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Workplace: The Couch To Glory

Candidates for top jobs in large organisations now not only have to clear rounds with the board but with the couch doctor too

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When the swish set or suits consult shrinks for the top hire, you think it provides ammo for irony? Well, not necessarily since it is all about having a bearing on organisational beha-viour and yielding productivity.

Sumit Arora (name changed), 48, chief executive of a large multinational, was not really looking for a job change till he got a call from a consultant for a very senior position in a Fortune 500 company. “My first instinct was to give it a pass but having spent over 20 years in one organisation, I decided to take the talks forward.” It began with candid chats about his work profile, expertise and domain knowledge.“I had several rounds of discussions for about six months with the board and the panel that comprised external consultants,” he says.

Like most management interviews have always leaned heavily on discussions, this one did too; nothing unusual. “I was happy with the progress of the negotiations and they seemed satisfied too. I had, in fact, almost made up my mind to take up the new assignment,” he adds. But just when Arora thought that the last leg of discussions was over, a surprise was thrown at him. He was asked to meet a psychologist. “I appeared at 10 am and it was almost a half-day session with the psychologist and it had nothing to do with my work profile,” he says.

“This round was the most informal one and yet it lasted about five hours,” he adds. “Discussions revolved mainly around my personal life, my family members like parents, wife, siblings and children and extended family,” says Arora, recollecting the variety of sandwiches and juices that were placed on the table for him to take the required breaks. “After a bout of candid chats, I was amazed how the psychologist pointed out certain aspects of my personal life which were complete eye-openers for me.”

Arora got the job. As strange as it sounds, if he had not cleared the last round, he would not have made it. This is even as he had cleared all the other rounds of discussion with the HR, the board and the external consultants.

In today’s day and age of intense competition and innovative HR initiatives, corporate houses across sectors are increasingly roping in organisational psychologists — some as part of external panel — to check the mental fitness of top leaders when they join the organisation. What’s more, some are also opting for psychometric tests to select top management. “No matter how many hours are spent in interviews, they can only provide a finite insight into a candidate’s abilities and fitment,” says Devendra Saharia, chief executive officer at AGS Health, an analytics driven, technology-enabled revenue cycle management firm. “A candidate can always ‘mask’ through politically correct answers, tailored responses from heavy research into the FAQs that most organisations would ask candidates; and the result therefore could be far from ideal,” he adds.

Recruiting anybody at a CXO level — a term that refers to senior corporate executives, whose job titles typically start with ‘chief’ and end with ‘officer’ — is a massive mandate. It takes months to just zero in on the right candidate. While the initial few rounds of discussions are held to assess the knowledge and skills of the person and check his or her suitability in the company, panel interviews offer a rich diversity in perspectives from multiple interviewers to facilitate a well-thought-through decision.

However, there is more to the interview process as after all, it’s not just about the domain knowledge, say corporate honchos. “We believe one’s personality influences his/her behaviour at work and hence these tests (psychometric) help us to gauge to what extent an individual would exhibit dominance, influence,steadiness and compliance at work,” says Rahul Pinjarkar, vice president - Human Resources at Saint-Gobain India, a float glass manufacturer and subsidiary of France-based Saint Gobain.

Interviews with shrinks and psychometric tests help corporates assess an individual’s working strengths and possible limitations and therefore, offer a genuine window into ‘who’ the candidate actually is. These rounds are typically used to validate what interviewers have already assessed, and to find out what may not be possible to assess in a traditional interview — intangibles such as drive, perseverance, ability to inspire and lead people, tolerance for ambiguity, strategic thinking, creativity, problem-solving style and decisiveness, among others. On the basis of the findings, a psychologist can actually cancel a candidate’s candidature while notifying the organisation of contradictory responses to various questions.

Testing Personality

In the new VUCA world, recruitment is no more restricted to straight-jacket interview-and-hire processes. Well, for those of you new to the corporate lingo, VUCA is an acronym used to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions in any organisation. “Premature and periodic employee exits, especially high-potential talent, not only strain business margins but also impact the employee morale and team spirit,” says Rachna Mukherjee, chief human resources officer at Schneider Electric India. Besides, in several cases, the chances of inappropriate hires can also peak due to paucity of time and other pressures. In that case, there would be higher turnover of employees in a year — either voluntary or involuntary. To avoid this, an organisation can use specific norms to assess candidates.

“Predictive analytics is one of the latest tools that helps organisations in boosting the effectiveness of its hires. It facilitates in recognising the type of people who will succeed in the organisation’s environment and the kind of sources that help produce better hires,” says Mukherjee.

While some may argue that shrinks have always been a part of corporates, it is pertinent to note that they traditionally never paid so much of attention to recruitment of senior management. They were mostly needed to provide counselling to existing employees to help them maintain a healthy work life balance. However, with the economic crisis that hit the globe in 2008 following the Lehman Brothers crash, corporates are becoming increasingly careful while recruiting senior management. As per sources within the corporate ecosystem, organisational psychologists from an external panel charge around $2,000 (Rs 1,34,800) per senior candidate for a discussion spanning 3-5 hours.

Physical meetings with shrinks take about 3-5 hours, while psychometric test can take between 15 minutes and 1.5 hours. Psychometrics refer to the science of measuring psychology, and the best part is that its objective is neutral and completely unbiased. Typically, the tests are conducted online, where the candidates are sent the link and the password. People take the test and the report gets generated at the back-end.

Today, companies select instruments based on the competencies it assesses, to ensure that ‘what it tests’ is exactly ‘what is needed for the role’ to succeed. “These tests act as an additional source of data for making hiring decision,” says Sarthak Raychaudhri, vice-president, Human Resources - Asia South at Whirlpool India.

Beyond Shrinks

It may sound stranger than fiction but nowadays astrologers also check the ‘star’ status of prospective employees in top positions —from vice president to the CEO — of large organisations. However, taking recourse to an ancient science mean denial from companies that are fighting for tomorrow’s slice of the pie.

On the other hand, Vastu — the home-grown Feng Shui — has been a bestseller for a while now among companies in India. BPO Convergys, UK-based Duet Hotels, HSBC, Bank of America have all adhered to the principles of Vastu Shastra to erect trouble-free workplaces. “They have invested big bucks (on vastu) and don’t want anything to go wrong,” says astrologer and Vastu consultant Naveen Mishra, who is also CEO of GuruIndian Astrology.

All in all, be it shrinks, astrologers or even Vastu experts, corporates are keeping no stones unturned to inject the workforce with positive energy.

So next time you go out looking for a job in a large corporate organisation, make sure you brace yourself for a gripping ‘psychological’ test.

paramita@businessworld.in; @paramita_chat;
monica@businessworld.in; @MonicaBehura;


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workplace magazine 13 june 2016 human resources corporate


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