In the wake of the 2020 murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, the country saw a rise in protests and in resulting conversations around systemic racism. At this same time, the business world saw a correlating increase in focus on using psychological tools as more than a way to improve market share but to also achieve a more equitable workplace, and with that, a more equitable society.
For as long as humans have worked, their bosses have used psychology to regulate the output, albeit not always to the advantage of the workers. (Apparently, early hut builders in Ancient Babylon were motivated with the threat of death if their construction failed!)
Today, the use of psychology to impact the business world falls to organizational psychologists, helping employers with tools to build a successful workforce.
John C. Scott, Ph.D, chief operating officer and founding member of APTMetrics, a talent management consulting organization based in Westport, Ct., has been doing this work since earning his Ph.D in the mid-1980s.
Over the years, working one-on-one with large-scale, Fortune 500 companies, his team has developed tools tailored to the needs of each organization including assessments for hiring, training, and leadership.
In this new(er) millennium, those tools are now proving useful for reducing innate biases in the hiring or promotion of employees. Judging candidates on a required set of abilities, rather than on past successes, helps to levels the playing field, Scott explained.
Scott spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson-Souter about the approach his field takes and about the new tools his team is developing to increase their reach and have a greater impact on society.
Tell us a little about your business and what you do.
We have different practice areas. We offer litigation support, where we work with clients to proactively address any legal concerns including ensuring there is fairness in the selection and promotion processes, or in how jobs are classified and paid.
The other side of the business is the talent management and acquisition side where we develop assessment tools for all levels within an organization.
One of the key axioms in hiring has always been that “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” Yet, that’s not necessarily the case, particularly with the dynamic organizations we have in the 21st century with technology globalization, new business models, and so on. You can’t rely on how somebody has performed in the past because the roles are constantly changing.
Beyond that is the issue that some ethnic, racial or gender groups may not have had the same opportunities to perform as their majority cohorts. They may not have been in a position to create a record of success you can use to predict how they’re going to perform.
So, we look to assessments to override the biases and lesser opportunities some candidates may have faced in the past.
Along with a standard battery of cognitive tests, personality tests, or 360-degree feedback, we create immersive video-based simulations that present challenges related to where the organization is headed. You can’t completely erase past performance, but you can work to create criteria that might not be so rooted in it.
Over the past few decades, you have worked primarily with large-scale companies but you are now looking to broaden your reach with assessments that any company can use.
Yes, with all of the accumulated experience that we’ve garnered over the years, we have built off-the-shelf versions of assessment processes that are appropriate for mid-market and smaller companies. The upfront work is not terribly intrusive. It doesn’t take a lot of time and the costs are low.
We recently introduced an interactive simulation called the Interviewer Experience. After the murder of George Floyd, many organizations pledged billions of dollars towards ensuring greater representation, particularly at the leadership level, which is where you typically see a lack of diversity.
Walmart and PepsiCo were aware of the video simulations that we had done in the past and asked us to partner with them to create an immersive interviewer training experience where managers could learn how to minimize the typical biases that you see in interviews.
So, the individual going through the simulation is tasked with hiring someone for their team and are asked questions along the way like, “How would you handle this response from a candidate?” You’re looking for these unconscious biases that everybody brings to the table, and you’re attempting to provide immediate feedback.
Are you seeing an uptick across the board of people looking for DEI tools in hiring, training, and promotion?
Absolutely. We have found that these assessments and tools really do help to unmask the potential of a number of individuals who would not necessarily have been identified.
And if you’re opening the leadership assessments up to all of your individual contributors, starting in the lower levels of the organization, and then offering the opportunity to develop some of these characteristics, that’s the strategy we believe is going to be successful in creating a more diverse leadership pipeline.
Are these products unique in the field?
There are certainly assessment tests out there, like some that use avatars instead of the live video we use. These particular products are fairly new in terms of a video simulation that helps a company unmask the potential of employees or rise above some of the biases. Real life video seems to engage participants more. For instance, high level executives are not keen on being assessed in general so if you can engage those individuals and immerse them in a story, it creates a better level of psychological involvement.
The field is rapidly developing because of increased interest and newer technology. Some of it’s really good and some of it is problematic. As organizational psychologists, we are in a position to be able to advise on some of these newer technologies and what to avoid.
Why is it important that we address these issues of hiring and training and leadership selection?
For the business, there is a lot to gain if you are interested in creating a strong workforce and in growing and in being sustainable.
But, making sure that that the selection, promotion, and succession planning processes that organizations use are fair and unbiased has an impact beyond just the organization. This is truly a bigger picture issue.
Organizations are in a position to be able to positively impact society with these, and other, tools. If they can employ a more diverse, high potential group of individuals, it affects the individual and the organization, of course but it also affects their family, their community and society as a whole.