Why business psychology makes sense

30 November 2021
4 minute
Adrian Furnham - Birthday hero

Professor Adrian Furnham, who now works at the Norwegian Business School, developed a passion for psychology at a young age. He has spent many years researching the field of psychometric testing, believing it’s an imperative tool for understanding what drives people. In 2006, Adrian helped develop Thomas’ High Potential Trait Inventory assessment.

We speak to him about the benefits of assessment, the risks of new technology and the future of psychometric science.
 

How and why did you get into psychology?

When I was an undergraduate, my mother brought home a textbook called ‘Sense and Nonsense in Psychology’ and I was absolutely riveted. So, I changed my degree from divinity to psychology and was hooked from then on. I did a doctorate in my twenties and the subject has captivated me all my life. People tell me that I work too hard, but to me it’s not work, it’s my joy and pleasure.

I’ve been a psychology professor for many years, and I’m currently working for the Norwegian Business School. Prior to that I was at the University College London, where I stayed for 40 years. I’ve always loved psychology because it’s about understanding other people’s desires and motives, which is a fundamental part of life.

Why did you choose to get involved with developing psychometric assessments?

As an undergraduate, I worked with a professor who studied psychometric testing with me every week. We explored many different tests, taking them, scoring them, and assessing them. The experience taught me a huge amount about these assessments, as well as how to analyse them critically. This sparked my interest in differential or personality psychology, which is all about describing and assessing people.

When I was a postgraduate student, I did some consultancy work and became aware that many consultants were using psychometric tests. The world of academia and consultancy had very little in common, yet they were both interested in different aspects of these psychometric tests. I combined the two, working in the real world as an applied psychologist. I still write academic papers and devise tests, as well as using test scores to try and understand how people will behave in the workplace.

Why is psychology integral to recruitment and employee engagement? How has this changed over the years?

Choosing a life partner requires a great deal of consideration, and people usually spend a long time making their decision. They gather data for years through the dating process, attempting to work out whether someone has a personality type that will complement their own in the long-term. When we hire people at work, we tend to make our decisions much more quickly, without the same level of thought. We all know how painful it can be when you’ve made the wrong choice and have to fire someone, yet this doesn’t always prevent these snap decisions being made. It’s an expensive process to hire a person, and it can be costly when it goes wrong, just like a romantic relationship.

Psychometric assessments can help you to gain more insight into a person, and support hiring managers in making their selection more carefully. During the interview process you want to gather as much reliable, predictive information about a person as you can. We’ve all made mistakes in our selection choices, but I think that testing can reduce your errors and improve your decision-making process. That’s extremely valuable and worth the time and cost of the investment.

How have new technologies impacted recruitment and employee engagement?

There are many new digital techniques being used across the workplace. From social media to profiling and gamification, we’re not short of companies that sell themselves as a game changer in the world of technology. The question we need to ask is whether the quality of the data you’re getting is as good as other forms. For example, digital interviews via Zoom are much easier for people to attend and allow individuals to record and re-watch. But is there any evidence that video interviews are more effective than traditional, face to face interviews? Does the assessment of someone through gamification produce a more accurate picture of a person? They might do, but it takes time to gather accurate data to prove the benefits and I don’t feel that we’ve adequately done this yet.

In some cases, the tools that are meant to make life easier could actually be making it more difficult. I’m not old-fashioned, and I believe there are many exciting technologies emerging. However, it’s important not to overhype a tool because it’s new or cheap before it’s been thoroughly evaluated, and you have evidence that it provides higher quality data. I don’t feel older technologies necessarily have to be retired, unless we can prove that their replacements are more efficient.

So in the next 10 years, what do you want to see? 

Businesses want cheap, quick access to accurate psychometric testing, which is understandable. Many companies make bold claims about the ways that their new technology can provide this. I’d like to see these claims being checked and validated, so that people can make evidence-based decisions.

I also feel that companies have a duty to protect the employees and prospective employees who might be taking these tests. Increasingly, people are questioning why certain data is being collected and how it’s being stored. It’s important for organisations to develop clear processes for the safe gathering and storing of data, with transparent guidance on how and when it will be used.

Either way, psychometric assessments are paving the way for a better future, where people can find the positions that best suit their goals and passions. And I'm excited to see what will happen next.

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