Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Nuts and Bolts of Psychometric Assessments

The use of psychometrics has been around in some way, shape or form a great deal longer than their prevalence in the twentieth century. It has particularly been gaining popularity in its use in organizational development and talent management in the recent decades. But with increased use, and increased supply of different psychometric tools in the market, is also increased confusion and ambiguity due to too many choices. This article will address three most commonly asked questions in an attempt to demystify the concept and enhance understanding of psychometrics: What is a psychometric test, how does it help organizations, and how effective is its use?

So what is a psychometric test? ‘Psychometrics’ is generally defined as the measure of one or several aspects of human psychology, personality, aptitude, behavior or intelligence of an individual or group. This usually entails the measurement of knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, as well as personality traits in some score or scale. For practical purposes they are referred to as personality profiles, assessment tests, screening tools and behavior profiles.

Although there are many variations, and multiple applications of psychometric assessments, there are two main forms of psychometric tools used by organizations today: ipsative and normative. Ipsative assessment tools are self-reporting (measured against the ‘self,’ rather than someone else or a group), report what individuals consider themselves to be better at than another (from two or more options, sometimes referred to as forced choice), without necessarily comparing these traits with a normed group or benchmark. They provide information for personal development and team development where individuals can understand themselves and one another by learning about each other - examples: Myers Briggs*, DISC**. Many of the ipsative assessments in the market today are a variation of the DISC model that subscribes to the four main quadrants of human behavior (substituting colors, animals, and other descriptors to differentiate from the DISC acronym). Normative tests or tools, on the other hand, assess the traits of an individual against a specified group or population (or normed group), making them relevant and highly effective for the selection, placement and development process due to their predictive and comparative quality (measured against ‘another’). Notably, the most valuable function of an assessment instrument for selection is its predictive validity in terms of organizational effectiveness. The U.S. Department of Labor advocates the use of employment assessments that assess skills with fit for jobs, so long as they do not cause bias based on gender, ethnicity, or age.
How does Psychometrics help the organization? In the context of organizational development or recruitment function, assessments are widely used to assess core competencies of individuals to identify their personality, behavioral traits or cognitive abilities to determine if these will prove conducive to the successful performance of a job, besides the critical requirements such as qualifications, education, experience or certification found on resumes. Assessments are largely used either as a composite of the recruitment process, as an employee development initiative, or some combination of the two. Overall, assessments are now an integral part of the talent management process contributing to managing the multiple stages of the employee life cycle.  When used for recruiting however, as a rule of thumb, normative assessments should not be the basis of the entire selection decision, rather, should augment the screening of resumes and an in-depth interview process. For ipsative tools, such as DISC or Myers Briggs, their use should facilitate communication, better understanding, and team development. 
Finally, how effective is the use? To address this question, it is important to evaluate what you wish to achieve; is it to gain better understanding between individuals to facilitate communication and harmony, or to predict success of performance? The effectiveness of any tool is largely a function of 1) its construct, and 2) its understanding, proper implementation, and uniform application which can result in lowering of hiring costs, turnover, and increasing productivity. Ultimately, the key questions to ask when considering using a psychometric/assessment instrument are: Is it valid (i.e. what does it measure, and does it measure what it says it measures), is it reliable (i.e. does it measure it consistently?), and, is it relevant (i.e. does it address the identified and stated needs)? Most importantly, in the selection, placement and development of employees, reliability and validity should be augmented by the predictive validity of the instrument. It is important to remember that psychometric assessments are not designed to pigeonhole people into neat little labeled categories with broad, sweeping generalizations. There is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ with behavioral assessments. They are designed to gain better understanding of people’s drives, behaviors and fit that facilitate effective communication and enhanced job performance. 

*Myers Briggs assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions based on original typological theories by Carl Jung, and later adapted by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers for organizational use, which categorized four basic psychological functions: sensation, intuition (rational or judging), feeling, and thinking (irrational or perceiving). These 8 types or indicators (creating 16 possible type combinations), expressed in an introverted or extroverted form are identified as follows:
Extroversion (E), Sensing (S), Thinking (T), Judgment (J)
Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Perception (P)

** DISC is an acronym for:
Dominance/Drive- relating to control, power and assertiveness
Inducement/Influence – relating to social situations and communication
Submission/Steadiness – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
Compliance/ Conscientiousness – relating to structure and organization

For additional information, sample reports, or to request information on types of assessments available, and sample assessments reports, please visit our website at or email Seema Rafay at