I was recently interviewed by Training & Coaching Today for an article about psychometrics– and the online version’s article title should be valuable lesson for any L&D department using or looking to use these valuable tools as part of their development activities: handle with care.

For the uninitiated – and remember that many people completing psychometric tools or questionnaires will fall into this category – it can be tempting to believe that there is an unwelcome or alarming element of ‘messing with my head’ involved. Unfair and untrue of course, although bear in mind the following black-humoured quote from the Oscar winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.”

Handled well as part of a structured development programme, these misconceptions can be easily overcome, but – like any tool – their ability to bring about the desired result is determined as much by their use as their design. For the participant in a development programme, gaining greater self-awareness and understanding has much greater benefit – for them and their colleagues – if they also gain an appreciation of how this new knowledge can be applied.

 As I said in the article:

They are sometimes used very badly and in the wrong context, and organisations that use them like that will not benefit. Any company looking to use them needs to invest not only in upfront awareness, but also in the support that happens afterwards. Psychometrics are part of something much bigger: they might tell you something useful, wonderful or something you didn’t know – but it’s the support you get that really changes behaviours. Using a tool in isolation does not achieve that.”

While it’s obviously tempting to use an ‘off the shelf’ psychometric package, in other words, L&D departments should be wary that the participant may be left ‘on the shelf’ afterwards.

An immediate concern should be the feedback that the participant receives. Self-awareness can be uncomfortable: tools that give us fresh insight into others’ perceptions of us – particularly those that assess aspects of our working relationships and their impact – can sometimes deliver a painful contrast with the image of ourselves we’d previously harboured.

At ASK, feedback is always delivered by facilitators who are accredited to use the instruments in question, and who are skilled in delivering feedback both sensitively and constructively. We follow the guidelines produced by the British Psychological Society to ensure we provide the bets quality support and guidance.

Our behaviours – hard as they are to change – are rarely set in stone, but modifying them – as we acknowledge those preferences that we might choose to act on less often or less strongly – requires practice, support and reinforcement. Where instruments such as MBTI®, FIRO-B® or 360 degree feedback are part of a larger programme, we always seek to ensure that participants get the opportunity for valuable practice in a safe, secure environment, and that trained facilitators and coaches are on-hand to observe, support and give feedback.

Darwin’s principle of natural selection or ‘survival of the fittest’ – which we have already referred to, and which has come to the attention of other bloggers too – states:

In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”

Ultimately, psychometric tools are used on and by human beings – a diverse and fallible species! While they can help each of us to better understand ourselves and our organisations, we shouldn’t lose sight of human nature. To make the positive changes that can indicate will benefit us, we need (human) support to help us.

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