CANDIDATES vying to become NHS Lothian’s permanent chief executive have been psychologically evaluated in a bid to ensure there is no return of the bullying culture that existed at the health board.
It is understood to be the first time the tests have been given to aspiring candidates for the post.
Final interviews for the lucrative role, which will see the successful applicant paid a salary of up to £173,840 a year, are set to be conducted today.
The results of psychometric tests – aimed at uncovering leadership styles – are to be taken into account before deciding on the right man or woman to lead the health board.
Chairman Dr Charles Winstanley revealed in an update to the NHS Lothian board: “Shortlisted candidates will be psychometrically evaluated, principally to assure the panel that leadership styles are not at odds with NHS Lothian’s desired management behaviours.”
The last permanent chief executive, Professor James Barbour, quit after more than a decade in the job in April, after presiding over an era in which a “bullying culture” in parts of the health board was rife.
His resignation, which ensured he kept his £75,000 annual pension and a £220,000 lump sum, came just before the publication of a damning report by David Bowles and Associates, commissioned after intervention by Nicola Sturgeon, on management culture at the health board.
The report found that bad news was not passed up the management chain and that staff reporting problems would be told to “just fix it” without support.
It was also found that a “blame culture” existed, that it was not deemed acceptable to put problems in writing to senior management, and that an “undermining, intimidating, demeaning, threatening and hostile” working environment had been created.
It was against this backdrop that the waiting list scandal, which saw staff deliberately manipulate figures to hit targets, emerged.
Following Prof Barbour’s resignation, Tim Davison was brought in from NHS Lanarkshire to steady the ship as interim chief executive, while Dr Winstanley presented a “radical” plan earlier this month aimed at curing the problems highlighted in the report.
It is hoped that the psychometric tests, which consist of multiple choice questions and were completed online by candidates ahead of today’s interviews, will ensure that Prof Barbour’s successor fits with the more open culture which health bosses want to promote.
Alison Denton, who is trained in psychometric testing and is programme director of the Masters in coaching course run by Napier University, said she believed the test would prove useful if used in the correct way and as part of a wider recruitment process.
“Psychometrics can only be as good as the processes that have gone before to identify the style of leadership Lothian need right now,” she said. “Any manager has to use a lot of different styles to be effective.
“I can understand their desire to have certain behaviours but often workplaces say they want to be inclusive but there is also a lot of external pressure to be decisive and to make decisions quickly.
“Work is complicated. There’s a lot of pressure, particularly in the NHS and there’s a lot of change to drive through. The successful candidate is not going to be universally popular.”
Ms Denton said that while there were a large variety of psychometric tests, they could typically assess personality traits such as decisiveness, assertiveness and the ability to work alongside people or individually.
Some tests also evaluate “emotional intelligence”, giving an indication of a candidate’s empathy, ability to build relationships and self-worth.
Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at the health board, said: “Psychometric testing is commonly used to support the recruitment and selection process in posts of this seniority.
“The tests are based on 50 years’ worth of research and provide an insight into personality and help to form the interview questions and post-interview discussion by looking at verbal, numerical and problem-solving skills and reasoning.
“The test is not used in isolation and forms only part of the whole recruitment process, but it can be useful to predict job performance and suitability.”
By Penny Moyle, Chief executive officer at personality expert OPP
Like any science, psychometric testing continues to develop, but the current way of assessing personality through questionnaires has been evolving for more than 60 years.
We often say the use of psychometric tools is a little like the use of any tool. You need to select the right kind and quality of tool for a particular job, then you need to use it with the appropriate expertise.
Psychometric tests can work in a variety of ways. In developing a test, we collect a lot of data to look at whether it predicts particular kinds of outcomes.
There’s a personality side and also the aptitude side of psychometric assessment. The cleverest person is not always the best candidate for a job; their personality is also important.
One criticism of psychometric testing is you can lie, but the questions don’t always measure what you think they are going to. Many tests have built-in ways to get under the skin.
The aim is to produce a description of who a person is, and a good-quality test will work well.
They are designed to give an insight quickly that you otherwise couldn’t get unless you knew someone for some time.
If you interview someone for an hour you will know them a bit, but if you have the personality information you can get to know them much better.
These are examples of the type of questions found in a standard psychometric personality test. The results would be used by experts to determine personality type.
Do you have a small, but “close knit” circle of friends?
Do you find it easy to make friends with new people?
When upset, do you prefer to be left alone?
Do you like looking at intricately designed buildings?
Are you happy with the way you look?
Do you normally notice things which others ignore?
Would you say that you know people from a variety of backgrounds?
Would you help a friend out even though it was inconvenient?
Would you prefer a quiet night in or to go to a bar with some friends?
Do you feel involved when watching TV soaps?
Is it essential for you to try things with your own hands?
Do you think strict observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome?
Do you trust reason rather than feelings?
Do you often contemplate the complexity of life?
After prolonged socialising do you feel you need to get away and be alone?
Do you get bored if you have to read theoretical books?
Do you value justice higher than mercy?
Would you rather read a book or go to a party?
Do you usually place yourself nearer to the side than in the centre of the room?
Do you have good control over your desires and temptations?
You are usually the first to react to a sudden event: the telephone ringing or unexpected question?
Early work in psychometrics focused on trying to measure intelligence, but the field has developed to include testing of other traits, including personality.
Pioneers carried out research in the late 19th century and in 1880 Sir Frances Galton persuaded 9000 people to be personality tested in his “anthropometric laboratory” in London.
The American army developed a personality test during the First World War to weed out recruits who couldn’t stand the stress of battle.
The current style of testing began to be more widely used in the middle of the 20th century and has increased in popularity, but has remained controversial.
In 2001, B&Q was widely criticised after it sacked top salesman Carl Filer purely on the grounds of a personality test while a group of cleaners became upset after finding their employment was to be decided on a series of questions including asking whether they would rather be an archbishop or a general.
Now, three-quarters of Times Top 100 companies use psychometric tests.