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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Starmer

Why using psychometrics in training is just plain stupid.

I once worked alongside two guys who ran management ‘training’ courses together. Their development events consisted of 3 days of subjecting their ‘trainees’ to a bank of different proprietary psychometric tests, which they then discussed ad nauseam. Their business sponsor was wildly enthusiastic about the courses. Apparently, his people “absolutely loved them”. “But after your people have been for the training, what do they actually change?” I dared to ask. There was an awkward silence.

During my years as an in-house trainer, all my employers advocated the inclusion of psychometrics in training. If they were already built into pre-existing development events, I was required to use them; but when designing my own courses, I wouldn’t. Employers and colleagues alike wondered why? “They’re such useful tools” I was told.

Really? Why?

A business learning event should have but one purpose: to make the attendees more effective, thus benefiting both themselves and their employer. Inevitably, this requires one key thing: Change.

Making change will require the participants to:

  • Explore new methods and ideas.

  • Recognise/accept that there are more effective ways of delivering themselves in the workplace.

  • Learn how to do whatever it is better.

  • Decide to apply the learning in the only way others will perceive it: through modification of their approach.

So how do psychometrics fit in?

Psychometrics are just what they say they are: metrics (measurements) of the psyche. Crudely, the psyche shapes our perceptions, informs our motivations, and guides our choice of behaviours. Arguably, we may be born with it, or it is fully formed at a very young age.

But have you ever looked up a definition of psyche? It is a descriptive term for the mind, soul or spirit. In other words, it’s the essence of our being that psychometrics seek to measure.

In their origins, over 100 years ago, many were inspired by Darwin’s conclusions about species, and developed as a shorthand for human categorisation by those attempting to understand the differences between us. They have evolved to become phenomenally useful and accurate tools for revealing likely mindsets, and predicting corresponding behaviours. In the workplace, they enable skilled and accredited HR professionals to weed out the wheat from the chaff whilst recruiting.

But they have also allowed many a trainer to fill a gap in a deficient development event, giving participants a seductive, if somewhat horoscope-like look at themselves. They create a tremendous feel-good factor, but overall, a vacuum in the development experience.

Inclusion of psychometrics became a human-development vogue because of the notion that if you have a greater awareness of yourself, you will understand what you need to change. If, on a training course, you get to explore your psyche, it’s enthralling. Let’s be honest, the thing people are most interested in is themselves. And that’s fine!

But the logic is fundamentally flawed. Once you learn about yourself, what difference is it going to make to you? Understanding aspects of your psyche does not mean that you can/should/would want to alter it. Any psychologist will tell you that the psyche is a finely balanced aspect of ourselves, comprised of multiple elements, much of which cannot be changed.

The only thing people can reasonably be expected to change is their behaviour. This is not a function of the mind, but a product of it that we may alter through choice. It is also the only place where those we manage or lead actively experience our psyche. It doesn’t matter to others what’s going on in our heads. They only care how it impacts them personally, through our choices in communication and behaviour.

It’s these impacts we need to understand.

For a manager/leader, their team’s feedback, and maybe that of all those around them, is crucial. In recognition of this, some providers of psychometrics invented tests that looked at a manager/leader from their team’s perspective. However, to achieve this, they merely ‘reversed’ the testing process, so that the results reflect not what is going on inside a person’s head, or even what their impacts are, but how others perceive what is going on inside their head! Not only is this most likely inaccurate, its spurious information.

The supposition that training sponsors all too readily accept, usually because they’ve been exposed to it themselves, is that understanding the self automatically leads to self-development, when in truth, there is simply no useful place for psychometrics in training. It may seem like a smart thing to do, but it's just plain dumb. They won’t bring about real value in helping a person change or become more effective. That will always be an issue of understanding of the contextual need, learning techniques, the opportunity to practice, and the personal commitment to change.

The only justification for the money wasted on licenses is that psychometrics ‘involve’ participants in their training. But frankly, if your training needs psychometrics to engage the audience, fire your trainer. They’re not up to the job.

As for the two guys I began with: After my challenge about the effectiveness of what they were doing, in a half joking manner, I proffered that their methods would not make one iota of difference to the effectiveness of their clients. One of them chuckled and replied: “Yeah, we know that, but nobody’s noticed”.

NB. If you are a fan of using psychometrics in training, before you share your comments or experiences, please think about what is written VERY carefully, and ask yourself what substantive evidence you have for their usefulness

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