The beginnings

Aptitude diagnostics have accompanied me throughout my professional life. Today I am still very active as a management diagnostician. During my doctorate, I was fortunate enough to meet two greats in the field of aptitude diagnostics, from whom I was taught a know-how that is not so easily accessible to a student. One was Rudolf Amthauer, who became known for his development of the Intelligence Structure Test (IST) published in 1953. He worked for Hoechst and taught industrial psychology in Frankfurt. The other was Werner Corell, the behavioral, motivational and learning psychologist and professor of educational psychology in Giessen.

From Correll I acquired fundamental knowledge in the field of personality diagnostics, which – unlike purely methodologically based intelligence measurement – requires the highest degree of attention in social perception, absolute neutrality, empathy, analytical skills and the avoidance of projections (conclude from oneself to the other, see in the other what one would like to see).

When I wrote my first independent expert opinions in 1978, topics such as personnel diagnostics and management diagnostics were new territory in Germany. After eight hours of intensive work with candidates, I provided my clients (corporations and medium-sized companies) with structured information on their intelligence structure, supplemented by specific statements on their personality profile. This not only helped the clients to secure their decision through differentiated expertise and a neutral third opinion. This also helped the external and internal applicants to enrich their self-image of their own strengths and learning fields.

Over the years, the topic became better known, the number of consultants increased rapidly and distinguishing between experts and those who cleverly sell themselves as such became more difficult for clients.

Today’s significance

In the meantime, there are scientifically widespread standards and aptitude diagnostics have established themselves in human resources. When selecting managers or employees, the question of their suitability always arises. This can be suitability in general, identification of potential or specific suitability. This is a comparison between requirements for taking on a certain role and the person applying for it with his motivation, his potential, his values, his knowledge, his experience. Being wrong has unpleasant consequences for both sides. It can be expensive for the company. The applicant could be over- or under-challenged if target and ability deviate too far from each other.

In pure intelligence measurement, users must be familiar with the procedure – usually online – in order to be able to proceed methodically correctly. When it comes to capturing a person’s personality traits, the demands placed on users are much greater. Apart from psychometric procedures (questionnaires), which are similar in handling to those of intelligence measurement, high demands must be placed on the quality of the consultants. Intelligence measurement has lost importance today. Already Amthauer proved in the 1950s that the measurement result can be influenced by numerous factors and should therefore always be used with caution. It is not only the daily condition and spatial environment that influence and thus distort results. Above all, it is also about distinguishing between theoretical and usable intelligence. Those who are strong in fluid thinking can achieve more with a lower IQ than someone with a high IQ and crystalline thinking habit. Motivation and extraversion also have a significant influence on the usability of intelligence. In addition, the measurement of intelligence has a different significance for young people than for older people with a higher degree of maturity, which is enriched by knowledge and experience. Managers and executives have completely different questions. Here it depends less on the theoretically existing intelligence. Here, success is difficult to imagine without emotional and social intelligence, supplemented by competence to act.

Demands on management diagnostics

In the selection of top managers and executives on the upper floors – which I mainly deal with – psychometric measurement methods also play a subordinate role. At best, they serve as an accessory to capture the self-image, which is then contrasted with the external image in the final result. The rather high angle of distortion in the result of psychometric procedures can lead to serious wrong decisions, especially if candidate A has learned the procedure and candidate B was not so clever as to obtain these tests on the Internet.

Aptitude diagnostics provides aids and clues when making selection decisions. It is therefore obvious that the proceedings should be based on the claims of the undertaking applying it. My team and I are constantly developing our procedures and making sure that validity and reliability (objectivity) are right as quality criteria. The atmospheric factor is also important in the actual recording and later in the result interview with the candidate. Because missing out on the best candidate and choosing a less suitable one can be very expensive for the company for years. The fact that an applicant proves to be unsuitable during the probationary period should be prevented by the measurement accuracy. But even a “quite” suitable applicant cannot be satisfied if he does not use the information given to him in the result interview for his personal (further) development.

What a DIN standard can do

There is a DIN standard 33430 for occupational aptitude diagnostics. This was developed with the utmost care by experts from science and industry in a working committee of the German Institute for Standardization. If you want, you can be certified accordingly. However, this is not enough to be a qualified diagnostician. We know from car and motorcycle drivers that there are strong differences in their driving quality and safety. These are usually not due to the quality of the instructors and examiners. The standard (highway code) has been taught by experts and learner drivers. Nevertheless, the number of accidents resulting from driving errors is quite high, not to mention road traffic offences, of which only a few result in accidents.

A DIN standard for aptitude diagnostics is no different. Theoretically, the standards ensure that the same conditions apply to everyone who goes through the process. Through a systematic and effective approach, diagnostics should focus on the performance of the person who is currently undergoing the procedure. This is easier said than done.

The consultant is the seal of quality

Since my team and I had bad experiences with short-term measurements in previous years, we switched to time-consuming as-is recordings, especially when it came to measuring the suitability of top managers and senior executives. We differentiate between a large and a small process. The large one extends over 7–8 hours of actual recording, the small one over 4–5 hours. We adapt the scope of our results reports to the needs of the client, so that a detailed report (expert opinion) comprises approx. 35 pages. On special request, we provide very compact reports that are limited to the measurement result in graphical form, supplemented by a summary with a presentation of the success factors and success risks. However, each of our reports always receives a clear recommendation on a four-point scale as well as a concrete description of possible areas of development.

Over the decades, many consultants have learned more than just the tools of management diagnostics from me. Mastering the process in its stages is an absolute prerequisite for qualitatively demanding management diagnostics. But that’s not all. With the piano, the danger of wrong notes does not come from the instrument, but from the pianist. This insight can be transferred one-to-one to the demand on diagnosticians. The interview for the as-is recording as well as the use of tools beyond the interview (exercises, tasks, forms) requires the highest sensitivity. Dealing with the other person must be experienced atmospherically by the candidate as pleasant, although it is never comfortable. The candidate has to deliver continuously for hours, the diagnostician must record with the highest concentration. Creating stress in the candidate is the wrong way to get to know him in all his facets. Under stress, a person automatically goes into his emergency mode for the purpose of self-protection.

Examples of professional diagnostics

A narrative interview does not mean that the diagnostician talks about himself, but that the candidate comes into a flow of speech on every topic that the diagnostician puts into the room. Questions that the candidate can answer with yes or no are conceivably unsuitable. The candidate does not have to be what the diagnostician wants him to be. The diagnostician has to adapt sensitively and with undistorted perception to the candidate in order to grasp benevolently what constitutes him. This should create a constructive arc of tension between the two.

Any kind of manipulation or influence, even slight, can lead to a falsified result. I often hear that this is self-evident. It is not! Every suggestive question or remark is a contribution to the falsification of results. Examples: “Did I understand you correctly that you…?” (This may put something in the candidate’s mouth that he did not say, but would have liked to say). “How successful were you with that?” (This suggests success that may not have existed).

To be a diagnostician means to be a neuter for hours. This is not “poker face”, this is open-minded, friendly receptiveness. The other person may try to involve the diagnostician, to win him over. This must not happen even with the most likeable person. As a diagnostician, I work on a different level of communication that keeps me analytically in the balance of objectivity.

It is also obligatory for professional work as a diagnostician that the candidate is picked up and frequented before the actual recording begins. In this phase, the candidate should get rid of the questions he would like to ask the diagnostician. It is also explained why he cannot read in the face of the diagnostician or through other behaviors, whether he is more or less satisfied with the candidate’s answers (any kind of influence is taboo).

I have limited myself to only a few essential features in this article. If you are interested in training as a diagnostician, you are welcome to contact us. I don’t have a standard program for this, because the interested parties have very different prerequisites that need to be expanded individually.

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