I have to tell you that when I was first introduced to psychometrics in 1983, I was somewhat sceptical and that scepticism has remained with me ever since; I will explain why in a moment but first a little background information - this might be the boring bit but do stay with it!
Psychometrics evolved from the need to examine ability. At the end of the 19th century, French psychologist Alfred Binet worked on some of the first tests to measure children's ability. The US army developed its own tests to help recruit fresh troops for the first world war, the so-called Alpha tests designed to work quickly through the hundreds of thousands of applicants and work out who had the required education and background. More notoriously, the tests went through a period of popularity with eugenicists - something psychologists are still trying to live down - with the invention of IQ and aptitude tests.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of psychometric tests. The first measures ability - verbal or numerical reasoning, for example. The second measures personality traits such as how a person might behave in a given situation or what motivates them. In the world of work, tests are increasingly tailored to the jobs they are used for. The choice of test is absolutely crucial: In order to decide to use a test, you must first analyse a job in terms of what makes one person more successful at it than another. You must be absolutely clear that what you're measuring is relevant to the job performance
So why my scepticism and why do I believe that psychometric testing and professional salespeople are uncomfortable bedfellows?
Pick up a typical company report and what words do you find? Verbs like analyse, forecast, plan, assess and schedule, are used by organisations that are efficient, productive and predictable. What set of people are required? Obviously, people who are efficient, effective, proficient, competent, productive and co-operative. These traits we can measure and predict using psychometric testing.
But I believe we need to go beyond - as business captains we need to be inspired, motivated, creators, who are enthusiastic and able to consistently deliver against our key objectives. We should be developing individuals who are not afraid to challenge paradigms, who are prepared to go that extra yard in search of excellence and who understand that success is 80% attitude and only 20% aptitude. And this where my sceptism has its roots because the "personality" element or the "attitude" in my Attitude + Skills + Process + Knowledge = Success selling formula, cannot be accurately benchmarked, by psychometric tests alone.
Witness the admission of John Rust, professor of psychometrics at City University and director of the Cambridge Assessment Centre, "Some skills such as numeracy or language are easy to test. Others - creativity, for example - are more nebulous. Lots of people criticise creativity tests because they are very hard to do."
The question is, are any of these assessments reliable or valid? Rust does believe creativity can be tested. He cites the example, now used more often in psychology lectures than HR departments, of giving a candidate a brick and asking them to come up with as many uses for it as possible.(The mind boggles) Here psychometrics enters a grey area. "Using personality tests for personnel selection is sometimes regarded as controversial. The difficulty is that people can often perceive what characteristics are desirable - you're unlikely to admit to having hallucinations. People who answer honestly might be at a disadvantage and this tends to show up if you look at the relationship between test scores and performance."
"Correlations between personality test scores and job performance are often weaker than a similar comparison with ability-based tests", he adds. "Ultimately, psychometrics can only ever used by companies in the context of a wider selection process, the test will only inform the decision - it won't make the decision."
You see, returning to my ASP + K formula, at what point does a psychometric finding have reliable relevance? The attitude element is uncertain and for me this is critical, as it drives the motivation of all the other elements: Skills, including; negotiation, presentation, account management, relationship building, opportunity assessment etc, cannot be assessed. The individual's commitment to appropriate sales process, which might include; forecasting, pipeline development, activity analysis etc, cannot be assessed. And finally, knowledge, that includes industry knowledge, sector knowledge, company knowledge, product knowledge and even self-knowledge, cannot be assessed.
Having recruited, trained, mentored, coached and developed literally thousands of front-line sales professionals, my question is a simple one:
"In the field of professional selling, have we been seduced into allowing psychometric testing to become our bedfellows?"