Executive & Management Assessment
- Written by Bernard Liebowitz, PhD
The use of psychological testing in business and industry has a long and varied history. It has proven successful in many contexts; it has been disappointing in other situations. The reasons for its successes and failures are many and diverse, but they all relate to the following considerations:
- The validity of the tests, i.e., whether the tests measure what they are supposed to measure.
- Their reliability, i.e., whether they measure the same traits and characteristics of the same individuals over time.
- Whether the population on which the tests were validated is the same population from which an individual(s) who is to be tested comes from.
- The individuals being tested and how they were selected to be tested. For example, candidates for a senior level position will most likely be from a sample that has been pruned over time and, consequently, consists of top-level individuals; discriminating between and among these individuals will be a challenge for most tests.
- Whether the individual fits the culture of the organization.
The testing procedures that our firm, Liebowitz & Associates, PC, utilizes takes into consideration all of these factors and utilizes our understanding of the testing process to ensure that the results are as accurate and useful as possible.
Our firm accomplishes this aim by utilizing three independent data points:
(1). Using psychological and management tests whose reliability and validity have been established by qualified and professional agencies.
(2). Extensive one-on-one interviews with candidates.
(3). Establishing the “fit” between the individual, the position to be filled and the culture of the organization.
Testing rests on the notion that groups of people with similar personal styles will tend to respond to different stimuli (e.g., inkblots, pictures, questions, etc.) similarly. The stimuli need not have an overt or covert relationship to psychological themes or behavior. Thus, for example, a test question might ask which of four magazines (none of which relate to the work situation) would the candidate prefer reading at home when alone. The question has no ostensible link to either job or personality, yet people with different styles of behavior will answer as a cohort.
The task, then, for test developers is to find those stimuli that do in fact differentiate people with different psychological dynamics. Once discovered, the task is to validate these stimuli over broad groups of people, against other tests that purport to measure the same dimensions, and across long time spans to ensure reliability.
Objectivity and Impartiality of Testing
Testing is impartial in a way that personal face-to-face evaluation cannot be. A test will yield scores that are derived from the answers the individual provides, not from the judgments of an interviewer.
This is not to say that testing is totally and completely objective, much less comprehensive. One test cannot cover all those aspects of personality that a particular job or position might require – consequently, errors in predicting job success may arise. The population on which the test was validated may differ from the population attracted to a particular job or position, and, therefore, not be useful. The test results may indicate that a candidate is fully qualified, but, because of a lack of “fit” with the culture of the organization, his tenure might be marred by a lack of performance.
Despite extensive research on test development, there is no one test that can be said to be adequate for all purposes. For this reason there are specific tests designed for specific roles. For example, there are tests that yield information about a person’s general psychology, about specific decision-making and cognitive skills, about what motivates a person, about empathy, etc.
In general, the more specific and focused the role, the more reliable, accurate and valid is the test. To illustrate, the role of CEO requires many different skills, abilities and experiences. Furthermore, the demands and expectations corporations place on the person seeking the CEO position will vary dramatically. Also, different CEO positions require different talents. Thus, several different tests would have to be employed to adequately assess an individual’s capabilities to fulfill this role.
In contrast, sales is a more (but not entirely) uni-dimensional role – prediction about success is a less difficult task. For this reason, the task of assessing candidates for such roles as sales, actuary, engineer, etc., generally lend themselves to function-specific assessments and tests.
The testing procedures utilized by Liebowitz & Associates, PC, for executive selection and promotion, include:
Extensive pre-briefing with management regarding the specific skills and requirements of the role to be filled.
The use of several different tests, each validated on different samples, and each analyzed separately.
Employing additional tests when there are discrepancies between individual test results
All candidates are interviewed one-on-one by our firm in sessions that can last as long as four hours, and, might be repeated in order to eliminate any doubt with respect to a recommendation.
What testing might miss can be picked up in these interviews. There are two broad categories that are beyond the ability of testing to detect.
The one concerns the more surface issues where a candidate’s style may be positive but not quite right for a particular company. For example, an otherwise talented candidate might have an attitude about creating change in a company that ownership deems inappropriate, whereas the same attitude might be just what another company needs. A seemingly self-assured candidate might appear to others as too demanding – in another company, this attitude could prove exceedingly productive.
The more subtle but significant value interviews offer is in matching the specific requirements of the role with the candidate’s skills, experience and background.
For example, the role of a Senior VP of Operations might require of a candidate that he work in close quarters with other management on strategic “big-picture” issues. Testing could acknowledge his being a team-player and very bright with good ideas, but would not be able to assess how he works with sales (consider the perennial battle between sales and operations in many companies) and whether his brightness translates into “big picture” strategic ideas.
Another example…. The VP of Sales role might include the ability to help sales staff overcome their resistance to cold-calling. This role might require that the person not only be persuasive and insistent, but also understand psychology. Testing could ascertain these traits, but would not be able to determine if his understanding of psychology also includes the ability to translate this into effective methods of overcoming resistance.
Our firm tailors individual interviews to:
- Meet the specific requirements of the role to be filled.
- Determine whether the candidate possesses just those traits that the role demands.
Much like a family, each organization has its own style of operating, a culture that is unique to it. Culture includes all those behaviors and beliefs that frequently are below the level of awareness, and, that are “just the way we do business here”. The common complaint, that “it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees”, is quite apt here. These behaviors and beliefs are rarely questioned until and unless problems arise. Even then many organizations are not able to step back far enough to see the behavior and beliefs that have gotten them into trouble in the first place.
In selecting a candidate for a senior management position, not only does the culture of the organization have to be taken into account but also those aspects of the culture that might prove troublesome.
Thus, for example, in selecting a new president for a very creative and successful product design firm, the one candidate that was the least creative but the most structured was recommended. The reason was embedded in the culture of the company. The firm revered creativity above all other considerations. It was growing very rapidly and, though still successful, was beginning to lose money because of its lack of structure. It needed a president who could rein in the excesses that an over-reliance on creativity promoted.
A manufacturing company was seeking a Vice President of Operations. Of all the potential candidates, only one was assertive enough to fill the position. The two owners’ primary concern was being cost-conscious: preventing significant capital re-investment, minimizing training opportunities, avoiding the re-designing of operations, etc. The whole company attempted to operate on a shoe-string budget. For a candidate to succeed in this position, he had to be strong enough to insist from the beginning of his tenure that a change in policy was necessary for the company to succeed. The new competitive market was proving increasingly disastrous for the firm, as evidenced by the fact that the three preceding VPs of Operations during a recent four year span had failed to effect change.
To ensure the success of a candidate for a management or executive position, the firm of Liebowitz & Associates, PC:
- Utilizes different methods of assessing a firm’s corporate culture.
- Assesses what particular traits and abilities a candidate must have to excel given the culture of the organization.
- Ensures that the recommended candidate possesses these traits.