and how they contribute to the unit’s goal. All military briefings follow a standard and well tested format and that goal or objective, called the mission, is always stated twice with real emphasis because it is so important:

  • To secure the building
  • To destroy the enemy radar
  • To sell 500 widgets

To reinforce this all team members are expected to conduct situational appraisals at regular intervals and all relevant information is shared. This means anyone is able to take over leadership at any time. It is also important that the leader clarifies their intentions, why some things are

The OC of Bravo Company Major Dan Cheeseman RM talks to an Elder at the weekly (Shura) gatering of Elders at Sangin. Nov 2007

done in certain ways. For example, while the role of 3RSRM required them to arrest and repatriate illegal immigrants in Hong Kong, we still felt and showed sympathy for the situation of those people. Indeed while part of our role was to intercept illegal immigrants, our main focus was to capture the people smugglers who preyed on those poor souls. Similarly, while the role of 3 Commando Brigade was to defeat the Taliban, it was crucial that they also won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Finally the leader empowers and trusts all team members to act in accordance with the objective.

Royal Marines are given huge responsibility from a very young age. The marine in charge of that road block in Kabul may be only 19 or 20 years old, the corporal in charge of the weapons search not much older. I was just 23 when I took charge of the green goddesses in Glasgow during the fireman’s strike. They accept those responsibilities because they know what is expected of them, that they will be given the necessary support and that they will be held accountable for their actions and those of their team.

When one of my patrol craft was in collision with an unlit junk in the South China Sea in the middle of the night, it was me that reported to the Naval Commander and debriefed the crew, even though I had been at home in bed at the time of the incident.

What is the lesson for business? – are your front-line troops really aligned with your strategy?

Continuous Improvement

As important as clear briefings are effective and timely debriefs, where everyone is encouraged to critique the last operation. Openness and honesty further build the mutual trust and team spirit. It is also the time to hold people to account, for people to put their hands up more than to point fingers. Too many businesses, in my experience do this poorly, if at all.

Leadership on Purpose

Leaders develop leaders. After their 6 months basic training, Royal Marines join a unit where they will be given more training and look forward to being selected for the 11 week Junior Command Course, which qualifies them for promotion to corporal. How many managers in business receive even 11 hours of training before promotion?

Continual Professional Development is a fact of life for all marines. That does not mean that all will be promoted. There is a tradition that some will serve their entire careers, sometimes over 20 years in the rank of marine. These characters are revered and celebrated for their experience and common sense and given roles where that can be taken advantage of.

How can these lessons be applied to business? I am sure you can see many transferable leadership lessons from these ramblings, but I would highlight Trust (through genuine empowerment), Support and Accountability……. and to enjoy ourselves when we could!RCDO 025

 

 

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines II

CTCRM-Lympstone-75th-Birthday(part two)
Training

Having completed that brief introductory course, I moved with the rest of my troop of 66 recruits to the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone. There we began the longest basic military training in the world, designed to prepare us for life as a Royal Marines Commando.

Despite the intensity, the objective was not mindless obedience, but to follow (and question) orders while encouraging initiative and dependability. There were a lot of physical challenges – assault courses, speed marches and battle swimming tests. These were interspersed with training in weapon handling, fieldcraft, navigation, corps history, tactics and even legal issues.

The (self) selection and de-selection continued and six months later just 14 out of that original 66 passed out for duty. This sounds attritional and, while our troop lost more than most a 50% drop out rate was average in those days.

Water Tunnel 02However, what is not obvious from the numbers is that the culture within the troop was as supportive as it was demanding. Although each individual was tested in the classroom, the gymnasium, on the moors and the parade ground, there was a strong ethic that if one failed, we all failed. This was literally true of the regular speed marches (running as a squad carrying battle order, weighing in at 30 lbs and a 9 lb rifle) – if anyone did not finish in time, the whole troop ran again the next day.

We started very much as individuals competing to better each other, but soon became a team who worked together to collectively overcome the challenges of the programme.

This is how we nurture and develop the unique ethos that helps the Royal Marines excel as an organisation. Incidentally, Royal Marine officers train at the same centre and have a higher standard to achieve in all of the Commando tests.

The theme of this article is leadership and this is fostered in every recruit from the start. They are all expected to show personal leadership through self-discipline and are also required to take turns at leading sections during training exercises. Those who show particular potential will be earmarked for fast track promotion on joining their operational units.

RM ValuesThe four elements of the Commando Spirit, Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness are what turn individuals into commandos. What shapes how they work as a team, giving the Royal Marines its special identity are the Commando values and the wider set of group values. The seeds of these values are sown during training and further developed when joining a commando unit.

Joel Kurtzman in his book of the name, describes “Common Purpose” as a new concept. I would accept that the label and understanding is relatively new, but it has been part of what makes commandos into leaders for a long time.

While not having the luxury of a long training period, few organisations have an induction process that shares the values, purpose and culture that they are looking to promote.

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines

(part one)

RM Eyes

When I initiate a discussion about leadership, the examples most often cited are from the realms of sport or the military. Many express admiration for Alex Ferguson, Clive Woodward, Norman Schwarzkopf or Tim Collins. Others will quote various military strategists from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, from Churchill to Montgomery. A couple of relevant ones from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” are:

  • Leadership alone determines success
  • A leader leads not by force, but by example

While I appreciate the sport analogies, having been a rugby coach for 20 years, those from the military are closer to my heart. However, I disagree with many of the opinions about military leadership, which are riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions fuelled by Hollywood and old comics.` Having said that, I do believe there is much we can learn from the armed forces and that can be transferred to the world of business. In this and subsequent articles, I hope to give you some insights into how leadership is developed in the Royal Marines and how these lessons can be applied to your business.

I served in the Royal Marines for 13 years rising from recruit to Captain, served in Northern Ireland, Norway and the Far East.

I do believe that there are a number of lessons that businesses can learn about Leadership from the Royal Marines. There are, of course many differences between running a business and commanding a military unit – with the consequences of failure being one stark example. However I intend to focus on the areas of similarity and what we can learn from them.

The Royal Marines have been in existence since 1664, celebrating its 350th anniversary two years ago. They have fought in conflicts around the world, earning many honours. They fought at Trafalgar, and captured the Rock of Gibraltar, but are probably best known for their exploits during and since the 2nd World War as Britain’s Commando force, specialising in Raiding, Amphibious, Mountain and Arctic warfare.

I have chosen three areas to explore when charting the development of a commando leader: selection, training and operations.

Selection

The recruitment process for the Corps is rigorous and demanding. The adverts tell us that 99.9% need not apply. The initial requirements in terms of physical, intellectual and other attributes are of a higher standard than any other part of the UK armed forces.

RM State of Mind

A job interview like no other

Having said that, probably the most important criterion is attitude – my drill sergeant summed this up when he told me that Royal Marines select themselves. I remember my first day, when we travelled down to Deal in Kent for a 10 day induction course and initial screening. Two opted to leave after just one hour!

What lessons do you recognise from this? I would love to hear your thoughts and will talk about the impact of training in the next article. For me, one obvious link is the oft quoted adage to:

“Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skills.”

 

Commonwealth Communication – Who Deserve the Medals?

TdF Having seen the Tour de France start here in Yorkshire, and race through my village a couple of weeks ago, I spent this weekend in Glasgow watching the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens tournament at Ibrox stadium. I enjoyed the occasion and witnessed some great rugby. The South Africans were particularly impressive and worthy champions. I equally appreciated the efforts of some of the lesser known nations, such as my old friends from Trinidad and Tobago, who went on to win the non-medal Shield trophy.
A great sporting occasion which was slightly marred by the continuous, contrived jolliness of the stadium compere at every break in play, seemingly unaware that some people were there to watch the sport, not to make fools of themselves. Curmudgeonly perhaps, but it did seem overdone.

I was struck by the usual plaudits and platitudes one hears from organisations about how the event or business would not succeed without its people. The Tour de France recruited 10,000 volunteer “Tour Makers” and the Games recruited 15,000 “Clydesiders” to make the events a success – all unpaid and often too little appreciated. “People make Glasgow” was a logo plastered on many billboards in the city. How many posters have you seen claiming that people are our greatest asset? It was certainly true of the Commonwealth Games – I was a volunteer at the Manchester games in 2002 – and the volunteers I encountered in Glasgow were almost universally smiling, welcoming and helpful, refusing to be embarrassed by having to point the way with giant green fingers! However, they were often hampered by poor information.
CW LogoThere was an excellent free bus shuttle service from the city centre to the stadium, which worked brilliantly on the way there, but was a little less well organised on the way back as 40,000 people swarmed out of Ibrox and were herded into queues for the subway, the shuttle or the park and ride. People were asked to walk ½ mile or more down streets to join the back of queues coming back up the same streets. The highlight was a policewoman exhorting one section of the crowd, queueing four or five abreast to “fill the road” just yards before that road was narrowed into a funnel by steel barriers. Even the horse she was riding looked bemused and even embarrassed as the crowd in front of her just smiled and ignored her. Memories of the article I posted last week about ambulatory anarchists!
The following day, the shuttle to Ibrox was as efficient as before, but this time on leaving, the stadium announcer told us there was a problem with the shuttle buses and to follow directions outside. Once outside the shouted advice was to take the subway or walk to the city centre – three miles away. The volunteers were excellent at shepherding us in the right direction, but none of them knew what had happened to the buses. We later heard that “our” buses had been diverted to help the congestion at Hampden Park, home of the athletics competition. The crowd stoically walked into the city centre with much good humour in evidence, but frustrated because they had no information. I smiled at the huge cheer when a Porsche was stopped by the police motorcyclist for ignoring the road closed signs.

CW Volunteers 2What are the lessons for our business leaders? Yes, of course the people are the most important element of any organisation, but the fuel they need is accurate, timely information. Too many managers keep things to them-selves, worried that the information they hold is incomplete, time sensitive or just plain wrong. They should share it anyway, with caveats if necessary, but tell the people on the front line and then they can look after your customers, who are the ones we need to look after if we are to run a successful sporting event, a public service or a business.

Lost Aircraft, Lost Baggage, Lost Reputation.

Look at the Big Picture.Indian Ocean

 During our sessions we often discuss the importance of leadership at all levels in an organisation and about being pro-active. The reputation and credibility of your organisation is critical to success. This reputation is fragile, can take years to establish, but only moments to destroy. As leaders we are all aware of our role as standard bearers for our organisation and take pride in the image we present. As such, we should also take responsibility for ensuring others do the same. Recent press coverage of mistakes by British Airways and American Airlines provide ample evidence of this. One would appear to be a mistake at quite a high level in marketing, the other “just” one lowly person in baggage handling. Both examples demonstrate how we need to be constantly vigilant and everyone needs to be on message.

It seems incomprehensible that someone did not realise the potential damage that could be caused by BA’s ill timed advert, even if this had been planned for some time. I would be asking stern questions of the agency involved, too as they could have prevented the embarrassment.

Equally, someone other than the author of the inappropriate note could have recognised the insensitivity and done something about it.

It would be easy to blame others, and take no responsibility, but the real lessons are about awareness, accountability and assertiveness. We need to recognise the potential and do something about it; start by looking in the mirror and asking what we could do to prevent similar mishaps in our own organisation.

See: BA Advert and AA Bagtag.

 

 

Stalin and the Stranglers

Two radio news items captured my attention today and the Stranglers sang “No More Heroes” as I started to type this, which seemed fitting.

The first news item was an interview with the UK managing director of Lego, who told us that the company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase “leg godt”, which means “play well“. The name could also be interpreted as Latin for “I put together“, though this may be a somewhat forced application of the general sense “I collect; I gather; I learn“; the word is most used in the derived sense “I read“. Close enough for me, deserves to be true! Lego is certainly a great toy for helping children to learn.


The second was an interview with Stalin’s grandson, who was stoutly defending his reputation and honour. This put me in mind of a theme I have explored in a number of training sessions, where I have asked people to identify major influences in their lives – both positive and negative, or “Heroes and Villains.” This can be useful when we analyse how much influence we take or allow from these people, and how valuable or limiting this can be to our personal development.


One personal example could be Dean Richards, who I admired hugely as a rugby player in the 1980’s, but who has recently been pilloried for his involvement in rugby’s “bloodgate” episode.  I do not approve of what he has done, indeed I find it indefensible, but this does not mean that I have to rewrite my memories or re-evaluate my admiration for his leadership and skill on the rugby field. Other sporting heroes have been caught stretching the rules, including Neil Back, Michael Atherton and Maradonna.

How many people refused to believe scandals involving Michael Jackson, because they loved his music, performances and public persona?
This works equally well for those we dislike as well as those we admire. I always thought of David Beckham as a prima donna of the worst kind, but was genuinely impressed by his maturity and inspiration as England captain.

Sometimes we can take these influences even further. During my military career I met Paddy Ashdown, himself an ex-Royal Marine and then a Member of Parliament, but I felt snubbed by him, and developed a strong dislike of him. I then found myself dismissing all statements from the party he went on to lead, just because I identified them with him – not a very rational or useful attitude.

I also resent the way some people revisit the life stories of historical figures and unfairly re-assess their character against the morals, values and experience of our own times. That is not to condone or justify evil or selfish acts, but I feel we should recognise that things were different then. I am still awed by the bravery of the likes of Scott, Nelson and Lawrence – all possibly flawed in some way, but still deserving of their hero status. Similarly, Mao and Stalin surely deserve their reputations as despots, but may have had some good personal qualities.


I think it can be very inspiring to have heroes or role models, but it doesn’t have to mean we admire and try to emulate all their traits. We need to be selective and recognise that they may be admirable, but are not always perfect. We can then make intelligent choices about what behaviours to learn and which to avoid. These role models may not be celebrities or even well known, they may just be exemplars from our own life or work. Most people can identify their best boss and their worst. Are there traits from the best to avoid and even some from the worst, which could help make us better bosses?