A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach. Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Marie Gervais, PhD.  Founder of Shift Management. www.shiftworkplace.com  

Sylvain Rochon: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon. I am the Chief Marketing Officer at CykoMetrix, a leading-edge combinatorial psychometrics and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

Today, I’m pretty excited. We have an amazing person here in the Spotlight. Her name is Dr. Marie Gervais.  She’s the founder of Shift Management. She holds a Ph.D. in culture and learning in the workplace. Through her work and leadership training, she has coached more than 500 supervisors, managers, and business owners for career and business success.

She holds a culture and leadership connections podcast which features interviews with diverse leaders in a variety of professions. Her publication spans industry and academic journals on topics, including the future of work, workplace communication, productivity, and psychological safety in the workplace. Her online courses and products are used by managers and career developers around the world. I’m so happy you were here in the Spotlight Marie.

Marie Gervais: Thank you for inviting me to be an interviewee in the CykoMetrix Spotlight. I’m happy to be here. Oh, and I have a book, when you got that it wasn’t published, and it’s called The Spirit of Work. The Spirit of Work: Timeless Wisdom, Current Realities.

Sylvain: Well, we’ll make sure to add that link in the description so people can go and check out the book then.

Marie: There are tools people can use in there for assessments. Not like a psychometric test, but tools still.

Sylvain: Well, let’s dive right into this. We were talking about the assessments themselves as used in hiring. There are multiple uses for assessments, but let’s launch into its most favored use, which is for hiring, how to properly use them, and how people are viewing them, too. So, what are your thoughts on that?

Marie: Well, I also have a lot of coaching clients who are in the process of finding new work or transitioning into work, and they talked to me about the assessment experience that they have. Plus, I have a lot of family members that are consistently looking for new gigs, because they’re in the gig economy, they get interviews all the time, or they take part-time jobs as they’re doing their business on the side. And so, they talk about their experience with assessments. Basically, they usually don’t know why they’re taking the assessments, or what it’s for. They never get a debrief on it, they don’t know what it’s being used for, and they feel more and more hesitant about using them.

When I use assessments within my training, and in coaching, I always say this is what it’s for. We’re going to debrief it together to see what the meaning is for you in all of this and how you can use it. In hiring, people rarely, if ever, do that. So, people are starting to feel like they’re being measured, and never told what they’re being measured against, or who they’re being measured against, or what people are looking for. Sometimes it’s used, in my view, as a stalling technique for not hiring. People, instead of going “okay, we’re going to have one, two, or three interviews, they go five, you’re on the sixth interview, why do you need six interviews?” Hire someone for a project. See how they do. Align it with whatever you know from your assessments. Then, either continue with them or not, right? They’re stalling and stalling and stalling, and then well, we want to give you yet another assessment.

Assessments are useful, but they have to be used properly. That has been a continuous trend in everybody that’s been talking to me. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say, “Yeah, I was hired with these great assessments.” And then, afterward, people said, “This is what we learned about you and this is why we think you’d be a good fit for the workplace.” Never happens. Nobody ever says it. They don’t say why they chose someone, or what the role of the assessments is. Why? Why would you do that?

Sylvain: Why is that? From the other side, have you talked to the hiring companies, their HR and asked them about why they use the assessments this way, why they don’t give feedback, and so on?

Marie: I’ve talked to a couple and they consider it private information, like you data gather from somebody and then you keep it and it belongs to you, and they consider there’s no obligation to disclose anything of it. Also, I am not really sure that they’re really clear on why they’re using the assessments, or if the assessments are being used to screen out candidates that they would normally be biased against anyway, right? The assessment should be neutral, but you can use it to justify.

I’m going to give you an example. When my youngest daughter, who is now in her 30s, was in high school, she was in grade 10, she has a syndrome, and the syndrome causes some deformities in her face which have been mostly corrected, but there’s nothing wrong with her body or the way her body works, right? She can run, she can jump, she can do things. She had coordination depth perception issues, but she’s really been good at negotiating all of that.

She was always fine. Then she had a grade 10 teacher who was continuously marking her extremely low on PhysEd for everything. No matter what she did, she was always getting 30%, 40%, everything in her physical education assessments. I said to the teacher, she’s never had this kind of rating in the past. I don’t know what’s going on. The teacher said, “Well, everything I do is entirely neutral because I use a rubric, and this is the rubric that I use.” Well, her rubric she used very consciously biased against my daughter, and she was completely unaware. Completely unaware of it.

You can use any tool you want to justify unconscious bias. You don’t start to check in on what your biases are. You may have some issues with how you’re using it. Assessments are really useful. But you have to use the assessment the way it’s intended to be used. Here’s another example of an assessment gone wrong.

This is a bus company, and they wanted to hire more immigrants because they found out that immigrants were all failing the bus exams. Well, what’s going on? They fixed the content. They fixed the questions to make sure that the questions were as nonbiased as possible, and then they thought, “Well, what we’re going to do is we’re also going to have a ride along.” Many people suggested this. The existing bus driver said, “why don’t we have the ride along? They can come with us for a route for an hour and a half, and we could just chat, right?” They did the ride-along. They fixed the test.

The immigrants from various immigrant communities all passed the test at the same rate as people who had been born in the country. That was great. The assessment was accurate, right? Then they hired people from a variety of different backgrounds. Then as soon as they went in for it to HR to sign the contract, they were all slotted into the lowest paying bus driving jobs, which is driving the disability buses. All of them. All the immigrants.

Sylvain: The bias was not in the application of the assessment. In this case, it was afterward.

Marie: Afterwards. They knew about the assessments and they chose to dismiss them. They can’t possibly be as good as the people that were born here, so we’re going to put them in this place, right? I always say your assessment should have where’s your birth-to-death lifecycle in the use of the assessment. Where did it come from? How do you know it’s been properly normed? How are you going to use it? What’s the debrief? How are you going to remind people about it afterward? What’s the arc, the assessment arc? Do you know why you’re doing this assessment?

Sylvain: The most important question is how do you navigate this? Because if it’s a good assessment and the research is solid, it’s not responsible for the human behavior surrounding it, right? Same with the process, and the biases. It’s just an assessment, it does what it does. How do you properly use these assessments in the workplace? From the positive, how do you actually do it?

Marie: Ask yourself, why are we using this assessment? What do we want to learn from it? How is this going to translate into the workplace afterward, and what’s the transparency meter? I think I would ask those questions. And then, I really think if you’re hiring, and you’re using assessments as another way to delay making a choice, you’re not using assessments properly.

Sylvain: Why would a hiring company use an assessment in the first place?

Marie: First off, they’re maybe looking for specific technical skills, and they want to make sure that people who say they have credentials actually have them, so there’s that piece. The other piece is they’re looking for some kind of a cultural fit. Now, if you’re looking for a cultural fit, in terms of you want a variety and have diverse personalities, okay, then you’re going to be using it appropriately. But if you’re looking for everybody who has a particular way of approaching the world, you’re definitely going to disadvantage your company because a homogenous view of something is going to leave a hole that nobody will notice because there’s nobody there to pick them up.

Sylvain: It’s really about having a specific purpose in why you’re using it, and then using the proper assessment that will give you the data you need to make a choice. Like you said, sometimes, it’s about why you want a cultural fit, so you’re looking for certain attributes that will make sure that you know that you’re not diluting or changing the culture by hiring certain people, or maybe it’s competencies.

Marie: Yeah, one assessment is not going to give you the whole total picture of a human being, and if you use two or three, it might give you a bit more. The assessment is really only as good as how people are in the workplace, and what do you learn about it. I’m going to give you an example. I used an assessment in a group of people that were all social workers, and one of them came out where I was actually really worried about the person who did the assessment because everything was so low that I suspected she may be suicidal. I was really worried about it. I have only once seen something that bad and the person was stationed in a war-torn country and I was just fearing for his life at every second. I said, “get him out of the training. He can’t do training. He can’t do virtual training when he’s in a war-torn country. Take him out of this.” Right. Okay.

I mean, it looks really bad, and I was really worried about it. I said to the employer, “maybe you could just check in with her and see how she’s feeling about stuff because I’m a little concerned about the assessment.” Well, what they did is they dragged her into the office and said to her, look your assessment shows you’re probably going to be a really high-risk employee for us. Prove to us that that’s not true. Well, it scared the jeebies out of her. She was thinking she was going to be fired at any minute. Then she called me and said, “Why did you reveal my assessment results to the employer before the end of the course?” I said I didn’t. I haven’t seen them. How did this happen? Then she said, “I insist to take this again.” I said, no problem.

She took it again. Exactly the same results. The same result. But it was out of context because she was actually a very good employee doing her job very well. I mean, she was having some issues in her life, but she was performing well at work. This one assessment is not something you can base everything on. I just check in with her and see how she’s doing. I didn’t say, bring her in and tell her you’re really worried about her because she may be at risk of losing your job. But people took it all wrong because they don’t know how to use assessments properly. So, it caused a lot of trouble. But if I were really concerned about it, she would have to go in for a battery of tests, four or five, that counterbalance each other, and then you look at the portrait, and you say, What’s strongest? What’s coming out most strongly, and is there a secondary gain?

Sometimes people are trying to show their good face, right? So, that should show up on the assessment. The secondary gain issue or the saving-face issue should show up on the assessment. People need to know how to use the assessments properly, which is the other thing. If you don’t know how to use the assessment properly, you need to use someone who’s created the assessment to make sure you’ve been properly trained on it, and you’re interpreting it correctly.

Sylvain: Well, I think the follow-up, you just jumped into it. The assessments are, let’s say they’re useful, and then you may have the interpreters, let’s say it’s HR or whoever that may not really know what the assessment means, or actually the ideology behind it like in your example about this lady is fundamental. That person, at this moment in time, while she was doing the assessment had bad days. She was struggling. It’s going to show in the assessment. But it doesn’t define her as a person over the last 10 years either. It’s a moment in time.

Marie: Oh, yeah. That’s so beautifully said. Exactly.

Sylvain: Yeah. How should we read this? Well, the people that read the assessment, especially if they’re in management, they want to take action, they want to plan training, whatever it is. Well, they have to know what the assessment means and how to handle the conversation with different individuals that may have varying scores for whatever reason. How about that kind of training, like training the HR department or the interpreters? What do you think about the industry and how that’s working out because you seem to be telling a lot of stories about misinterpretations or misuse of assessments for different reasons.

Marie: Personally, I don’t think that whoever is either receiving the assessments or who is interpreting them has been trained. It seems to be a trend and people are given the assessment. It’s sort of like “Okay, buy them a new laptop”, it’s not actually going through the whole, what you need to do. Okay, one, I actually have a friend who’s been out of work for two years, and now he’s been at work for a year. So, he went through multiple assessments for all the job interviews that he did.

He’s in a highly specialized technical field, and now he’s got a job in that field, so that’s great. But the one person that did sit down and do the assessment with him said, “Well, you have a lot of problems, and we wouldn’t hire because this, this, this”, and just looked at all of the scores that he didn’t like and said, “That’s why you’d be a bad fit for this company because you don’t have any hobbies, and you’re probably depressed.” He said, “Well, would you be not slightly depressed if you hadn’t found work for two years?” That’s not my normal state. Okay.

Obviously, he didn’t know how to interpret the assessments properly, or he wouldn’t have said something like that, and it shows no emotional responsiveness to the other person. When you’re interpreting, you need to say, “well, what does this mean to you? What’s this mean to you in your life? How would you use this? That kind of thing really makes a big difference in that people feel validated and heard?” It’s not just you dumping your judgment on them. Assessment is showing this, so what does that mean to you right now? How they respond to it is going to give you good indicators if you should hire them or not. Right. Yeah. That debrief piece is super important.

Sylvain: What do you think then of assessments, especially, if it’s high stakes like hiring individuals.  That’s on the other side of the table, so to speak, of having expert consultants like psychometricians or whatever that can do the interpretation properly and healthy individuals, or it could be somebody that’s inside HR that has that capability? It doesn’t need to be an outside consultant. What are your thoughts about making sure to have that person and making the expense because there’s an additional expense to have that individual there to do the interpretations and the value of that?

Marie: Well, you’re throwing your money out the window if you don’t. You’re using the assessments and you don’t know for what reason, getting results that you don’t know how to interpret, and then using that to bias yourself against or for particular people who are probably going to be thinking and looking and acting like you. It’s a complete waste of money not to train people on how to use, interpret and communicate the assessment results to people. I think that would be important.

The other thing about assessments is you’re looking at a human being in the context, so if a lot of this stuff is done, these assessments can be done virtually, but you also need to see the person in context, so how do they respond in a meeting? If the whole employment is virtual, how will they respond in a meeting? What are the criteria that you’re looking for in a certain online meeting? When they’re given an assignment to do, what are the types of questions that they ask you? You look at all of that, and you go, “Okay, now, I think I have a better idea of how this person is going to perform.” If you’re seeing them in person, then you’re the person who greets them at the door, what’s their appearance, friendliness, openness, a little checklist, and sometimes there are things that are red flags.

Quite a few years ago, I was on a hiring committee, and all of the applicants had to do some psychometric tests. Then when they came in, they went through to people who would introduce them and bring them in, and that sort of thing. The person who picked them up at the airport did an assessment. The secretary who received them did an assessment. Then they had a meeting with everybody, they did an assessment. Afterwards, they did something for the students. They did an assessment, then they had an informal kind of meal where they just chatted with the assessment. They were assessed informally, in addition to the formal ones, and they put the whole thing together and said, what have we got for the picture of this person? A couple of red flags would come in.

Maybe they came out beautifully on the psychometric assessments but if they came into the office and said to the secretary, “I don’t need to talk to you. Who’s the person in charge here?” Off the list because who wants to work with someone like that, right? We discovered that there were some red flags and there were also some golden moments that we found.  Oh, we love this golden moment. We’re going to look for more of these golden moments, so we look for the red flags and the golden moments, and then we put everything together. I’ve never done this, but two companies told me they did this, and I love the way they did it. The same thing. They have psychometrics. They have the interviews. The first interview is with whoever the hiring person is, the HR person, and then they have another with people they’re likely to be working with, so a diverse group of, say, three people, and those people would have a rating scale. Then afterwards, they had to sit down together and agreed on a group rating.

They had to discuss it and say, well, this person is really introverted. I don’t know if they’re going to fit here. Well, that introvert is going to be useful because he’s going to be alone in an office all day. How are we going to rate this, right? They had to come up with a rating, and then they had to explain if they had really extreme views, that they had extreme views, and what were the points that came up. In their report, they go this is our average rating, these were some of the extremes that came up, and now it’s up to you. It was it’s beautiful.

They never had a bad hire. Both companies that told me about this always had good hires. The person always felt really welcome. Their onboarding was great because they paid attention to the context. The context was what gave everything life and legs, and even when people were not hired, they would write letters saying, “Thank you. That’s the most beautiful job interview process I’ve ever been through.” Can you tell recruiters how to do this? Yeah. I think they’re onto something. I’ve never done it myself. But I was really amazed at what a great idea it was. It shows diversity and unity of thought altogether, right?

Sylvain: I love the concept. As a businessperson, I always think about the costs and time because you have your hiring process, and you need to be somewhat efficient. If you’re trying to be too efficient by just looking at numbers, for example, you don’t get the right candidate here, right? You have to have this face-to-face, and you have to see people in context. You have to balance the process in a certain way. Assessments are certainly a great way to participate in that process to create some efficiencies. Instead of having 7 interviews starting with 1000 people, you may have 4 interviews, but you whittled down your large numbers using assessments, for example, or whatever.

Marie: Although, there are some legalities here. Maybe in the US you can do that, but in Canada, that’s against the law. You cannot give anyone an assessment until you’ve offered them a job.

Sylvain: Is that right? I didn’t know that.

Marie: That’s right. Yeah. But a lot of employers are starting to fudge on that. They’re going “We’re thinking of offering this guy that job, or this girl the job, or this person the job we’re thinking about it, so we’re going to give them an assessment now.” These things are going to start to balance. The extremes in the two countries, there tends to be a sort of a norm that emerges over time, so that you can see that’s where things are going. People are going to be giving more assessments in the hiring process, and it will, probably not be illegal anymore. But they are going to have to consider the assessments in the context because it’s inefficient and expensive to apply assessments that you don’t know how to interpret properly. It’s also inefficient and expensive to get a bad hire, and it’s also inefficient and expensive to delay hiring because you don’t have the courage to choose someone and get started.

Sylvain: Decisions, decisions. How do you integrate yourself as SHIFT management in this whole discussion with clients? You’ve had plenty of examples, so you’re in there. What’s your offer to companies? Your typical offer.

Marie: I have three different sets of clients coming in. One set would be people coming in for the Supervisory Leadership course or for Management Course, Management Training Course. I say we use these assessments, and I actually want to add one and take one out. Depending on the group and the company what they’re looking for, I may switch out a few things, but I usually only do two that give a good snapshot of them in-time in their workplace and how they see themselves in their role. I explained that’s why, and then I do that first with everybody and have a debrief meeting an hour afterward and say, “What are your strengths? How do you see this? How are you interpreting this? This is how you see yourself at work. This is how I see myself at work, right?” This is your snapshot in time, so what does that mean to you? It’s amazing what they come up with, and it gives you a really nice way. Then they’re pretty excited to get started because they feel like they’ve been personally acknowledged. That’s how I use it in that context.

In coaching, I use a lot of self-assessments, and sometimes I use assessments for people for conflict style, because a lot of times when they come to me for coaching, they’re having problems with their relationships at work, or they feel they can’t deal with their manager or whatever. When you start to identify your conflict style, and what your defaults are for that, that can be really, really helpful. That’s how I typically use that. The self-assessments are really for reflection, for people to think back on what they did.

You ask four questions, and you just keep asking the same question over and over again. Is there anything else? Is there any more? Is there anything else you want to add to this? What comes out is extremely insightful for the person, and they could do it again. During the weekend, it would be new again. You start with what I’m angry about. What am I frustrated with? What am I happy about? What am I grateful for? You don’t reverse the order, because you have to empty the negative emotions first in order to get to what your positive is, and wherever you’re stuck is going to come out in that. It’s not a psychometric assessment, but it is an assessment, and so I use more of those and sometimes psychometric assessments, depending on the client.

Then, I also do curriculum writing for people who are creating courses, and I go, “Oh, how are you going to evaluate?” First off, what are your learning objectives, and how are you going to know they learned it, right? To do that, you have to use proper evaluation, you have to use proper assessments. Then we choose the assessment and about the content, there’ll be changed to behavior in the worksite, what has changed in the team morale that can be observed by somebody that’s around them, change to business objectives, and that they have specific measures that they’re looking for, so it’s not a psychometric assessment, but it is an evaluation of their ROI of the training. That’s basically how I use them.

In my book, I have some guides are some models, for example, a SWEL model. This SWEL model is safety, well-being, encouragement, and learning. And you ask yourself, again, the birth-to-death cycle, how safe is it to use this product or this service? Is everybody that’s involved safe with it? Do they feel emotionally safe? Do they feel culturally safe? Do they feel physically safe? You keep asking those questions? By the time you’ve asked yourself that question, you’re going, okay, I think we’ve got some holes in what we’re doing here that we can probably feel, and we’ve got some strengths that we can focus on that we’re doing really well, and from there, you might want to go into a psychometric test. You can go both ways. You can start with a psychometric test, or you can end with it.

My husband was a psychologist who did only psychometric tests. They have a battery of about six to eight tests that they do with people who’ve been through workplace accidents. They are testing to see their cognitive ability, their mark life disruption, their effort on a test, all of that kind of stuff, and then they put the whole thing together and go, Okay, here it is. This is the portrait of this person, and it’s tied to whether they get insurance coverage for it or not. If there’s a strong desire for secondary gain, and they’re faking everything, it’s going to come out in the assessments. If they’re just like, “Just get me back to work,” it’s going to come out in the assessment. All of that kind of stuff is just to give you an idea of the whole portrait. I hope that helps.

Sylvain: That did certainly paint the portrait of everything that you’re doing. There are people that will be watching this or reading, this as a blog, asking themselves what does SHIFT management do? What does Marie Gervais do? What’s your approach? You described it. Our audiences are people in the industry. Sometimes they’re looking for good assets to call upon to help them out.

Like you said, there are a lot of companies that don’t know how to use assessments properly. But they want to have the benefits from them anyway because the executives are asking for better staffing, less costs, and turnover. I mean, that’s a persistent ask from HR, but unfortunately, and you and I know this, like a lot of HR have a budget and they deploy assessments because they’re told that they should, and they don’t really know how to interpret them.  They’re just trying to do a good job. But if they have the assistance of a person like yourself to help them get on the right track and get better use out of their processes and assessments, then they’ll save a lot of money and a lot of heartaches.

Marie: No kidding, and time.

Sylvain: It’s worth getting the help if you don’t have it internally because especially in medium to large companies, there are a lot of staff. The money that can be saved on just getting the right advice and processes, is incredible.

Marie: And asking the right questions. Just having someone ask you a question that you never thought of before can open the whole thing up. Oh, now we know what to do.

Sylvain: There you go. I’m encouraging everybody here to contact Marie Gervais. I’m putting up some links from SHIFT Management in there, but also a link for her book, so you guys can go and check that out, download that, and use it for your own good, your own outfit, and company. Thank you so much, Marie, for participating in the Spotlight. It was great.

Marie: Thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure. I hope it’s going to help your audience in some way.

About Marie Gervais – www.shiftworkplace.com

Dr. Marie Gervais helps build workplace capacity characterized by the S.W.E.L. model of safety,

wellbeing, encouragement and learning. Through both online courses and coaching, Marie

empowers supervisors and managers to build their people skills and experience visible results.

Her secret sauce? Combining spiritual and emotional insights with strong business acumen to get you to your truest, most effective work self.

Dr. Marie Gervais holds a PhD in Culture and Learning in the Workplace.

Through her work in leadership training, she has coached more than 500

supervisors, managers, and business owners for career and business success. She

hosts the Culture and Leadership Connections podcast, which features interviews

with diverse leaders in a variety of professions. Her publications span industry

and academic journals on topics including the future of work, workplace

communication, productivity and psychological safety in the workplace. Her

online courses and products are used by managers and career developers around

the world.

Also a musician, creative writer, and visual artist, Dr. Gervais lives in Edmonton,

Alberta, with her husband, Roger Gervais, a neuropsychologist specialized in

workplace testing.

About CykoMetrix – www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

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