Talent Assessment Archive

Believing in what personality tests do for us is more important than what they actually do.

Personality tests produce better hires largely because we believe they do. They increase our belief in our employees. That belief produces better performances.

When we set realistic goals for employees, we improve their performance. When we believe in them, it improves too. Personality tests convince us to believe in our employees. Our belief more than the test itself accounts for the better performance of hires passing it.

In medicine, researchers must account for the placebo effect. This occurs when patients feel or improve from a fake treatment. Placebos can take many forms.

For example, the article, “Think Yourself Better” (The Economist, May 21, 2011 edition), cites research in which patients improve even from fake surgeries. Thus, to see the true effect of a treatment, the researcher must conduct a blind trial. Still, patients can feel and see results even if they know a placebo has been used on them.

If placebos can make us feel better about our bodies, they can make us feel better about many things. This includes how we feel about our employees. Personality tests do not go through a blind trial. Their primary evidence is that employers say that hires who pass the test perform better than those who do not. Patients who take placebos say their bodies are better than when they do not take them.

OkCupid, the dating site, ran a test to see how much weight their word carried in making two people believe they were a good match. Their word inspired bad matches to exchange nearly as many messages as good matches did (“Make Me a Match,” ([The New Yorker, August 25, 2014 issue]).

As a founder of OkCupid, Christian Rudder, wrote in his book, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” If belief in personality tests can make us feel good about whom we date, it can make us feel good about whom we hire. Good feelings yield good results.

It is authority that makes these placebos work. It is highly persuasive. This is true even if we know authority is selling something. Fairy dust will deliver better performance as long as we believe it does. Authority is critical to that belief.

14 Comments so far. Join the Conversation
Meanness as competent and smart

Our crude instincts often cause us to misinterpret hypercriticism as competence and smartness.

For thousands of years, humans have struggled against their crudest instincts. They influence us daily. They require work to overcome. Whether it’s courage over fear, coexistence over destruction, love over reproduction, or faith over hopelessness; the first in each pair requires work to overcome the second. These same crude instincts cause us to misinterpret meanness as competent and smart. They encourage the misevaluation of talent.

The desire for security is a powerful emotional trigger in all humans. Long ago, we craved leaders whose meanness and insensitivity didn’t permit squeamishness to interfere in eradicating our enemies. That was our crudest definition of competency.

Despite our advancement, civilization and legalism, this crudeness has not left us. “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” (Wired, November 2014 edition) by Clive Thompson and the research, Downplaying Positive Impressions: Compensation Between Warmth and Competence in Impression Management, by Deborah Holoien (The Ohio State University) and Susan Fiske (Princeton University) find that we tend to see meanness as competent and smart. They technically define meanness as hypercriticism.

Moreover, as noted by the research Thompson cites, Wanting to Appear Smart: Hypercriticism as an Indirect Impression Management Strategy (Bryan Gibson, Central Michigan University), applicants and employees can trigger these in us as an active part of an indirect impression management strategy (more). Indirect means subconscious here.

Holoien and Fiske also found that a tradeoff exists. Not only do we see meanness as competent and smart, but we also see warmth as less competent and smart. In other words, we find it very difficult to see someone as both warm and compassionate, and competent and smart. Emotionally, a tradeoff exists for us. Thus, the mean get hired and promoted over the warm.

Returning to our roots, business seems to tap our crudest instincts. The survivability of our enterprises is on par with our prehistoric struggles for life. No doubt, we have experienced tremendous civil, legal and technological advancements. Emotionally though, we have not advanced to where we are comfortable putting the fate of the enterprise in the hands of the warm and compassionate . . . no matter how competent and smart they are.


Be the first to comment

Assessing personalities is essential to business. It’s essential to leadership. Leading people without assessing culture and personalities is like going into battle without assessing terrain. It’s like buying clothes for people without knowing them. Understanding extroversion and introversion is a stepping stone.

We primarily look at extroversion-introversion within a social context though. Extroverts like to be around people. Introverts like to be alone. If correct, introverts should thrive in solitary confinement. They don’t. Relationships with others are key indicators of happiness. Good relationships make us all happy.

Extroverts and introverts enjoy people differently though. For example, when it comes to networking, extroverts tend to have more conversations than introverts. Introverts tend to have longer and deeper ones. Still, this social context is limiting. How would extroverts and introverts differ when cooking or mowing the lawn? When completing various business tasks?

Extroverts and Introverts

Extroverts derive energy from outside. Introverts from inside.

There are many views. My view isn’t original. It has helped me much though. People’s energy sources are its focus. Extroverts derive energy from outside. Introverts from inside.

A simple, non-social assessment typically performed on toddlers illustrates this. Roll a ball away from a child. If he chases it, he’s likely extroverted. If he just stares at it, he’s likely introverted.

As adults, the first might conquer a mountain. The second might master its essence. The first might do this by climbing it or building on it. The second might do this by learning its geology or its cultural impact. Both make the mountain part of their worlds. For the extrovert it’s outside. For the introvert inside.

In negative extremes, extroverts are shallow, introverts impractical. Extroverts might be too busy acquiring things to appreciate their value. Introverts might be too busy appreciating those things to act. Results are more important than process to extroverts, introverts the reverse.

This still falls into the trap most personality assessments do. They look at extroverts and introverts as a zero-sum game. The more we are one, the less we are the other. In reality, these attributes vary with circumstances and moods.

Extroverts and introverts live in us all. They show themselves depending on what we do and how we feel.


Be the first to comment

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Leadership - The Secret

Leadership's secret physical characteristics that influence people's assessment of leadership.

Physical characteristics strongly influence people’s assessment of leadership.

This Secret to Leadership Series began by stating leadership is an affect, an emotional influence that moves group members to action. It’s no secret that our physical characteristics influence people. The secret is the degree to which they do when they assess our leadership competency.

“The Look of a Leader” (The Economist, September 27, 2014) details these characteristics. This influence cuts across demographics and education. As with any subliminal influence, those who believe they are not influenced are the ones most influenced. They don’t take adequate thinking and emotional precautions.

For instance, simply knowing information is wrong doesn’t protect us from its influence. Even childish influences such as people’s names sway scientists when awarding grants. Dice rolls and lunch influence judges’ sentencing decisions. Unsurprisingly, the article concludes, “The evidence is strong that candidates for top jobs can still be undermined by superficial things like posture and tone of voice.”

Among others, the article cites these prominent physical characteristics in leaders:

  • Height: Whereas only 3.9% of the American population (and about  7% of males [pdf]) are 6’ 2” or over, 30% of its Fortune 500 CEO’s are.
  • Voice Sound: Voice quality accounts for 21% of listeners’ evaluations and content only 11%.
  • Deep Voices: Of 792 male CEO’s, those with deepest voices earned $182,000 a year more.
  • Physical Fitness: CEO’s in the S&P 500 who had finished a marathon earned 5% more.

To a degree, we can manage some physical characteristics. Fitness is one. Speaking style is another. Upticks in speaking tone at statements’ ends detract significantly from our leadership competency. They’re correctable. Erect posture, square stance and firmly planted feet slightly apart are others.

Military leaders and sports officials are taught to appear decisive even when doubtful. Yet, most leadership and MBA programs ignore leadership’s subliminal aspects. In many ways, learning to act well is critical to leadership.

Yes, being the leader you are feels grand. It does nothing though to combat the primitive, superficial emotions driving leadership selection. It also does nothing to tackle selectors largely believing they are immune to such influences.

In short, if we want to be a leader, we better start acting like one.


This video contains explanations and examples of speaking upticks at end of statements:


Be the first to comment

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Placebo Management

Placebo ManagementThree attorneys specializing in medical malpractice attested to me that better bedside manner lowers malpractice risk. One even claimed that he could predict doctors’ malpractice premiums based on how they entered his office and seated themselves. According to “Better Bedside Manners” (Time, September 5, 2007) by Laura Blue, “plenty of past studies have shown a link between lousy doctor communication and poor medical outcomes, such as inadequate care and malpractice suits.” For instance, one study claimed these results:

Positive physician communication behaviors increased patients’ perceptions of physician competence and decreased malpractice claim intentions toward both the physician and the hospital. A more severe outcome increased only patients’ intentions to sue the hospital.

Doctors’ people skills also improve medical outcomes. Thus, the effect minimizes negatives and maximizes positives. It has many business lessons extending beyond the medical field. These lessons have two overarching themes. People skills influence:

  1. Interpretations and assessments of objective skills and performances
  2. Outcomes dependent on those skills

In other words, we will perceive doctors’ with good people skills as having good technical skills too. Similarly, we will perceive such employees as possessing better technical skills. We will tend to see the friendly computer technician as being good technically, the friendly CFO as being so too and so on. This relates to phenomena where style trumps content and eloquence trumps honesty.

Reversing the effect though, people skills allow us to improve outcomes without tangibly improving others’ skills. By impacting beliefs and emotions, we can help people feel better about themselves just as patients can feel better about their medical treatment. Both yield better outcomes.

Collectively, these are placebo approaches and techniques. Placebos have an impact in medicine. No longer can we say they don’t. We can say the same in management and leadership.


Be the first to comment

Danger of Humbleness

By Mike Lehr
Wisdom Sun

The Sun doesn’t know how bright it is.

Michelle Held (Twitter), an entrepreneur who helps businesses develop corporate pro-social presences and mentors nonprofit start-ups, prompted this post. She requested elaboration on how people misinterpret others not telling the truth as lying after reading, “Why Employees Lie Even When the Truth is Better.”

The truth is not necessarily clear. It often varies depending upon perspective and talent, thus making it vague and unbelievable many times. Yet, when it’s clear to us and not others, it’s easy for us to view them negatively.

Much of this stems from what I call the downside or danger of humbleness. It’s when we discount our talents so much that we believe it’s easy for others to do, think, understand, see, remember and feel what we do. For instance, Michelle noted that she “once read that people with exceptional memories tend to think others lie” because they don’t understand how others could forget.

Culturally, we’re taught humbleness is a virtue, bragging and showing off frowned upon. As a result, it’s easy to believe our talents commonplace. It just boils down to hard work, nothing special. It becomes easy to say when people can’t:

  • Do what we do, they’re lazy
  • Think what we think, they’re not concentrating
  • Understand what we understand, they’re being obstinate
  • See what we see, they’re dismissing us
  • Remember what we remember, they’re lying
  • Feel what we feel, they’re being mean

I often use the analogy, “the sun doesn’t know how bright it is.” Darkness doesn’t exist for it. All it sees is its own brightness. Thinking our talents commonplace prejudices our assessments of others by forcing them to live in our light, producing exactly what humbleness should avoid: gross exaggeration of our self-view.

They’re not lying. They’re just unable to see truth as we see it.


Be the first to comment

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesPreviously, I recommended revisiting Emotional Intelligence (EI) as proposed by advocates of Daniel Goleman. That centered on empathy. This is on self-regulation, another of the five components of EI Goleman created. Again, looking at psychopaths relative to self-regulation illustrates legitimacy for revisiting the EI concept.

Imagine a sensitive person born with very intense emotions and another born psychopathic, with far fewer, if any, emotions. The psychopath has little to maintain, little to regulate. It’s much easier for the psychopath to self-regulate than the sensitive person. The psychopath won’t be moody or impulsive. Moreover, if the sensitive person is emotionally empathic, he will not only have to deal with his emotions but those of others (more). In other words, a psychopath could score very high in self-regulation, while the sensitive person very low.

High-EI people aren’t necessarily compassionate, sensitive or emotionally empathetic. They are social adept and persuasive. These require being intelligent about – not sensitive to – emotions (timestamp 0:33). Finally, EI is learnable, meaning bright psychopaths who weren’t born with the troublesome emotions of sensitive people could pick it up more easily. Throw in inconsistent definitions of psychopathy and empathy, and new discoveries about our brain, subconscious and intuition, and calls for upgrading EI are legitimate.

The impact to businesses is approaching EI from an accurate perspective. For instance, EI advocates are fond of saying, “High IQ will get you hired. But EI will get you promoted.” Since EI deals much with managing our relationships, this slogan could just be the intellectualization of “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Therefore, while EI might be great for careers, is it great for businesses? Will it foster the diversity and conflict necessary for innovative cultures or foster homogenous and compliant ones dominated by the persuasive?


4 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

People prefer One over ManyFrequently, we warn ourselves against falling for the silver bullet. Problem is that it arrives in many forms, including in the form of star players or employees. They are the silver bullet incarnated.

We like to believe sports teams are bastions of optimal talent and team development, frequently citing them as models of excellence and team play. Nevertheless, humans run them and face all the psychological traps that the rest of us do. For example, Derek Thompson cites this finding in “The Savior Fallacy: Over-Betting on Star Players in Sports and Business” (The Atlantic, April 2014 edition) from the National Basketball Association (NBA):

The teams with the top three picks in any given draft are almost twice as likely to never make the playoffs within four years . . .

Translating to business and quoting Rakesh Khurana (“The Curse of the Superstar CEO”), Thompson continues:

Large companies’ fortunes are “varied, highly nuanced, almost frighteningly complex, and certainly beyond the power of even the most charismatic leader.”

To the NBA, Thompson says this means:

Almost every championship team going back three decades had not one but three above-average starters.

In other words, when it comes to developing a team, it’s not about one Great One but many above average ones. We can extend this though; it’s rarely, if ever, about finding the one key idea, person, solution or product. It’s about doing many little things right. That’s why we can anticipate problems if our companies are looking for the One rather than Many in solutions.

Still, we spend a fortune on silver bullets in all its forms, often because it’s simpler. That’s why KISS is for the stupid, so they can justify falling for every new silver bullet that arrives. Free lunches might not exist, but expensive ones abound.


2 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Sun Tzu Top 7

1982 Reprint Oxford University Press 1963

1982 Reprint
Oxford University Press 1963

At number two in my top-seven list of Sun Tzu quotes from The Art of War, I have:

And therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy, know yourself; victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.’

Versions of this quote often include only the first sentence. They ignore the quote’s essence: an integrative, holistic perspective. Sun Tzu describes the oversight as one between victory and total victory. Sports’ count victories whether won by a little or much. Life is quite different; the extent of victory matters greatly. In warfare, it can determine whether enemies fight another day.

In business, we often ignore conditions that favor us. It’s human nature to over attribute success to our own efforts, especially when it’s difficult to measure an outcome’s other aspects.  A poor sailing crew can sail faster than an expert one with the wind behind them. Thus, success often blinds us, preventing us from achieving total victory (defined as solving problems).

An integrated perspective has tremendous consequences on many business problems. It means expanding the scope of our analysis more than we think we need to do. It means assuming the different aspects of the problem are integrated, not segregated. A problem in one area often affects other areas.

Yes, we can solve problems with the first sentence of Sun Tzu’s quote. However, to enjoy complete, perhaps long-term solutions, employing the second sentence is vital. It’s not enough to know simply ourselves and other people. Knowing the situation and the rhythm of events is important too, especially how we integrate with them. This can mean the difference between a band-aid solution and an enduring one, helping us avoid nasty surprises.

So, how do you integrate into your world?


Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the 26th paragraph of the tenth chapter, Terrain.


Be the first to comment

Dice (Twelve & Two)  [0691] One of the outside factors that tends to cause us to make the fundamental attribution error in assessing talent is randomness . . . or “luck” as it’s commonly known. For example, when an expert predicts an event, especially an unusual one, we tend to credit him with foresight.

In Jerker Denrell’s research though, as reported in the article “’Experts’ Who Beat the Odds Are Probably Just Lucky” (Harvard Business Review, April 2013 edition), it’s probably better that we attribute his success to luck. Denrell goes further by saying that “people who successfully foresee an unusual event tend to be wrong about the future over the long run.”

If a hundred people predict the role of two dice, it’s best to pick seven, the most likely number. However, if we wish to standout, two or twelve are better because few will pick these. Consequently, an expert in the backwaters of his field can suddenly move to the front by taking a chance on a wild prediction. It’s the experts’ version of the Hail Mary pass in football.

Randomness affects us all though, not just experts. This means we need to assess its influence on all jobs. For instance, randomness plays more in sales than it does in accounting; that’s why sales performance is less predictive of talent than accounting performance is.

Simply being aware of our tendency to over attribute will guard us from those who oversell theirs or others’ talents. While “the proof is in the pudding” is fine for making pudding, it doesn’t work in the expanded range of variables influencing business. Our control over the pudding-making process is far greater than our control over business factors. In short, assessing talent is more than just assessing past outcomes. It requires assessing conditions surrounding success.


Related reading: 12 Most Important Unspoken Truths about Experts


Be the first to comment

3 Gold StarsIf we awoke one day with amnesia with life totally scrambled, would we have the same leaders? In his article, “The Turnaround Trap” (The New Yorker, March 25, 2013 edition), James Surowiecki discusses the ouster of Ron Johnson as CEO of J.C. Penney after his very successful stint at Target and finds that psychologists recognize:

. . . “the fundamental attribution error” – our tendency to ignore context and attribute an individual’s success or failure solely to inherent qualities.

Additionally, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Boris Groysberg, and Nitin Nohria include in their article “How to Hang On to Your High Potentials” (Harvard Business Review, October 2011 edition) under their heading “Align Development to Strategy” this conclusion:

. . . flexibility is key . . . companies that set rigid goals about the type or number of high potentials, instead of taking a dynamic approach, become complacent and don’t get much out of [high potential] programs.

If strategy is conditional and talent is conditional to strategy, then leadership talent is conditional too. However, we tend to ignore this. That’s why great players on losing teams are unlikely to receive “most valuable player” awards, why future CEO’s strive to lead hot, growing divisions, and why employment candidates from good companies receive preference.

We like to believe we have more control than we do. Attributing success directly to a person gives us comfort, security and certainty, providing clarity without having to integrate life’s fuzzy truths.

Thus, in rising to leadership do not underestimate the power in “being at the right place at the right time.” Surowiecki states this more negatively by concluding with this quote from Warren Buffett:

When a manager with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamentals, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.


Be the first to comment

Identifying creativity isn’t easy, but it is possible and can be done without assessment tools. It begins with identifying outlying answers to our questions. There are differences between people who give standard answers and creative ones, and differences between people who can solve problems and people who are problem solvers.

In other words, when we ask people questions, we should to anticipate their answers. The more different they are from the ones we expect the more creative they might be. Of course, different is necessarily creative. For example, someone gives a different answer to a question, but when we ask, “How did you come to do that?” and they answer along the lines of, “Well, some friends suggested I do that,” the act might be different to us but was not creative to the person.

This technique is similar to polling, meaning we need several questions on divergent topics to use it well. We also need to adjust for cultural and environmental differences. For example, people might give us different answers because their culture is different from ours and we have little experience with theirs. Thus, while their answers might be different from what we expect, our expectations might be too narrow.

On the other hand, their answers can’t be unconnected to our question. For example, if we ask, “How do you normally get to work?” and they answer, “Breakfast,” while it’s different, there isn’t a connection, and we’ll need to ask for one.

Nevertheless, in the end, the more different we find people’s answers are from our expectations and from what we could expect from their situations, the greater their creative potential is. That brings up another point: most people don’t realize how creative they are so they haven’t developed it.


Related article: Test Your Creativity: 5 Classic Creative Challenges


Be the first to comment

My October 13, 2011 post, “Eloquence Trumps Honesty in Trust & Likeability Wars,” discussed how style affects our assessment of talent. Now, in the November 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the article, “It’s Not What You Say but How You Say It,” cites the research of Timothy DeGroot’s team from Midwestern State University indicating the attractiveness of leaders’ voices influence our perceptions of their effectiveness.

Again, the challenge is that we often don’t realize this influence is occurring. Moreover, we tend to believe other people are influenced but we aren’t. Combining this with the way labels influence our perceptions of content and how beauty and attractiveness influences us, we begin to see easily how incompetent people can receive promotions especially if they are confident.

In combating this influence, it’s important to begin with two perspectives:

  1. Acknowledge that style influences us (“That includes me!”)
  2. Remain focused on more intrinsic indicators of talents such as process (how a person works, thinks and interacts)

Often, we erroneously focus on results when we don’t factor in extraneously factors such as the team, timing and situation of the person’s experience. Perhaps the person was just along for the ride. Culture, processes and tools can also affect outcomes. When we fail to account for these, we tend fall into the trap of believing people are “winners” if they come from “winning organizations.”

In the final analysis, what makes assessing talent difficult is not the intrinsic analysis of it but rather being able to do so while trying to navigate the murky cloud of our own perceptions and biases. Many forces intuitively influence us on a subconscious level to stir up this mud.


2 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

Classical business literature emphasizes focus: set goals, plan, and then focus on execution. However, it’s relatively void of focus’ downside: obliviousness to peripheral threats and opportunities.

In the mid-1900’s, when conditions didn’t change as dynamically as today’s, extensive research, planning and focus worked. Today, most research is outdated upon completion. Consequently, situational awareness (SA) becomes more important as part of an adaptive business strategy.

SA is the degree to which a person or company can be aware of surrounding conditions while focused on a task or plan. Ironically, SA came of age with aerial combat; you need to know where you are in the sky while focused on engaging enemy aircraft. If not, you could crash your plane from flying too low or from enemy fire simply because you were oblivious to those factors.

Context strongly influences our planning; however, if conditions forming that context are dynamically changing, that means our plan – the object of our focus – might become invalid by new threats and opportunities, and our focus and poor SA might cause us to overlook them. Psychological influences such as anchoring and optimistic planning will create additional pressures to keep us focused and ignorant.

These will also influence our assessment of talent by tending to make it too static and historical. Rather than basing it on people’s potential within new conditions, we will tend to base it on performances under old conditions. We will tend to believe that successes and failures transfer rather than assess actual skills and actual aptitudes within a new set of actual conditions. More simply, this is pigeonholing.

Technology and the internet strongly influence today’s dynamic conditions. Our focus shouldn’t blind us. SA will help us see the many threats, opportunities and talents that will influence our success.


Be the first to comment

Intuitive approaches often work because we don’t believe they do. Advertising is an excellent example: it influences us because we often believe it doesn’t.

This extends to our complaints about politicians not answering the question. Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton researched this and were asked to “Defend Your Research” in “People Often Trust Eloquence More Than Honesty” appearing in the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. They found:

People who dodge questions artfully are liked and trusted more than people who respond to questions truthfully but with less polish.

In fact, when answerers perform the dodge effectively, less than half of the people could remember the question accurately. The key rests in the answer’s first ten words by disrupting the cognitive link we have for the question and expected answer. In everyday life, we like to complain about the fast-talking salesperson; however, on a higher level, fast-talking becomes eloquence. It’s here that we increasingly trust and like eloquence more than honesty.

Even though I promote the practical understanding and application of intuition in business on this blog, people can use intuitive approaches for ill or good. For instance, my guest 12 Most post, lists ways to influence people intuitively to build morale; however, people can use these techniques for questionable purposes too.

How do we defend ourselves? There are two broad introductory ways:

  1. Realize people can influence us intuitively and subconsciously even if we believe they can’t
  2. Raise our awareness regarding intuitive approaches

In this way, we can begin accounting for these natural biases in our decision-making and actions. However, believing others can influence us without our knowledge is scary for many of us, especially if we believe in the supremacy of the conscious mind and free will.


Be the first to comment