· 7 min read · Features

Psychometric testing: Have they got what it will take?


Three HR directors subject themselves to a special psychometric test to see if they have the necessary qualities to cope with the challenges they will face in the coming year.

It doesn't matter who you are," says Susan Peters, head of development, at General Electric (GE), "everyone gets access to the same level of training." It is this sort of HR attitude, combined with its legendary Crotonville management training facility, that in 2007 helped GE be named the number one global Company for Leaders by Fortune magazine (in assocation with Hewitt Associates and consulting firm RBL Group).

When this first list was compiled, the the credit crunch had yet to unfold. Last month, however, Hewitt Associates invited entries for a new list to be compiled in 2009. What a different year it could be, and what a different role HR leaders arguably now have to play.

Martin Goodman, a former HR director turned consultant and author of The International HR Due Diligence Checklist, says the leadership role for HR professionals will this year assume even greater significance: "The qualities required are flexibility, resilience, and the capability to deal with high levels of uncertainty. More than ever HR should act as the organisation's glue and oil by being open, have a willingness to share, the ability to take constructive criticism and demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence."

But it requires an HR director of exceptionally high levels of adaptability to meet these requirements. The qualities they may originally have been hired for will arguably not be so important today. But how well equipped is the average HRD to meet this challenge?

In partnership with Kenexa, HR magazine asked three brave HR directors to subject themselves to a special psychometric test. There are no right or wrong answers. But all three revealed very different qualities that will affect how they work in the months ahead.

1. SIMON CLEMENTSON, HR director, Cap Gemini Consulting

The qualities his job description says he should have

Business relationships Able to develop strong relationships with the senior management team and at global level; confidence to influence the business at senior level; introduce new thinking and practices that help improve business performance in own area and clients' work

Delivery Able to manage and lead special projects within the company

Technical and business insight Is the recognised expert in own area across the business; is visible across the business and demonstrates thought-leadership in own area of expertise

People relationships Very strong and recognised communications and influencing skills; is able to manage teams of senior managers in own area; inspires others with a performance of very high standards

HR specific Is expert at presenting to executive and board-level clients on unfamiliar topics or at short notice, with stature and confidence, to achieve desired objectives

What the results show

Ed Hurst, director, Kenexa says:

Our first measure looked at social boldness - it doesn't just measure quiet confidence, but people who are vocal and confident. We see this as a desirable thing for HR directors to have. In contrast to the rest of the group, Simon only showed a moderate preference for this. It's not necessarily bad, but it indicates he doesn't approach - or need to approach - his job in strongly vocal way.

Linked to this is 'social sophistication'; Simon showed only a slight inclination on this scale, which would be away from the standard ideal. Again, it's not wrong, but not the average. By contrast, though, Simon rates himself as being 'very' assertive when asked to gauge this.

We look at 'response style' - whether people are more likely to over-embellish, but Simon was not guilty of this, so we think he is being very honest.

Low boldness but high assertiveness may appear contradictory, and it is definitely an interesting combination to demonstrate, because he is completely normal when it comes to 'making decisions'. But he scores highest of the group when it came to being 'competitive'. Our model would suggest HR directors should score moderate for this trait, as HR isn't really about beating people.

Another apparent contradiction is that despite saying he is competitive, he also ranks himself as being very modest. Again he is honest here. With senior people, we would expect them not to be modest, so there is also some conflict.

Anxiety is clearly not a problem, though. Here, where the ideal is to have low anxiety, Simon was the only person who didn't have a high response to this. He has a strong disinclination to be anxious.

But 'trust' was another rating where Simon was definitely outside the average. The ideal is to have only moderate trust (HR must think the best of people), but Simon is less likely than we would expect to trust other people. It could well be that for monitoring and compliance issues it's good that trust isn't too high. We don't think it's an impediment because he is definitely in the norm for 'empathy', but the conflict may be worth more analysis.

One inclination that really marked him out, though, was 'organisation'.This is the hardest to say what a good or bad score is, because it also depends on how organised the organisation people work for want them to be.

That said, Simon had the strongest inclination not to want structure, and to want flexibility instead. This follows through to 'attention to detail' scores, where he has a slight disinclination to want massive detail. This can be a good trait, though, as it means people like this want to see the bigger picture.

Where this maybe isn't so good is with regard to the final significant measure - conscientiousness - or sticking with something till it's finished. Simon has an extremely strong disinclination to stick to things until they are done. On the plus side though, it means he embraces change, and is driven by things that constantly change.

Simon says: Overall I'd say it's a fair reflection of me. When you work in consulting those that shout loudest don't often get the outcomes they need. More structured thinking gets you results - it's the 'speak softly but with a big stick' idea. But I think you do tend to adapt the way you are to your business. We're not about banging tables here, whereas when I was a senior HR manager for IBM Global services (predominantly outsourcing), the environment was very different.

On trust, yes, it's probably fair. My mantra is that I like to give people a chance, but you have to be aware that some people do try to play the system, so you have to be guarded. Being an HR director is a position of authority, so you have to behave accordingly.

I do prefer to see the bigger picture - the point of being a leader is that you pick what you want to concentrate on. I'm glad I'm regarded as being equipped for change; it's a challenging time and I'll be falling back on skills from previous jobs.

2. SUE SWANBOROUGH, HR director, General Mills

The qualities her job description says she should have

Behavioural competences (ie, in addition to the functional ones) these relate to integrity and engendering trust at all levels

Energising and developing people Valuing diversity; developing self, others and organisations; collaborating; communicating compelling vision; connecting people in and outside business; encouraging innovation/creativity Delivers results delivering on commitments; making timely quality decisions; superior expertise; setting goals and prioritises

What the results show:

Ed Hurst, director, Kenexa, says:

Sue's social boldness - being confident, and being able to express this - was very high, the highest of the group, and on our 'influence and persuasiveness' measure, she also shows a definite preference.

Sue is not as assertive as Simon, but she is above average, and she does show signs of being far more decisive in tasks than him. Sue is not what we would call competitive, but she scores higher than everyone else in terms of energy, ambition and dynamism.

One of the most pronounced results is that Sue is extremely unanxious. She matches Simon in terms of being highly self confident, but also scores highest for being modest. The latter is not something we would expect an HR director to be. In this test, high confidence and high modesty can co-exist - in fact some might say modesty is a sign of confidence.

One thing Sue does demonstrate is a preference to want to work with other people, generally a good trait for an HRD. This is fine in times of consensus, but it could hamper her when making decisions that affect people she knows. She also demonstrates the highest level of trust -it could be a great asset in terms of inspiring people, but it is above what we would consider the norm, and it could mean she does not pick up on those occasions when people are not being positive. Trust follows through to empathy - Sue has a very person-centred approach. It's not a bad trait, but suggests being tough is not her natural inclination.

What is good is that Sue shows a positive attention to detail, is slightly in favour of being conscientious and has a definite inclination for being analytical and questioning things. Even stronger is Sue's very high score (better than the average in this group) on being open to change.

Sue says: HR is all about continual learning, so I was really interested to find out what this shows. I'm glad it agrees I'm ambitious, but it's true I don't feel the need to be competitive. I believe the organisation is bigger than me and I think this shows in my being modest - the only way you can achieve things is through the help of others. Trust for me is absolutely critical, but it's not naive trust. It's based on people's track record, and I disagree about not being able to make decisions that could affect people I know. I make it my point to know as many staff as possible, but I can and do make tough decisions. I'd prefer HR not to be about whether you're tough or soft, but whether you're doing the right thing. The perception people have of you is reality for them, so seeing how you come across is always useful.

3. JANE ROBERTS, HR director, Domino's Pizza

What the results show:

Ed Hurst, director, Kenexa, says: Good social boldness - in fact Jane showed the highest social sophistication of the whole group and also the strongest tendency to be influencing - though not in a forceful way. This follows through in terms of being more decisive when it comes to tasks and issues. Interestingly, Jane says she definitely isn't competitive, and is also slightly modest.

Jane definitely wants to work with other people, and doesn't appear to like working independently. Jane is more likely than the average to trust people and is also more empathetic than most.

We would call her slightly disorganised, she would probably say she is 'flexible'. We would also say she demonstrates a slight disinclination to focus on detail. We suspect she doesn't always rely on the advice of others, and makes her own decisions. This also helps give her a very high score to openness for change.

Jane says: I think my personality has to fit the business I work in and sociability is a vital part of the job. As a franchisee business we need to get people on board who aren't actually employed by us, and this involves considerable influencing skills. Yes, I am disorganised, but I regard this as seeing the big picture. I have great people around to help me. Change is something I have to embrace - we've grown hugely in the past few years - and you couldn't do this job without adaptability.