Some Nuts and Bolts of Testing in Organisations

Article excerpt

Around 70 per cent of UK companies with over 50 employees use psychometric tests, often in recruitment, sometimes in developing skills. Use is increasing, yet 'psychometrics' still sounds like a black art and 'testing' gives people flashbacks to sweating over exam papers.

BBC TV's programme Test the Nation' seems to suggest that testing looks at what you know; that a test is something you pass or fail. Yet your existing knowledge is only part of what you bring to life - at school, at work or at home. Given how quickly the world changes, it might seem better to find out what and how easily you can learn different subjects.

What are often known as 'softer' factors are increasingly seen as important in success - for instance, how well you understand and get on with people; your ability to lead; how far you follow rules or come up with your own unique solutions; your ability to cope with stress. Testing is as much about these as about being a 'know-it-all'.

As service orientation grows, the old saying 'people are our most important resource' becomes more relevant. They're also an organisation's biggest cost and single most complex aspect of organisational success and failure. Next to recruiting and managing a workforce, putting in a new intranet is a doddle.

So, what are the basics of testing? What do psychometric tests measure and what are they used for?

If you're a parent, your children take them at school in between examinations to check their progress and predict their results. They sometimes highlight particular strengths and areas that need more teaching. If you've entered work on a graduate recruitment scheme, you've probably taken one during the milk round. And you may well have sat one when you went for your first or subsequent jobs.

Psychometric tests provide an MOT of what goes on under the human bonnet. They compare one individual's performance with that of other people, or show what are the relatively strong and weak areas within one person. True psychometric tests look at three basic areas:

* Ability: peoples' capacity to work with numbers, words, diagrams and systems;

* Attainment: what people actually know about an area;

* Personality: how people are typically likely to act. This covers a huge range of aspects from peoples' motivations and values to how they characteristically react to authority and their honesty or integrity.

Mix and match these and you get dedicated tests of areas like emotional intelligence, trainability, leadership, customer service orientation and how people think areas that are directly related to particular jobs. Assess lots of people in your company and you can get an organisational profile: how well your teams work; what particular skills you lack; who's going to fit in.

Tests are used to recruit new staff; identify people with the potential to be promoted and developed; counsel staff who are under-performing; put teams together; coach senior managers; identify stress factors in an organisation; decide on the best organisational structure; create incentive programmes that really motivate - any decision about people individually or people in groups.

So, what exactly is 'psychometrics'?

This could get long and complicated! Put simply, psychometrics is a set of techniques used to ensure, among other things, that;

* You're actually testing what you think you're testing. A written test of mathematics should be testing maths not writing for instance;

* That your test gives the same results if it's given to the same person twice or administered by different people;

* That it's fair to everyone;

* That you know how accurate the measure is and how far you can depend on it.

No measure - whether of your height or your profit is 100 per cent accurate (just ask an accountant about the latter). Sometimes this can be significant (in the latter case ask the taxman! …