How robust are assessment centres, really?

I met with an old friend and a HRD – let’s call him Bob – for a coffee at the start of this week (before I got struck down by a nasty cold).  The first thing he said was

“I have to say thank – you.  Recruiting Sarah was a great decision, and I wouldn’t have done so without your advice”.

Now, this comment came about following a small piece of work I did with Bob last year.  He was recruiting to a senior position within his team and he wanted some objective, credible and friendly advice.  I’ve known Bob for a number of years, we get along well and we trust each other. 

Another key element to our relationship is that Bob and I move in different networks.  I know a lot of people that he doesn’t and vice versa.  The NHS is a small world, and between us we know a lot of people – or know somebody who knows somebody else.  And when we’re recruiting, it’s useful to have some insider knowledge.

Bob had commissioned another agency to run a robust assessment centre and he had asked me to join him as an independent advisor.  I participated in every step of the process from longlisting, to the assessment centre wash-up to the final interview.  And I think you already know, Sarah got the job.

I’ve known Sarah for years.  Firstly, I knew her by reputation.  I first met her in person when we were both working on a sector-wide project, and for a brief while we ended up working together.  Sarah is reliable, credible, honest: I rate her skills as a senior HR practitioner. 

However, if you’re looking at MBTI types, Sarah is an introvert.  I’ve seen her develop excellent relationships with key figures, such as the Chief Executive, who rely on her for sensible and technically sound advice.  I’ve seen her in committee meetings: she’s not outspoken, but she carries authority when she does speak.

But put Sarah in an assessment centres, in a competitive environment with people she doesn’t know and she bombs.  She comes across as unable to influence, negotiate, or even the ability to form strategic alliances.

And this is the dilema that Bob faced when he was recruiting last year.  Sarah’s CV was sound.  However the feedback from the assessment centres suggested that she would fail, quite spectularly, in this role. I spent some time questionning the Occ Psychs about the outcome, as the profile they presented did not fit with my personal knowledge of Sarah.

Bob decided to take a risk and interview Sarah.  By the time she left the interview Bob knew that she was by far the best candidate of the day.  And the rest is history…..

The “evidence based research” tells us that in making recruitment decisions we need to have a variety of different methods to test whether or not a candidate is suitable for a role.   But it is obvious in the case of Sarah that the assessment centre set up to test her suitability failed to take into account her personality traits, and therefore presented her with a disadvantage. 

So, it’s left me wondering….how many more candidates are also placed at a disadvantage by similar “assessment centre” type recruitment tools?


Is Mental Toughness important?

Mental Toughness has been around for a number of years and is frequently used in the world of sport.  But in an organisational context – what is it and how much do we really know about it?

Mental Toughness is about an employee’s ability to deal with pressure / stress that they encounter on an day-to-day basis at work.  It is a quality that some people have, and others need to develop, which will enable them to continue to perform well during times of difficulty.

But why is being mentally tough important?  Evidence demonstrates that those with high levels of mental toughness:

  • perform better than their colleagues
  • have the drive and tenancity to see goals through to their completion.
  • have a “can-do” attitude
  • continually strive to optimise their potential
  • are more employable that those with less mental toughness
  • are more content in their lives and have better overall wellbeing

 A number of studies based in educational establishments have demonstrated that those students who have higher levels of mental toughness are less likely to “drop-out” and more likely to achieve higher grades.   There’s no reason why these outcomes cannot be applied to the workplace: lower staff turnover and higher productivity.

An assessment of an individual’s mental toughness can provide insight on their capacity to deal with stressful situations, which can be used in recruitment, restructuring or as part of someone’s personal development.   Those with low mental toughness can recieve coaching to help them develop strategies and tactics to help them (and their organisation) to perform when under pressure. 

The downside is that there is a danger of being “too mentally tough”.  Those who demonstrate extreme mental toughness are considered to be insenstive: they will achieve their goals and aspirations at the expense of their colleagues.  They may be considered a bully by the behaviour they demonstrate. The ideal scenario is an individual who can achieve that balance of performing well under pressure, but still able to display empathy.

As we enter a difficult period of transition in the public sector, the ability to be mentally tough will become more and more important.   And I suspect, more organisations are going to want to measure how mentally tough their staff actually are.   In a timely fashion, a  new psychometric test (MTQ48) has just come onto the market that measures mental toughness. 

If you want to know more about the MTQ48 and how it can be applied in your organisation, please contact me for more information.

Can you teach a manager to delegate?


@thehrstore recently tweeted the following question:

So what can done to make it easier for managers who find it tough to delegate? Any suggestions?

This is an interesting question.  My observation is that some people find delegation easy and for others it’s impossible.  And there’s a whole group of people in between who, with the appropriate support and advice, can become great delegators.

The first part of my answer would be to look at the recruitment process.  How are delegation skills tested in the assessment process?  The kind of qualities you are looking for are:

  1. The ability to see the bigger picture
  2. Good time management skills
  3. Focusses on outcomes as opposed to method
  4. Adopts a supportive and developmental approach to others.

When recruiting for a 1st level manager with no prior experience, you won’t be able to fully assess their ability to delegate.  Instead you’ll be looking for their potential.  In essence, you want to avoid recruiting the manager who believes “It’s Quicker If I Do Everything Myself”.   Unfortunately, some managers are appointed despite having this approach, as their techical expertise is valued more than their ability to manage.

The second part of my answer deals with the development of a manager once they are in post.   Any areas of development highlighted during the interview process should be factored into the new manager’s development programme.  And with regular supervision, 1:1 support, and informal intellegence, any other issues that arise within the first six months – particularly around  their management style and ability to delegate should be picked up.  

I always advocate a bespoke approach to a manager’s development.  You need to consider what their key learning needs are and their preferred learning style before investing in any training and development activity.  Motivation, level of committment and amount of time the manager has to invest in their development should also be considered.  One of the most effective and cost effective methods of developing a skill like delegation is through coaching.  I’m also a big advocate of thinking creatively about development

So, you can teach a manager to delegate, but only if you’ve appointed someone who has the ability to demonstrate this skill.   If it’s all about the recruitment process, I’d be interested to hear about any other qualities you believe contribute to good delegation skills.  Also, keen to hear bout any experiences of working with managers to improve their ability to delegate.

Does Your Job Role Affect The Way You Think?

I have recently completed the delivery of a two-day management development programme across two NHS Trusts. The key theme ran through-out the course that I had not previously encountered despite having worked in or with the NHS for the last 10 years: the participants responded differently to the different exercises depending on the type of role they undertook.

The programme was jointly commissioned by two Trusts, but attendance was not mixed. Therefore, one programme had participants who held commissioning, public health or finance roles; the other programme was attended by staff who undertook clinical duties but also were expected to undertake a managerial / leadership role within their designated clinical area.

Commissioners are expected to analyse data, consider the details, ensure that they have the full range of facts in the context of the bigger picture before making any decisions. Clinicians generally see issues at face value. In other words, they call a spade “a spade”, whilst commissioners will call it “a rectangle flat metal sheet attached to wooden pole whilst enables a worker to dig.”

When we came to do some case studies, the reactions from the two types of participants differed. For example: one of the first questions to a case study was “Where does this behaviour take place?”. The clinicians easily responded “The ward”. The comissioners usually asked “There’s not enough information in this case study” or “What does this question mean? Can you explain it more fully?” We adapted how we introduced each exercise to ensure that the participants understood each activity and the questions.

But this has led me to reflect on the issue of does a job role affect the way that an individual thinks? I think that there are three possible conclusions that I can draw:

1) Research has shown that a manager is mostly likely to recruit a member of staff who is similar to them;
2) Certain role roles attract candidates who enjoy using a particular set of skills and abilities
3) MBTI research has shown that certain jobs and organisational cultures make individuals think or behave in a particular way;

These different conclusions can be explained using MBTI types:

A commissioner is more likely to be an INTJ: they look for the bigger picture, are objective and organised. They rely on their thought-processes to analyse issues before determinig what the preferable outcome should be. A Director of Commissioning usually displays these traits and is most likely to recruit similar minded individuals to their team; A junior commissioner is drawn to this role as they enjoy a job where there is analytical data, they can challenge in an objective manner and use their decision-making skills. This junior commissioner who is recruited is an ISTJ: they focus on the detail. As they grow as a commissioner they are encouraged through their 1:1s, appraisals and personal development plan to develop an ability to see the bigger picture and it is highly likely that their MBTI type will change to INTJ.

I have already shared some of my observations from this management development programme with some fellow trainers also working with the NHS: Not only does a job role affect the way that a manager thinks, it also impacts on the successful delivery of any development intervention. So, when next preparing for workshop, bear in mind not only the content of the course to ensure it’s applicable to the audience, but how their role role affects the way the participants think and adapt the exercises accordingly.