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Using Psychometrics in Coaching

Allworth and Passmore (2008) explain that a psychological test is a standardized measure of one or more psychological attributes. Within coaching attributes of interest include personality, career interests, values, motivational needs and cognitive ability.

Psychological Tests
It is explained that psychological tests can measure a broad or narrow domain of individual behaviour and personality preference.

Personality questionnaires
Allworth and Passmore review four kinds of personality measures.

1. Multidimensional measures of personality assess attributes or traits such as achievement drive, sociability, self-control, flexibility or empathy for example. Individual personality attributes are compared with those of others from a 'norm' group such as the general population or accountants.

Allworth and Passmore explain that measures of personality are based on the accepted premise that all personality attributes are represented on five core attributes of:
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Openness to Experience
  • Neuroticism (Emotional Stability)
However, research suggests that a measure of these factors alone may be too limited to be of practical value in the coaching context. Hence more informative scales have been developed that include subscales of the five factors. For example; friendly, sociable or assertive-subscales of Extroversion.

Measures of personality type (typology) define a specific set of behavioural tendencies, reflecting broad differences in attitudes and orientation (i.e. Authoritarian).

Multidimensional measures of personality profile individuals across a range of individual attributes to identify those that represent their preferences. Personality measures are popular with coaches because they can provide a fairly succinct description of the individual across a manageable number of dimensions.

Special purpose tests are also used to measure specific aspects of behaviour such as leadership style, team orientation, sales orientation and intelligence.

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2. Vocational interests

Allworth and Passmore, citing Fine (1955), explain that vocational interest theories categorize jobs and careers into those that involve working with either, people, data or things. Occupational preferences are also closely linked to personality style. Citing Holland (1997) the example is given of artists who often describe themselves as creative, expressive and independent, compared to accountants who tend to describe themselves as stable, organized or dependable. Interest inventories enable insights into occupational areas that coaches may not have previously considered.

3. Motivational needs and values questionnaires

Allworth and Passmore explain that questionnaires and tools that assess motivational needs and values focus on one or more four areas:
  1. Sources of motivation.
  2. How the person likes to be rewarded.
  3. Kind of management style that brings out the best in the person.
  4. Kind of work environment that the person prefers.

Such assessments may be of value to coachees dissatisfied with their current role, or when considering alternative job options. An insight into the extent to which needs or values are likely to be met can inform decisions concerning employment.

4. Cognitive Ability tests

Allworth and Passmore explain that whilst such tests can be good predictors of overall job performance there are associated risks. Because cognitive function is less amenable to change coachees may feel a sense of powerlessness.

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Approaches to psychological testing in coaching

Profiling approach where the emphasis is on building awareness and understanding of the coachee's attributes such as his or her abilities, interests and personality style compared with those of a relevant norm group. Insights gained from psychological testing can include:
  • Identifying the coachee's relative strengths and areas for development.
  • A profiling approach can also provide insights into how an individual's personal. attributes compare with those of others in a particular reference or norm group.
  • Clarifying developmental needs, future personal and career goals, or simply understanding why a person thinks and behaves the way they do.
In conclusion Allworth and Passmore explain that the profiling approach is most commonly applied with those clients who are looking for new direction or to resolve a particular issue that is simply impacting on their life or career.

A criterion-orientated approach, in addition to individual profiling, will also consider the job and organizational context. This could be for assessing potential career progression, fit with current role, or developmental needs with regard to current or future roles. Here the individual's profile is compared to such criteria as actual or potential performance on a particular aspect of a job, potential for training, or job satisfaction.

Allworth and Passmore stress that both individuals and organizations ideally adjust to meet each other's requirements such that the individual is satisfied with the rewards of the role and the organization finds that person's performance satisfactory..

Benefits for coach and coachee
  • Valid prediction of job performance and other work-related outcomes
  • Raised awareness of individual style, preferences and capabilities
  • Open up new avenues for exploration
  • Platform for feedback, goal-setting and planning for change
  • Monitoring and evaluation
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