Candidate selection. Why is CCHQ placing so much faith in psychometric testing?

24 Jun

In November last year, Amanda Milling revealed that the Conservative Party had completely changed its assessment process for candidates, including the reintroduction of “psychometric testing”.

Already there are signs that candidates are being given advice on this process – the College Green Group, for instance, has suggested that the “Hogan Assessment Series is the gold standard” on its website. “If you want to be a Conservative MP, passing the assessment is the first step on that road”, it says of all the steps.

Disclaimer here: I have never done the Hogan Assessment Series, nor am privy to the internal assessment tools of CCHQ. I can only say that, as a psychology graduate, I think it’s a flawed idea to introduce psychometric assessments into the recruitment process – whichever field one is in.

What are psychometrics anyway? In broad terms, they are a form of psychological measurement that can be around attitudes, knowledge, personality, educational achievement and much more. Perhaps the most famous one is the IQ test, which is used to measure intelligence. Another famous psychometric test is the Big Five Personality Test, which scores people for traits including Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. 

Whether these tests work is a whole new debate in itself. Personally, I think IQ takes too rigid a view of intelligence (it does not measure creative intelligence very well, for instance), whereas – on the other hand – I quite like the Big Five Personality Test. It doesn’t feel particularly judgemental – although no one wants a high score for neuroticism – and researchers have been able to use it for many interesting studies.

What I strongly disagree with is using psychometric tests in the recruitment process, which plenty of businesses now do. It’s understandable that some turn to such tools. Psychometrics simplify decision-making and can help organisations to whittle their applicants down. They can help them explain why someone has been rejected (“it was your score on X test”). And maybe businesses even think they’re “following the science” in deploying such tests.

But they are too reductive for multiple reasons. For one, there is no such thing as an “objective” psychological measure, however much time and effort researchers have put into developing these tools (and some are very good). That’s because their authors have to make decisions on what constitutes constructs such as “intelligence”, “extraversion”, and many other traits, which inevitably means their own subjective ideas go into the framework. Even the most objective-looking tool will have biases.

Another flawed premise of psychometric tests is that you can decide what (by way of score, or personality traits) would make someone a good fit for a job/ political candidacy. But we know that any number of people can inhabit a role, and bring something completely new to it. Furthermore, it means psychologists/ businesses have to decide what good traits are – which is no easy task. 

One trait the Big Five Personality Test measures is “disagreeableness”, for example. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a very nice quality. It means you’re less bothered about people pleasing. Agreeable people, on the other hand, are more cooperative.

But the former trait still confers advantages. Disagreeableness is useful for things like negotiating and taking tough decisions, as you’re less concerned about what others think. Many MPs will be disagreeable; such is the nature of the job. But would a psychometric test take this into account? Or would these sorts of profiles be weeded out?

Lastly, I’m not convinced that psychometric tests can in any way predict how well a team will work together. The Hogan Assessment, for instance, says it will leave leaders “well-equipped to build high-performing teams and thriving organizations.” But skills cannot be slotted together so easily. Chemistry, in the workplace and otherwise, is mysterious and fluid. All relationships change throughout time, and, actually, a better predictor of how well people get along might be consistent proximity (see the number of people who get married on Strictly Come Dancing).

The aim of psychometric testing in recruitment is ultimately to quantify a person, as well as pairing them up with someone else in a “complementary” set of boxes. But we all know that life doesn’t work this way. There’s a fluidity and randomness to relationships, professional and otherwise, that data cannot capture.

Perhaps what’s most important in recruitment decisions is gut instinct, which Malcolm Gladwell famously devoted a whole book to, titled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It describes how unconscious, fast mental processes can help us make better decisions than ones that are more planned. I fear in our data-obsessed world, however, we will seek to override intuition more and more with psychometric tools. But sometimes keeping things simple is the best route.

Iain Dale: The Electorial Commission’s inquiry could put Johnson in a big pickle. But he’s escaped from other pickles…

30 Apr

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

“The net is closing in around Boris,” was the Whatsapp message from a Liberal Democrat friend of mine, following the announcement of the Electoral Commission (EC) inquiry into the Prime Minister’s flat refurbishment travails.

My first reaction was to think, “wishful thinking, mate”, but as Steven Swinford, The Times political editor, has pointed out, the remit of the EC is very broad indeed and it can issue an investigation notice requiring “any person” to provide information including emails, Whatsapp messages, text messages and documents. Eek.

Tom Newton Dunn reckons that given the EC investigation will centre on possible undeclared donations in the Tory party, this could put Amanda Milling and Ben Elliot, the co-chairmen, “in their crosshairs.” He says if wrongdoing is found their positions are “untenable.”

I would beg to differ. I have been critical of Milling’s performance as party chairman in the past, but in this case I think her hands are clean. I am given to understand that she has very little to do with donors. That’s all down to Elliot. And the situation is very clear. If the Conservative Party paid the bill of £58,000 initially, and that sum wasn’t declared, then not only is Elliot in deep doo-doo, so is the Prime Minister.

But it’s not just the EC inquiry which could prove problematic, at the very least, for the Prime Minister; it’s also Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lord Geidt, the new independent advisor on the Ministerial Code, who will also determine Johnson’s fate. If the EC finds against the Conservative Party and the PM and find that rules of declaration have been broken, and if it is found the Ministerial Code has also been broken, he will be in a very big pickle indeed.

Any other minister would be expected to resign. But the Prime Minister has escaped from other pickles in his adult life, and who would bet that he won’t come through this too. The question Conservative MPs are going to have to ask themselves is this. Should he?

– – – – – – – – – –

I am a client, in a very small way, of the company formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen. This week it announced that henceforth it would be known as Abrdn. You couldn’t make it up. What is it supposed to mean? Aberdeen? In which case, spell it out in full. It could also be pronounced as ‘A burden’.

How on earth did this get through all the different management levels to be approved by the company’s board. If it had come to me I’d have laughed it out of court. It makes we wonder if they can be so crass and incompetent in renaming their company, how incompetent are they in investing my money.

I’m not yet on the verge of withdrawing my custom from Abrdn, but I am this week withdrawing my custom from the bank I’ve been with for more than 40 years. Every communication I have now with Lloyds Bank is a trial. I almost feel physically sick before I ring them because I know I’m going to be passed from pillar to about seven different posts, and that’s before I fail their impossible security questions.

I’ve had enough. So I have opened an account with a smaller bank where I can actually talk to a real person who does their best to help. Yes, you still have to fill in a lot of forms to get the different accounts up and running, but I’m convinced it will be worth it in the end.

I did it with my energy supplier and it’s been a dream dealing with Octopus Energy rather than EDF. And that was a lot simpler than I feared it might be. We should constantly remind ourselves that we the customer are always the kings. Or queens. We don’t have to put up with shoddy service. The power lies in our hands.

– – – – – – – – – –

Quite what the DUP thinks it is going to achieve in toppling Arlene Foster is anyone’s guess. If she is forced out, and it looks like she will be, she will inevitably be replaced by a much more hardline politician. It might be that whoever this is takes a much more hardline stance with Sinn Fein, and it might be that Sinn Fein says it can’t work with the new leader. Then the whole house of cards comes tumbling down again.

I’m not predicting this will happen, but it must be a fear. Michelle O’Neill and Foster may not be bosom buddies, or be able to replicate the matiness of the so-called Chuckle Brothers, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, but they have formed a business like and effective partnership over the past year. What a shame it would be to throw all that away.

The Conservative Party Conference programme – and which ministers are up and down

30 Sep

With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted. 

Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.

The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.

The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions. 

Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:

  • Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
  • Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
  • Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
  • The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)

Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.

Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:

  • Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
  • Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)

Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:

  • Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
  • Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
  • Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.

There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:

  • Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
  • Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
  • Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).

Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.

These include:

  • Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
  • Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
  • Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
  • George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.

It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.

Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.

Richard Holden: Across the “Blue Wall”, there’s little sign Starmer’s approach to the crisis has cut through

3 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Green, Billy Row, County Durham. Nothing brings you back down to reality like properly being out and about in the towns and villages of North West Durham. People don’t hesitate to politely let you know their opinions, which I conveyed – again politely – to Amanda Milling, the Party Chairman.

Since lockdown eased, Amanda has sensibly been out and about across the “Blue Wall” and popped by to formally open my new office, before meeting some local members and constituents in Consett. It was only in 2010 that the Conservatives gained her seat of Cannock Chase. Part of the original “Red” to “Blue Wall” swing seats from 2010. it’s now held with 68.3 per cent of the vote for the Conservatives and a majority of almost 20,000. Something to aspire to and we are nothing if not the part of aspiration.

Lockdown has changed a few things and there is, understandably, concern about the future due to Coronavirus. While the caravan parks are full and people are holidaying in the towns and villages of Weardale, the reverse is true for my local businesses and companies that rely on international travel. From travel agents, through airlines, to aircraft manufacturers, all have been hit hard. How the next few months are managed is really going to set the course for the next few years.

But to date, the management of the economic impact of the crisis is seen as sound. A testament to that is that one first name has joined that very short list of “household name” politicians alongside “Boris” locally and that is “Rishi” – very much seen as someone who has worked hand-in-glove with the Prime Minister and done all he can to help steady the ship, in a credible way, at a very difficult time.

One of the things that really doesn’t appear to have changed though the antipathy of local people towards the London (and on a local level City of Durham) centric Labour machine. It’s quite clear that Keir Starmer, too, certainly hasn’t really cut through in any positive meaningful way here.

This hasn’t been aided by the missteps of the Labour-run County Council who, at the heart of the pandemic in late March, voted to put a new 3,000 sq ft roof terrace on top of their proposed new monstrous carbuncle of a County Hall on a floodplain in the centre of Durham city.

At a national level, Labour’s lawyerly approach to the crisis hasn’t helped it either. If your job is on the line – as quite a few are in my community – Starmer’s “Goldilocks Politics” of “too much/too little, too fast/too slow” with lashings of hindsight-driven drivel isn’t winning you over.

No-one wants to know that, like any good barrister, you can argue the counter argument. They want to know you get the economic reality of what’s going on and are instructing your local councillors where they’re in place to do something about it.

From those snatched chats over coffee or a pint in the pubs of North West Durham, it’s clear to me that without showing a desire to really challenge the basic economic arguments of the far-Left, Labour have still further to fall. This is Starmer’s real challenge: he’s dumped Corbyn, but can he – does he even want to – dump Corbynomics?

Within three months of taking office following the death of John Smith, Blair had told the Labour Party Conference he was going to change Clause 4 and within a matter of months at a special conference in April 1995 he did just that.

Aside from managing to knife his opponent for the job and boot her out of the Shadow Cabinet, Starmer’s first four months in office have been barely a tremor on the political Richter scale.

If I were Starmer at this moment I’d be recognising that I have one shot at this and boldly lay down the policy tracks in order to concentrate on next year’s elections in Scotland, Wales, London, The Midlands and the English counties.

From the attempted coup in 2017 and brutality of the internal wars currently taking place, it’s clear that Labour is up for knifing its leaders if they look like an electoral liability.

Starmer needs to show that Labour can win big in its remaining heartlands of London and Wales and show that he’s there, challenging the SNP in Scotland and winning over county councils across England – creating a real base for the future.

For us Conservatives the challenge is different. We can’t control what Starmer will or won’t do – any more than we can really predict or determine when we’ll finally be rid of the damned Coronavirus.

It’s about proving that we not only culturally understand the “Blue Wall”, but grasp their economic needs and aspirations too. The massive support that taxpayers have provided via the Government has not gone unnoticed by the man and woman in The Green at Billy Row and has cut through to constituents.

For the future it’s a mixture of delivering on policies both big – like the commitments on levelling-up – but also smaller policies, like ensuring that community services are maintained and lives, where possible, made a little easier, and cheaper.

Often that’s through ensuring fairness where the market fails or is skewed. From getting housing built on brown field sites that have been squabbled over for decades, to the cash machine on the green at Billy Row.

It might take some ingenuity at times, but we’ll need to keep highlighting to people that we’re on their side in their community economically, as well as culturally, to keep the trajectory away from Labour and to the Conservatives on course as we build the Blue Wall.