Applied Psychometrics, Vol. 1: Fostering Employee Loyalty

Thomas Mielke | GENERAL COMMENTARY, LEADERSHIP, TALENT MANAGEMENT
This year, leaders, HR executives, and their respective organisations have spent countless efforts on rebuilding the workforce. However tough, most have managed to convince would-be employees (or reminded current ones) of how rewarding and multi-facetted a career in hospitality can be. Yet, the current economic and geo-political context is putting refreshed strain on the sentiment across many markets. The question now more frequently being raised by functional leaders is, “How do we as an organisation ensure to keep our workforce that we have so painstakingly rebuilt just months ago? And, “How do we foster loyalty when financial resources are being squeezed?” Often, when AethosTM  runs salary surveys, discussions quickly centre around the benefits section. “What is the industry doing to incentivise its employees beyond the basic base salary and bonus program?”. Many organisations have become quite resourceful in preparing a menu of perks that are meant to engage, retain, and reward its employees. Rarely, though, has one encountered the workforce desperately seeking a free bicycle hiring scheme… Sometimes, specifically when wanting to drive loyalty, it pays to reconsider the basics. Time and again, employee opinion surveys run by Aethos™ on behalf of hotel management or travel and tourism companies bring up topics around better leadership, improved access to (or provision of) resources, enhanced communication, or more targeted and personalised career development. A lot of this is tied to context; the operating environment and the resources that allow an employee to thrive, or not. In other words, to drive loyalty, it helps to know about an employee’s contextual performance – in what kind of operating environment do they flourish? Equipped with that know-how, one can then put them in the best position or function for them to not only best grow and develop as professionals, but also for them to add the most value to the organisation. There are different tools which evaluate contextual performance. Aethos’ proprietary 20|20 Skills® Assessment looks at three key dimensions and ten subcategories – mainly centred around how an individual drives and achieves outcomes, how they leverage their soft skills and interact with individuals, and how they tackle intellectual problems. Psychometrics can be applied to assess cultural fit, to spot development potential for executives, or to identify areas in which an individual is likely to be able to significantly drive performance. Looking at them through the lens of wanting to drive loyalty, the answers for the following five questions should be found:
  1. "Why does an employee do what they do (i.e., what is their intrinsic motivation)?"
  2. "How does the employee prefer to operate and work?"
  3. "What is the employee’s preferred ‘modus operandi’ within a team setting?"
  4. "Which situations frustrate the employee?"
  5. "Where does the employee’s cognitive ‘predisposition’ sit?" 
In the example given (see Figure I below, depicting a simplified 20|20 Skills® Assessment result), one can deduct the following (note: psychometric assessments should not be used in isolation, and instead always be complemented by interviews):
  1. The individual appears to be highly self-driven. Someone who brings on board a lot of entrepreneurial drive, pragmatism, and a certain appetite for risk taking. They thus come across as independent in their thinking and as an individual who values decision-making authority. Their ‘loyalty’ is something more subjective – one might expect this individual to always look for a well-balanced structure that rewards high performance based on defined KPIs (thus creating a win-win for the organisation and the employee). They will be hard-working but expect something in return.
  2. The individual is seemingly very structured and process driven. They are likely to seek out role-clarity and to want to build structures, processes, and protocols where they are missing. Accountability and responsibility are taken very seriously. Coupled, however, with the individual’s apparent pragmatism and healthy dose of risk-taking, one can expect them to be open to change and to course-correct – albeit that change for change’s sake is likely to be unwelcomed, with deviations from the norm expected to be backed-up by data or facts that support such decisions. Given the individual’s strong analytical skills, in combination with the ability to see the big picture, they are also likely to be extremely switched-on, setting high expectations for themselves and others, and bringing on board a high threshold for engagement.
  3. The individual is likely to prefer matrix organisations and set-ups where there is already a good level of competency. Individual employees are expected to be empowered. They might be less of a charismatic leader than others, focusing instead on efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism. Performance is thus spelled in capital letters – this is an individual who prioritises, is task-orientated, and not patient by default.
  4. The individual shows to be proactive, action-orientated, as well as results-driven. They equally have a finger on the pulse – both as it relates to the minutiae as well as strategy. This is coupled with a strong sense of how best to achieve outcomes. Situations where there is constant, and erratic or unexplained change are thus likely to frustrate the individual. Equally, they expect to be able to voice their opinion, and for it to be heard. They seek clarity and line of sight, as well as a strong guiding principle. Their focus on performance will set very high standards for others – underperformance is unlikely to be tolerated. Given the individual’s value placed on autonomy and empowerment, they are also likely to expect others to come to them if problems are being encountered – they will set direction and KPIs but expect the team to contribute and to pull-through.
  5. The individual displays strong mental capacities. They are very analytical, detail-orientated, and pay attention. However, they are equally mindful of the broader context. One can expect them to easily talk strategy as well as tactics. Improving outcomes or driving innovation (albeit potentially not instigating it), is likely to be close to their heart.
Equipped with the above know-how, would it make sense, for example, to promote the individual to look after a newly acquired business unit where one must implement and instil new protocols and procedures, and ensure compliance to one’s established standards and values? To ‘fine-tune’ operations, to extract the last five percentage points of improved productivity and profitability, and/or to identify synergies between the newly merged entities? The answer is ‘yes’ – albeit that one might want to support the individual on matters, for example, which relate to empathy to ensure team cohesion. On the flip side, would it be wise to ask the individual to spearhead a newly acquired business unit where there is a lot of push-back from employees? Where the two merging company cultures are clashing, and where there is a lot of emotional intelligence and fines required to complete the merger? Where perhaps the business would benefit from significant upskilling and hands-on mentorship and training of its employees? Or where the newly acquired business is falling under the geographic remit of a different functional leader who is known within the organisation for constantly trying out new strategies? The answer here would be much more nuanced – albeit that the individual appears to be a strong performer, the requirement to be much more hands-on involved, to take time and effort to create consensus and to merge company cultures, and to operate underneath a direct superior known for their more erratic management style is likely to cause a lot more frustration with the individual. Knowing psychometrics, organisations can more easily assess whether an employee is well-suited for their current operating environment, or whether a change of function, responsibility, or reporting line would benefit the individual – and, in consequence, their commitment towards the organisation. The insights can pinpoint whether an employee is able to capitalise on their strengths and drivers within the context set and defined by the employer, and whether the organisation (or the employee’s line manager) is falling short on either reinforcing the employees key motivating drivers or at keeping main sources of frustration at bay.