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 Carole O’Neil, Partner & HR Director at Cundall. www.cundall.com .

Sylvain Rochon: Hello, welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon, the Chief Marketing Officer at CykoMetrix — a SaaS-based psychometric platform with a digital marketplace of psychometric assessments, out here in Canada but working internationally. I am here with my next guest, Carole O’Neil. She is a partner and HR Director at Cundall, an engineering company in the area of Newcastle, England. For those of you who know me, I’m an engineer myself so it’s kind of double whammy for me out of interest, interacting with an engineering company and talking about HR psychometric assessments.

In fact, Carole started her career in learning and development which is another thing that we have in common, with one of the UK’s leading commercial law firms. Having completed a law degree at the Oxford University, she has spent her entire career in human resource roles and professional services organizations, and is currently a partner at Cundall, a global engineering design consultancy. She leads her global human resources function as well as holding a broader general management function as part of the firm’s global management board. Welcome to the Spotlight, Carole.

Carole: Thank you, Sylvain. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sylvain: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon, the Chief Marketing Officer at CykoMetrix, a SaaS-based global company that does psychometric assessments as a platform and a marketplace for it, helping companies do continuous development with their clients and their staff. All good stuff.

Today I’m with Carole O’Neil. She’s a partner and HR Director at Cundall, an engineering company. She started her career in Learning and Development with one of the UK’s leading commercial firms having completed law degree at Oxford University. She has spent her entire career in human resources roles, in professional services organizations and is currently a partner at Cundall, a global engineering design consultancy. She leads their global human resources function, as well as holding a broader general management function as part of the firm’s global management board. Thank you for being here, Carole.

Carole: Thank you for having me.

Sylvain: Thank you so much. Now, the topic for today is how you use psychometric assessments in an engineering firm., You work at Cundall, as part of human resources activities. Why don’t you just give a broad stroke idea of how you use them.

Carole: Sure. So, we have been using psychometrics at Cundall pretty much since I joined the business, which was 15 years ago, almost to the day actually. I think I’m coming up 15 years in a couple of weeks. We use them really throughout the employment life cycle. From recruitment all the way through learning and development, professional development, we use them to support our internal promotions processes from junior positions through into more senior managerial and leadership positions. We’ve even used them for team building exercises. They have any number of different uses. I think they’ve been a bit of a game changer for us as a business really in terms of the quality of decision making that we’ve been able to implement in relation to all of that stuff.

Sylvain: There’s plenty of research that shows that if you use assessments,
basically a form of hard data, versus only using intuition or experience, you’re getting better results. What are your observations? Like you said, it was a game changer. Can you give us an example of how it has changed and transformed the company over the years?

Carole: Yeah, there’s lots of different examples that I could talk about. Probably the one that springs immediately to mind is in relation to our graduate recruitment process, our early careers entry-level roles, which used to be done in a very unsystematic way, shall we say. One of the first things that my team did when I joined the business was to put a lot more structure around that graduate recruitment process, both in terms of how we branded ourselves as an employer and how we attracted that early careers and graduate talent to the business in the first place. Also, in terms of how we make sure that we’re really selecting the cream of the crop, if you like, from the thousands of people who apply. I guess like a lot of businesses, we get huge numbers of applications every year for our graduate intake. Just sifting through them based on the review of a CV was becoming increasingly difficult. So, by putting some more rigorous testing around it, it allowed us to assess that huge pool of candidates much more objectively.

What we were seeing with the graduates was they’re all fantastic these days. You get these CVs from these young people, and they all have fantastic academic track records. They’ve all been president of their university societies. They’ve all been to places around the world and done volunteering initiatives in their gap years. They’re all just incredibly talented young people. So how do you pick from a pool of thousands? By actually getting them to do some testing around psychometrics. We did two things with the psychometrics. The first was an ability test. We use a tool that really assesses their speed of thinking because I think that’s different to academic intelligence. People can study for exams and perform very well in exams, but what we need in the workplace is people who can evaluate a lot of data quite quickly, process it, make decisions. Testing for that was incredibly helpful.

So, we do that as the initial sift with our graduate intake. Then once we’ve sifted that down to support the interview process, we do some personality profiling with the graduates as well. Whilst we don’t use that as a kind of go or no go decision, it helps to inform the questions that we ask at the interview. So, it makes that interview process much richer, I guess, for both sides.

Sylvain: Some of our clients are using assessments to match candidates with culture. Do you also assess to see if a candidate may have similar values to the existing culture, or to an existing team if there is personality fit or value fit? Is that something that you do as well?

Carole: That’s really interesting. We tend not to look at values so much through the psychometric lens. We do explore it at interview, but we certainly look at personality profiles and how people might fit within the team. We tend to do that more so as part of our development process than our recruitment. For instance, if we’re running team building events as part of our development activities, we’ll quite often run a psychometric as part of that as pre-work for the candidates and see where they sit on a spectrum with regard to personality. I think it opens up some really interesting conversations during those facilitated team days about why particular individuals might work more effectively with some people than others. It gives a really useful framework within which to explore that kind of stuff.

Sylvain: Absolutely. What we’re excited about at CykoMetrix is these more granular uses of psychometrics, just to be able to see dynamics, who would prospectively work well together, because there’s a lot of different uses for it. You just must be smart about how you deploy and why and what are the outcomes, because there are also costs associated with psychometric assessments. This brings me to my next question. Since you’ve been using them and you’ve integrated them to a process, do you build your own or do you use popular assessments off the shelf from service providers? What’s your method to source these things?

Carole: We tend to use assessments off the shelf from different providers. We partner with a number of different providers because there’s all sorts of different tools out there for different purposes. I think there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to that. So, we partner with different organizations. We partner with them to different levels. With some of those partners, for instance, we just subscribe to the psychometric and we use that for particular purposes. With others we’ve actually worked much more closely and they’ve helped us with some consultancy work to help align, for instance, our competency framework with their psychometric tool so that we can really map the one against the other and say, “Okay, in looking at this psychometric profile, what does that tell us in terms of how they might perform against the requirements of this particular role?” So, as you said, I think you use the word granular, but to get more granular with it.

I guess just to pick up their own cost and what you said there that there is a cost associated with this stuff, but I think in my experience there is absolute value to doing it which far outweighs the cost because there’s data out there that suggests that it costs you something like 3 times a person’s annual salary to recruit a person, onboard them, train them, plus the downtime associated with all of that. If using some psychometrics as part of the recruitment process helps you make a better decision, then I think there’s a lot of value to be had there. We’ve learned that the hard way over the years for sure.

Sylvain: I can tell you from talking to a lot of different people, that is generally understood. The cost of recruiting is astronomical. It seems to be a gap at in most companies. You don’t have that gap because you’ve managed to fill it, to figure out a way. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be in agreement at the executive level about the usefulness of psychometric assessments properly for training and continuous development, and to encourage retention and good dynamics and things like that. There seems to be a misunderstanding between the executives and the HR department about the value and the cost-benefit aspect of this. Have you seen this in other companies, this particular disconnect that you guys absolutely don’t feel because you’ve nailed it?

Carole: I have seen it in other companies. I think in fairness, I saw it in Cundall when I very first joined the business and proposed that we started to use psychometrics. There was some skepticism from some people because for people who don’t understand them, it all feels a little bit strange. A bit woolly, a bit odd. How can you see into somebody’s psyche by getting them to complete a questionnaire?

It was really interesting to see the journey that some of our leaders went on. From that initial resistance from having them do a few of these psychometrics and really driven some value. I think sometimes it’s about how the HR team actually partners with the business because if you say, “let’s spend some money, that’s just like a metric, here’s a report.” That doesn’t add a lot of value because the hiring manager or the manager of the team doesn’t really understand what they’re looking at. What we did was we actually spent quite a lot of time with managers initially sitting down with the data from the psychometrics, talking it through, mapping it against the role profile or discussing it in the context of a particular challenge that they might have been having within their team, and giving them some really practical insights that they could use to drive improvements within their business area.

Having done that, it was really interesting to see how quickly we actually went from a place of, “Oh, I’m not sure about these things. Are they reliable? Are they trustworthy?” To people proactively coming to us as a team and saying, “Oh, I’ve got this issue. Do you think one of those funny psychometric things would be useful?” Really pushing for us to do more. So, I think sometimes it’s about how the HR team supports that process internally that really makes the difference.

I think certainly with our audience, with engineers, because they like data, they like facts. They find that the people side of things, sometimes, is a little bit more challenging. They can sometimes find it difficult to read the signals from a person in a conversation or in an interview. So, if we can give them a framework that says, “Okay, based on this person’s profile, they are likely to view the world in this way, or they’re likely to think about things like this, or they’re likely to have strengths in this area so perhaps explore that in your conversation.” It gives them, something very tangible to hang that on. So, they love it.

Sylvain: I can see engineers, now that you described them, that they definitely can lash on to that because we are data-driven. I am an engineer, so I understand. We love data, improve and calculate but you have to educate them, like you said. Do you think the initial hesitation could be caused by most people’s interactions with psychometric assessments in their past? My own experience and a lot of people’s experience with, let’s say, MBTI or DISC or some of these assessments is through what we call toilet paper reports. Basically, you have an off day at the office, we do as a fun day some personality assessments, we talk about it. Then nothing really comes out of. It’s just kind of a fun thing to know each other and that’s it. So, it feels like a fluffy activity that doesn’t have any ROI outcomes attached. So, executives with that kind of exposure automatically default to a view of what psychometrics assessments are worth. Do you think it could be the bad use of psychometric assessments that causes that mentality?

Carole: I think it’s definitely a factor. They certainly have their place in those kind of team build away day type activities, but if that is someone’s only exposure to them and they haven’t had that richer experience that can come from using it as part of a more robust longer-term selection or development activity, then it is easy for people to be skeptical.

Sometimes what really sells it to people on the executive team is when they make an expensive mistake. I mean, I said before that we’ve learned some of this stuff the hard way. We have had occasions even where we’ve been using psychometrics for a long time where a hiring manager, for instance, has had a psychometric that suggested that perhaps a candidate is not a good fit for a particular role in whatever way. They’ve gone in and they’ve done the interview and they’ve explored some of those things, but for different reasons they liked the candidate. They’ve clicked with them. They’ve got on really well. They’ve had a really fun conversation. They’ve discovered that they both enjoy horse riding or whatever the example might be. They’ve got that connection.

So, they’ve kind of a said, “Well, I know the psychometric is telling me that they’re probably not right, but actually let’s hire them anyway.” We’ve done that on a number of occasions over the years. I would say, almost without exception, we have lived to regret it. Almost without exception. I’ve had a lot of conversations over the years where hiring managers have come back to me and said, “Oh, this new recruit isn’t working out very well.” I’ve had to say, “Well, I did tell you.” It’s interesting in that respect.

Sylvain: Yeah, I was just thinking about the phrase “I told you so”, but maybe you’re not that rude. Here’s another question, I’m sure you have a story like this, but do you have a tangible story that you could tell of your favorite use in a specific case of psychometric assessment use that really turned out amazing?

Carole: Can I give you two? I have two that’s spring immediately to mind.

Sylvain: Oh please.

Carole: They’re both relatively recent, which is probably why they spring really quickly to mind. The first was an internal promotion assessment. We have quite a rigorous assessment process for people applying internally for promotion into mid to senior management roles, I would say. We do a number of different things with these candidates. Psychometrics is one of them, as well as a structured interview built around the psychometric. Then we always do some feedback on the psychometric after the event.

We had a candidate go through this process just last year actually. He did so well. He came to the interview, he was probably one of the most well-prepared internal candidate I’ve ever had go through this process. So, it was just an absolute joy to interview him. It was wonderful. Then we did the psychometric feedback after the event after he’d been told that he’d been successful in his application. He was so excited to have got the job in the first place, but he really valued the feedback that he got off the back of the psychometric. He actually sought me out a little while later and came to see me specifically and said, “You know what Carole, I just wanted to say thank you because that was really useful. Obviously, I’m happy I got the job, but it’s actually given me some really useful developmental insights into which aspects of this new role I might find challenging and the things that I’m going to have to work a little bit harder at.” So, to get that feedback from him was really rewarding. I said to him at the time, “You know what? This is actually one of my favorite parts of my job.” So that was really nice.

The second example that springs to mind was an external recruitment that we were doing for a senior position, not so very long ago, and we found a candidate who we liked very much indeed. She was a really strong candidate, and we were super keen to get her on board to join the business. We’d done a psychometric as part of this and we offered her the position. As it happened, she turned us down. She decided to stay put with her current employer, which we were really disappointed about. After she’d make that decision, I sat with her and we did a feedback session on the psychometric. She found that incredibly useful. So, I think for us, it’s a small industry, there’s a shortage of talent, it’s a little bit of a merry-go-round. So even though she decided not to accept the role this time, I think the fact that she had a really positive experience through that interview process and with the psychometric feedback, if she gets to a point somewhere down the line where actually she’s thinking about her next opportunity, I hope that that experience will mean that she thinks, “Yeah, Cundall was the kind of company that I’d like to go and work for.”

Sylvain: Those are great examples of positive reinforcement, and very personal use of psychometrics because people are coming back to you and say, “Hey, this has been helpful for me as a person for my own development.” That’s something that, at CykoMetrix, we talk a lot about because even though our client is the service provider, we provide a platform where all psychometric assessments are in the same marketplace on a subscription agreement, then they go out. That’s who we talk to. What we talked most about is, what is its use of the assessments to the person taking the test? I mean, we’re talking about soft skills basically in the general sense, and soft skills are used throughout our whole life with our interpersonal relationships, with our families.  It’s not exclusively at work. It’s who we are, our personalities, how we communicate. All that stuff. So, structuring things in a certain way so that the individual that takes assessment finds value, that’s really important.

Carole: Hugely.

Sylvain: Yeah, your example is like, well, the job market is cyclical now. People don’t stay with the same job for 30 years anymore. That excellent person is on the files and may come back with that great experience and you already know their psychometrics at least at that moment and time. That’s extremely useful. So, I’m really happy for those examples you gave. I’m sure there are dozens more that you could cite if you sat down and thought about them.

Carole: It’s all about this stuff.

Sylvain: Yeah, that makes the journey worthwhile, I think. I hope that these examples can serve other companies that are watching this video, because to me that’s how we should be working with each other; trying to find a good fit where people are going to be comfortable. Yes, we’re competing. Of course we are, but what’s really important is comfort and happiness and feeling good about ourselves. At least in our modern days that’s what I think most people are thinking about. We have to work but probably work in a great environment that’s a good fit. Psychometric assessments are a way to remove some of the bias in our own perceptions and look at a database of good research to get those insights. It benefits everybody. Doesn’t it?

Carole: Absolutely. It’s a win-win. It is no longer an employer’s market. We have to be providing good experiences for candidates. I think the smart use of psychometrics can absolutely do that. It can be a bit of a differentiator.

Sylvain: Very nice. So, if you have one last piece of advice you’d like to share with the audience, many of which are in HR, what would you say?

Carole: That’s a great question. I think, make sure that the people who are using the tools, whether that’s the HR team or perhaps in smaller businesses, whoever is leading on recruitment or whatever, has actually had some training on how to use them well. When I very first started using psychometrics many, many, many years ago, at the very beginning of my career, I went through some quite rigorous training with the British Psychological Society so that I understood how these tools were built, what kind of validity was behind them from a statistical perspective. I think in terms of your credibility when you’re using them, that deeper understanding of what the reports are telling you and how we’ve arrived at this data is incredibly valuable. Back to the point you made earlier about overcoming resistance or skepticism, it really helps with that as well. If you can speak from a somewhat informed scientific perspective about the validity of these tools, it breaks down those barriers. So, training, training, training.

Sylvain: Excellent. Well, that’s the mantra of the HR department, isn’t it? Training, training, training.

Carole: For sure.

Sylvain: Well, amazing. Thank you so much for joining us on the Spotlight, Carole, that have given amazing great examples and I hope many, many companies follow your lead and get trained in psychometrics and educate their executives or staff about them and start using them properly. I think better outcomes will come. Thank you so much.

Carole: Thank you for having me.

About Carole O’Neil – www.cundall.com

Carole started her career in Learning & Development with one of the UK’s leading commercial law firms, having completed a law degree at Oxford University. She spent the first 20+ years of her career in Human Resources roles in professional services organisations, most recently as a  Partner at Cundall, a global engineering design consultancy. For the first 15 years of her tenure with the firm, she led their global Human Resources function, as well as holding a broader general management function as part of the firm’s global Management Board. She considers herself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time working in territories including Australia and Hong Kong as part of her global role, and in July 2022 she stepped into the role of global Managing Partner with Cundall, to lead the next phase of the firm’s development.

Her key areas of professional interest include senior leadership development, board effectiveness and the attraction, retention and development of a diverse range of talent. She has used psychometric tools throughout her career to support strategic HR activities across recruitment, development, team building and succession planning. 

When she’s not working, Carole enjoys being outdoors with her German Shepherd, Lexi, and training in her home gym for her occasional competitive outings as a powerlifter.

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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