We have entered the age of human capital metrics, a time where there is growing interest in many organizations to better quantify and improve people outcomes in the workplace. One of the challenges associated with this trend is determining what people characteristics to measure and how to measure them. In the academic world, these characteristics are called psychological constructs. These are the variables about people that cannot be directly measured (e.g., personality, attitudes, and abilities).
Researchers are creating and publishing surveys to assess these constructs, many of which remain open-source and free. We have turned to the academic literature to find a few assessments that are receiving solid scientific support and have the potential to add significant business value. Our goal is to make it a little easier for you to apply the science of assessments to the realities of modern business.
We focus on three psychological constructs: ethical leadership, adaptive performance, and psychological safety for two reasons — (1) there is sound scientific and statistical support for these attributes and (2) they are trending organizational issues. For each topic, we share a tool that is free, well-published, and psychometrically sound (i.e., has undergone rigorous statistical testing to demonstrate acceptable reliability and validity evidence). Let’s look at what the science says about some key ingredients to business success.
Today, it is all too common to pick up a newspaper and read about an ethical scandal in a major corporation. These types of crises are often broadly publicized, and according to a recent report, more CEOs are being removed from their roles due to questionable ethical behavior than ever before. These trends highlight the importance of accurately identifying and developing ethical leaders in today’s organizations. The latest research on ethical leadership describes these leaders as being “honest, caring, and principled individuals who make fair and balanced decisions” while also being “proactive models for ethical conduct” (Brown & Treviño, 2006). Ethical leadership transpires when individuals consistently hold themselves and others to high ethical standards, treat others with respect and fairness, and reinforce those who act in an ethical manner.
While ethical leadership is a complex attribute, it is measurable. One example of an ethical leadership measure is a 10 item scale from Brown, Treviño, and Harrison (2005) that uses employee ratings to measure the extent to which a leader behaves ethically. Examples include leaders who:
- Disciplines employees who violate ethical standards
- Discusses business ethics or values with employees
- Defines success not just by results, but also the way that they are obtained
This assessment can be used in many ways, but one recommendation is to incorporate these results into a leadership development program. Feedback gathered with this tool will help leaders understand how others view their ethical leadership behaviors, and through development efforts like training or coaching, individuals can learn strategies to strengthen their ethical leadership skills.
Adaptability, or adaptive performance, is becoming an essential skill in the modern workplace. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article highlights the importance and value of enabling adaptive performance. Adaptive performance is defined as an “individual’s capacity for adaptation to dynamic work situations and capability to modify behavior according to the requirements of new environments, situations, or events” (Charbonnier-Voirin & Roussel, 2012). Almost every industry is dealing with dynamic work situations. We are seeing the impact of new technologies, the increasing use of cross-functional teams, shared leadership, and more frequent restructuring and process improvements. As such, the ability to adapt to a revolving variety of job demands is crucial, yet, traditional selection, performance management, and development systems focus on a person’s ability to complete the most consistent and predictable job tasks. Organizational researchers have recognized the need to quantify adaptive performance and have developed a few useful measures.
The 19 question Individual Adaptive Performance Scale measures five components of adaptability: creativity, reactivity in the face of emergencies or unexpected circumstances, interpersonal flexibility, training effort, and work stress management. Examples include:
- I use a variety of sources/types of information to come up with an innovative solution
- I try to understand the viewpoints of my counterparts to improve my interaction with them
Practitioners can use this scale for a variety of talent management purposes, including performance appraisals, training needs assessments, or for tracking development. As a starting point, these questions provide great context for a conversation (e.g., group discussion, mentoring meeting) about what adaptive performance looks like and what is expected in one’s role.
High-performing teams are often at the heart of high-performing companies. Recent research from Google identified psychological safety as a core element underlying strong team performance. In work environments with high psychological safety, team members trust and respect one another, are open to hearing others’ ideas, and feel comfortable expressing their opinions and concerns. This type of team climate creates strong interpersonal bonds because people feel safe speaking up without fear of being judged or ostracized by others.
Edmondson (1999) developed a 7 item scale on team psychological safety climate, which has been used in hundreds of research studies. Individual team members complete the survey questions and ratings are averaged across the team to form a measure of team psychological safety climate. There are many ways to use this assessment on the job. One potential application is incorporating this tool into your team effectiveness or high-performing team interventions. This measure can provide a baseline of where the team is today and offer guidance about what actions to take to strengthen the psychological safety climate of your team.
Bottom line, what does the science tell us? There are valuable, high-quality assessments available (and many are free) to help you assess those hard-to-measure people characteristics.