Assessing leadership in the post-Covid workplace

By Liz Hey, Principal Psychologist at Hogrefe Ltd

What is good leadership?

Recent thinking and discussions in organisational psychology and HR circles have led to a strong desire to find out what good leadership looks like in the post-Covid workplace. There is now a golden opportunity to address, or perhaps re-dress, leadership failings of the past and create healthier, more effective organisations. As we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, economic and political unrest, as well as professional and personal upheaval, what will be the main driver in regaining balance in an uncertain world?

Wellbeing, and its relationship to leadership, is perhaps the most currently talked-about topic. Organisations are aware of the importance to sustain and promote employee wellbeing in order to gain and maintain competitive advantage (Nielsen et al., 2017). It has been shown that leaders strongly affect the psychological health of employees during crises. (Berger et al., 2019). Local managers have a disproportionate effect on employee engagement (Gallupa, 2021) and poor leadership or bad management are often given as the primary reasons for employee attrition.

Addressing the productivity gap

There is currently a productivity gap in the UK. How much of this is due to poor leadership, how much is due to a disengaged workforce, and to what extent these are related to each other is under intense focus. ‘The Great Discontent’ (Gallupb, 2021) has been highlighted as one of the reasons why there has been a downturn in employee engagement and productivity. There is also a clear link between employee strengths and employee engagement. A recent Gallup survey showed that employees who feel they use their strengths at work are six times more likely to feel engaged (Gallupa, 2021).

Emerging leadership behaviours considered to be most effective in organisations since the crisis began include humility, empathy, inclusion, and cooperation. With changing work practices, such as the “remote work revolution” (Neeley, 2021), hybrid working and dispersed teams, the need for leaders to adapt existing practices is paramount. Above all, the need to create a climate of trust and psychological safety at work is critical for success in organisations. As Deloitte put it in a recently published article: “a business thrives on the cumulative trust each of its stakeholders place in it.”

So, a key question to address these issues is: how can better leaders be selected or developed?

Using psychometric tools to make the right decisions

Approaching selection processes by using different sources which are considered in context means that different tests and tools can be applied with a consideration of other organisational factors that may be at play. Questionnaires and surveys are still the most commonly-used methods for recruitment – but are all aspects of organisational life being covered?

Personality tests can be used alone to get a better impression of fit for the role and can also be used as part of a bigger test battery, together with ability or aptitude tests. Widely used, valid and reliable personality tests work well in the selection process. The NEO Personality Inventory – 3rd Edition (NEO-PI-3) is the ‘gold standard’ of personality measures, providing an in-depth look at the Big Five domains of personality and how they relate to workplace behaviour. The Dark Triad of Personality at Work (TOP) measures the components of the dark triad of personality with a focus on work-related behaviours, the only dark side measure of its kind to do so. Looking at these light and dark side measures of personality together can give a more rounded view of an individual and their relative strengths and potential weaknesses in a leadership role. A dark side measure alone may not identify a toxic personality or disorder.

By combining a personality measure with other tests or tools, it may be possible to draw out more specific leader/manager capabilities. Some great examples include:

Another approach is to use a good personality trait measure with a situational judgement test (SJT). SJTs prove to have excellent validity and provide a context given within the test itself which is useful for subsequent discussions with the respondent. SJTs may not be used as frequently in organisations as self-report measures, but there are often rich insights to be gained from them. The Leadership Judgement Indicator – 2nd Edition (LJI-2) tests, for example, were created to measure the level of ‘wisdom’ that a respondent uses in decision-making. As opposed to traditional assessment tools in which respondents are asked to describe their typical ways of behaving, the LJI-2 sets out to assess how well that individual understands the importance of sometimes behaving against their preferred style.

Using psychometric tools to redress organisational issues

Interviews are still used widely by organisations in the UK, but is this necessarily the right approach to identifying talent? Are the correct questions being asked? What are the skills rather than the knowledge needed for the role? Psychometrics can provide a baseline and a framework for subsequent discussions about role suitability or development in an existing role. At the first point of recruitment, the data they provide can help to increase talent pools (particularly in increasingly competitive industries) and improve take-up of roles.

Psychometric tools can help to identify which elements may be responsible for a maladaptive organisational culture, which in turn can result in poor behaviours at work or low productivity/effectiveness (Paulhus, 2016). An understanding of how culture affects behaviour may be explained by trait activation theory, in which an individual’s personality is directly affected by the organisational climate (Lievens et al., 2006). This may help an organisation to change established patterns which contribute to a negative working environment. An awareness of any learned behaviours in the workplace can lead to rehabilitation at an individual and group level. An organisation’s ability to learn is critical. Learning and experimentation show an organisation’s agility and, in turn, its success.

What has emerged from the Covid crisis is the importance of shared values and a shared purpose. An organisation must ask itself now - have these changed? Psychometrics can help to develop knowledge of teams and of the organisation itself. By assessing both leaders and their employees, by either using the same, or complementary measures, it is possible to see if there is alignment in beliefs, values, and purpose, and in that will lie organisational success.

The role of psychometrics, psychology, and psychologists to help bring this about

Psychometrics can help to find top candidates for senior roles who are a better fit for both the individual and the organisation. When used in combination with other methods, leadership assessments can help to create a custom approach to finding and retaining talent.

Psychology must be involved in the decisions which underpin selection tools, the use of automated or AI processes, human skill development, increasing engagement, adverse impact, bias and ethical considerations, aligning people factors with organisational factors and psychosocial risk assessment.

Psychologists need to be upfront in the discussion and design of any selection and/or development process, so that the methods are used appropriately, and the outcomes are being used properly and valid decisions are being made.

For more on assessments that can be used in recruitment, selection, and development, as well as training opportunities, please visit the Hogrefe Ltd website or contact us at customersupport(at)hogrefe.co.uk

References

Berger, R., Czakert, J. P., Leuteritz, J. P. & Leiva, D. (2019). How and When Do Leaders Influence Employees' Well-Being? Moderated Mediation Models for Job Demands and Resources. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2788.

Gallupa (2021) State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report Global Insights. Gallup, Inc.

Gallupb Workplace (July 2021) The 'Great Resignation' Is Really the 'Great Discontent'. (by Ghandi, V. & Robison, J.) https://www.gallup.com/workplace/351545/great-resignation-really-great-discontent.aspx

Deloitte Insights (May, 2021) The link between trust and economic prosperity (by Kalish, I., Wolf, M. & Holdowsky, J.)https://www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/insights/economy/connecting-trust-and-economic-growth.html

Lievens, F., Chasteen, C. S., Day, E. A. and Christiansen, N. D. (2006) Large-scale investigation of the role of trait activation theory for understanding assessment center convergent and discriminant validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(2), 247-258.

Neeley, T. (2021) Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere. New York: Harper Business.

Nielsen, K., Nielsen, M. B., Ogbonnaya, C., Känsälä, M., Saari, E. & Isaksson, K. (2017). Workplace resources to improve both employee well-being and performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Work & Stress, 31(2), 101-120.

Paulhus, D. L. & Dutton, D. G. (2016). Everyday sadism. In V. Zeigler-Hill & D. K. Marcus (Eds.), The dark side of personality: Science and practice in social, personality, and clinical psychology (pp. 109–120). American Psychological Association.