Why Psychometric Assessment Tools Don’t Work For HR Management

When we showcase our skills profiling tool/application to people, particularly those with some understanding of HR, I’m often asked if it is a psychometric tool – which it is not! But this often throws up another interesting question – do psychometric assessment tools really paint a true picture of a potential candidate?

From several years of working in the Human Resources departments of large corporations involved in hiring hundreds of people annually, I’ve been able to closely observe how our recruits fared on the job, contrary to what psychometric assessment tools predict. And naturally, I have strong reservations against the use of assessment tools, and not without a reason.

How Psychometric Assessment Tools Work

Psychometric Assessment Tools Work

Psychometric assessment tools often fail to truly measure and predict the multitude of factors that influence behavior that translates to success on the job. They are based on certain assumptions (or hypotheses) built on the presumed existence of a causal relationship, where it is assumed that “behavioral characteristic A” can lead to certain expected “performance outcomes B”.

“A” could be behaviors or traits such as introversion, perceptiveness, and aggression, while “B” refers to outputs such as roles and managerial capabilities. Unfortunately, real life experiences prove otherwise.

I’ve seen people with differing psychological makeup and personality styles succeed in similar roles. In other words, despite their difference in personalities, their delivery outcomes were similar and in line with organizational performance expectations!

Why Psychometric Assessment Tools Don’t Work

What this tells us is that fundamentally, there are two issues with psychometric assessment tools.

The Inputs Are Flawed

Firstly, it assumes that we can measure behavioral characteristic “A” correctly. Most assessment tools pose certain questions and ask for the individual’s response to these questions. These questions could include contextual ones on how they may behave in a particular situation.

Such measures are very likely to elicit ambiguous responses because of several reasons, including the individual’s comprehension of the question, his grasp of the language, cultural dimensions, and changing behavioral patterns over time, because let’s face it – social mores and behavioral responses a decade ago were not the same as what they are today.

To illustrate the challenge in practical terms: even in our small company, I need to vary my communication delivery to make two different individuals understand a particular problem or issue at hand, simply because both people comprehend the situation differently.

Problem conceptualization is different, as one comes from a rural background and the other from an urban one.

This is further compounded by the fact that one has studied in a school where English is the medium of instruction, while the other has been schooled in a local language. Understandably, the diversity across geography and cultures can only be greater.

There is also the continuing generational change or evolution of behavioral patterns. How our parents reacted to situations and events is quite different from the way we do, and our reactions will surely be different when compared to that of the next generation. Take for instance a boss-subordinate relationship in many parts of Asia. For generations of workers, possibly up to the 1990s, the relationship was largely reverential.

This is particularly true of countries like India, though the western world was quite different even then, highlighting the cultural discontinuities that can exist in psychometric profiling. Respect and obedience directed towards elders is another characteristic of the Asian subcontinent that is increasingly getting eroded with Generation Next.

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The Outcomes Are Hypothetical

The other fallacy of psychometric profiling is that based on the causal relationship, it is assumed that only “characteristic A” can lead to “outcome B” i.e. a certain set of behaviors are needed for the expected outcome. We have all come across many successful people in similar roles but with different psychological makeup or personalities. You don’t need to look too far to appreciate the underlying argument.

All of us can easily relate to the styles of various political leaders. As public figures, we get good insights of their personality traits as well as of their actions.

We often see that there are different “flavors” (behavioral traits) of both successful leaders as well as of unsuccessful ones. The corollary of the equation that “A” will lead to “B” is even more terrifying as it presumes that if “output B” is expected, then we need to look for “behavior A”.

This is detrimental to the creation of great organizations which require diversity of thoughts and behavior that encourage out of the box thinking and innovation. And that, in my opinion, is the biggest bane of psychometric assessment tools.

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