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Emotional intelligence - can you measure it?

Business psychologists may express reservations about using psychometric tests to measure an intangible quality like EI, but a growing number of companies are already doing it. By Widget Finn

Emotional intelligence (EI), say experts, is a key indicator of performance. Its no coincidence that the team leaders and skippers of the leading yachts that sailed the 2000/2001 BT Global Challenge all displayed good EI, according to a study carried out by Henley Management College.

Skippers in the most successful boats had more emotional intelligence than those in the lower-placed ones, says Victor Dulewicz who, with fellow professor Malcolm Higgs, measured seven aspects of participants EI before and after the Challenge.

EI is difficult to define but, in essence, it is the understanding of ourselves and of how to manage others. Its a concept that applies to business, just as it does to one of the worlds toughest yacht races. Ian Morfett, managing director of strategy and business development at BT Wholesale, was part of the team on winning yacht LG Flatron. He says that professional knowledge is important, but his experience in the BT Challenge has convinced him that EI is also a key factor in any successful senior level business appointment.

Hes not alone in this theory. Experts now agree that key people skills, such as empathy, self-awareness and motivation can make all the difference, particularly at managerial or senior levels. Identifying and developing individuals within your organisation who have these skills may help to pinpoint your future leaders. But how can you measure, or even detect, such a subjective, intangible quality?

Psychometric testing is a method of measurement that is becoming increasingly prevalent, according to Dulewicz. The test developed by Higgs and Dulewicz at Henley is now used as far afield as Australia, as well as in a number of European countries, and Henley is now organising an annual conference in the UK devoted to methods of measuring EI.

But HR specialists who are keen to introduce a psychometric test for EI may find themselves faced by a confusing number of options. Reuven Bar-On, who developed the first measure of EI, the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), is cautious about the range of tests currently on the market. There are a few psychometric tests that are able to measure various aspects of EI. Its important to stress various aspects because it is just as difficult, if not as impossible, to directly measure emotional intelligence as it is to measure cognitive intelligence. All EI tests measure how well an individual is presently performing on a particular test, so they are measuring overt behaviour rather than the potential that somehow drives this behaviour.

There are three common ways to measure emotional intelligence: self-report, other-report (360 tests) and ability measures. The Bar-On EQ-i uses the self-report approach, with a questionnaire including 133 items which the participant is asked to score on a scale of 1 to 5.

Other-report uses feedback from workplace colleagues, in the familiar 360-assessment format. The commercial EI-360, devised by the north American Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP) contains 47 statements for the participant and 10 colleagues to rate on a seven-point scale.

Ability tests measure the individuals skills or abilities. John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who originated the term emotional intelligence, are the authors of the first ability measure of EI called the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS), which contains 122 questions.

How accurate are these tests? Ian Florance, director of ASE which markets the Higgs-Dulewicz test, claims that a reputable test should be the result of statistical evidence based on 100 years of experience, and accompanied by a manual which demonstrates that. He says, If you try such a test on several occasions under the same conditions you will get the same answers. Its essential, however, to ensure accuracy, by following the guidelines laid down by the British Psychological Society about who can administer the test. We will only provide it to people who have been trained in its use.

But John Hackston, managing consultant at Oxford Psychologists Press (OPP), argues that there is no convincing evidence that tests for EI relate to job performance any more effectively than a more general personality questionnaire.

He says, There is disagreement about the definition of EI which tends to muddy the issue. One version claims it is an ability, while another sees it as a personality trait, and each definition requires a different type of questionnaire. I believe that in organisations EI should be defined as a competency, in which case a more holistic approach to measurement, involving personality questionnaires, exercises and observation of the way in which people interact with each other, would be more appropriate.

Robert Edenborough, principal consultant in KPMGs Executive Search and Selection division, is also reluctant to give current EI measurements wholehearted support. KPMG has considered using them as part of the selection process but prefers to look at the specific requirements of a job. Edenborough has used EI measurements in the past but found them less than reliable.

He says, Used alongside other measurements I found they gave some contrary evidence, and when I gave feedback to candidates they recognised more from a broad personality test than the specialised EI one. However, this may simply mean that the EI measurement or my own skills in administering it need refinement.

While expressing misgivings about current EI tests, he argues that they have a place in the assessment process. They have received a very high profile, which has focused peoples attention on the area of emotions. But they should be part of personality testing rather than a separate entity.

EI testing is simply a new label for measures which have been around since the 1920s, according to Colin Selby, an occupational psychologist with Penna Consulting. He claims that they give a very limited indication of work capability and for that reason have had little take-up among organisations. Many of our clients have trialled them, but very few go on to use them routinely. Organisations prefer to measure work competencies like logic and analysis, sensitivity to individuals and tolerance of ambiguity, which are features they can relate to.

Despite the line-up of business psychologists who have reservations about the efficacy of measuring EI through psychometric testing, there is a growing number of major companies that use this approach in recruitment and development. American Express, Ford and the BBC are quoted as users of EI measurements. Whitbread, the leisure and entertainment group which is often in the forefront of HR initiatives, has an enthusiastic champion of EI testing in Steve Langhorn, change director of Whitbread Pub Restaurants.

He explains, The whole of Whitbread has gone through a massive two-year programme of change and I was looking for an initiative to take change to a deeper level in our division. Around 80% of our general managers time is involved in emotional work, gauging the feelings of staff or customers. Yet its an area that we had not previously explored.

As part of his PhD in change management Langhorn had looked at research in this field and became convinced of its value to the organisation. His first step was to create enough understanding of the concept of EI to sell it initially to the board, then at senior level through a one-day session which explained the background and research relating to EI. An EQI assessment process was carried out, and trained in-house coaches then sat down with individuals to go through the results and discuss some action planning.

Senior managers were left to decide whether they wanted to introduce it within their own area, and there was a unanimous vote to carry the process through. Langhorn emphasises the importance of first getting managers to accept the concept and then to champion it.

He was determined to get some hard measurements on the tests. The organisation does regular large-scale attitudinal surveys which give a feel of the current culture, and we will retest after six months to see what has changed. We are in discussion with Reuven Bar-On through Ei (UK) to see how we can correlate real business success with effective emotional traits.

Were there any hang-ups over the concept of emotions at work? Not at all, says Langhorn. People were very comfortable with the idea, and found the self-administered questionnaires to be very accurate. We were surprised at the openness of the reporting process. We offered one-to-one sessions but most people were keen to sit in groups and discuss the results.

He emphasises the importance of taking the process through to the next stage with an action plan. We encouraged participants to identify the three major achievements they planned in their work for the coming year, and three goals as an individual. Then they identify the emotional competencies that would best make them happen, and compare these to existing scores.

Psychometric testing can be a minefield, and there are words of caution for HR specialists who are thinking of embarking on this area. Geetu Orme, founder and managing director of Ei (UK) which administers the Bar-On EQ-i, advises companies to think seriously about their motives. Clearly define what you are measuring and why, otherwise the information will be of no use. Some organisations use these measures in a divisive way to prove why certain people are not being effective in their jobs, and the resulting information can be very damaging.

Its vital to follow through after the test with discussion about what the results mean, supported by an action plan. In order to evaluate the test you must measure the culture before and six months afterwards, building in ways to get feedback.

Pret A Manger uses psychometric measures for recruiting and developing managers, and Esther OHalloran, its recruitment and retention manager, advises companies always to carry out tests on their own staff first. Test it on a mix of people so you can be confident that its the right tool for your business. Establish how easy it is for the applicant to use and for the employer to administer. And never use any test in isolation.

Bar-On agrees that a multi-modal approach is essential. The most accurate, valid and reliable assessment of how well one is behaving emotionally and socially should be based on input from a number of sources. These include self-report measures like the EQ-i, abilities tests, interviews and observations.

And does measuring EI through psychometric tests work, assuming that you act on the findings? Pret A Manger ran its first series of tests six months ago, and are about to start monitoring the initial results. Its early days, too, for Whitbread Pub Restaurants, but even just six weeks in Langhorn can detect changes.

He says, Theres a climate of self-awareness which is healthier than what went before. And it pays dividends on the HR front because people appreciate that management is putting time and resources into recognising that the way they feel makes a difference to themselves and the people around them at work and at home.

What are your options?

  • EIQ:M provides a detailed profile of the seven key emotional competencies and offers a self-report. The 360 version can be used in development, team-building and coaching. Authors: Victor Dulewicz and Malcolm Higgs; published by ASE; price from 157.50 plus VAT; details 0208 996 3337

  • EI Report is part of the OPQ Expert System published by SHL. It is used for recruitment and development. Available to trained OPQ users through the Expert System; price 23 plus VAT; details 0208 335 8000

  • Bar-On EQ-i is a self-report measure with different formats for different purposes. Author: Reuven Bar-On; administered by Ei (UK); price details 01625 890220

  • MSCEIT measures ability. Authors: John Mayer, Peter Salovey and David Caruso; administered by Ei (UK); price details 01625 890220

  • EI-360 involves up to 15 raters. Used for development, career management and leadership programmes. Author: J P Pawliw-Fry; administered by Ei (UK); price details 01625 890220

Special offer

Human Resources, in conjunction with Penna Change Consulting, is offering a free personal EQ report to the first 50 readers to complete the Penna Assessor questionnaire, which takes about 20 minutes. To take advantage of this offer go to www.pennaassessor.com/eq